Classic cars, Route 66 memorabilia and a keynote speech by author and U.S. Route 66 historian Susan Kelly Kirkpatrick highlighted the dedication of Historic Route 66 as a Missouri Scenic Byway May 5, in Springfield.
The Route 66 Association of Missouri, in partnership with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), celebrated with a ribbon cutting in Springfield.
In the mid-1920s, as part of a nationwide grassroots movement for better roads, community leaders based in Springfield were among those who worked to have the planned highway run southwest between St. Louis and Joplin, through Springfield, and receive the “66” Route designation.
The event was held be on an old strip of Route 66 pavement near the current southeast corner of Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street.
The intersection is a few blocks south of Interstate 44, whose construction in the 1950s and 1960s replaced Route 66, also known as The Mother Road and the Main Street of America.
The ceremony included the unveiling of a new blue and white “Historic Route 66 Byway” sign.
The signs will be placed to guide travelers from all over the world to the many short segments of old Route 66 that remain as part of other state or local roads. The existing brown signs will be replaced.
Those who attended were asked to sign a guest book and share their Route 66 memories to help commemorate the celebration.
The Route 66 Association will add these reminiscences to its collection of photos and memorabilia, some of which were displayed at the dedication.
Kirkpatrick, editor of Ozarks Magazine and a former newspaper reporter, is author of Route 66, The Highway & Its People.
Her book traces the birth and development of Route 66, built between Chicago, IL, and Santa Monica, CA.
She describes the interaction between the 2,500-mi. long highway and the business promoters, farmers, shopkeepers, motel owners, truckers, bandits, adventurers and regular families who traveled or made a living along the road.
Missouri maintained 300 mi. of Route 66 between the Mississippi River at St. Louis and the Oklahoma state line near Joplin.
In her remarks, Kirkpatrick highlighted the relationship people had — and many still have — with Route 66 and its mystique.
“Everybody has a Route 66 story,” said Kirkpatrick, whether traveling the “most famous road in the world,” seeking work during the Great Depression, visiting a loved one in the military during World War II or vacationing in the 1950s.
Tommy Pike of Springfield, MO, president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri also spoke. Pike and his wife, Glenda, editor of the Route 66 Association’s Show-Me Route 66 magazine, were among those who advocated for the state Scenic Byway designation for Route 66. The Route 66 group and MoDOT are pursuing national Scenic Byway designation.
The strip of old Route 66 where event took place was a northbound-to-eastbound turn lane in the 1950s, Pike said. The intersection was a four-way stop.
Glenstone Avenue carried north-south U.S. 65 through Springfield.
Glenstone Avenue also carried Business U.S. 66 between Kearney Street and St. Louis (then Business U.S. 66 joined Business U.S. 60 and went west along St. Louis and College streets through downtown to Scenic Avenue before splitting up).
Kearney Street carried U.S. 66 through traffic across the north edge of the city. Earlier in the highway’s history, U.S. 66 followed what is now Route YY and Division Street east of Glenstone Avenue.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission voted Nov. 9, 2005, to designate Historic Route 66 as a Byway at the request of the Route 66 Association of Missouri and after many public meetings in communities along I-44.
The last stretch of the old Route 66 nationwide was decommissioned in 1985.
Under the Byways program, MoDOT works with local communities and groups to identify existing roadways that offer one or more intrinsic qualities that provide a basis for Byway designation: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational or scenic.
This reimbursement program provides funding for improvements along Byways — 80 percent paid with federal money and 20 percent local match.
In the case of Route 66, the outdoor advertising that helped the highway develop as an economic lifeline remains an integral part of the Route 66 heritage.
Commercial enticements, for products like Burma Shave and destinations like Meramec Caverns, appeared not only on billboards and, eventually, electrified signs but also on slanted barn roofs and weathered fence posts.