The jury’s still out on exact dates and other historical data. But a roadie has compiled compelling information that indicates Depew, Okla., was the first incorporated Route 66 town to be bypassed — way back in 1928.
When U.S. Highway 66 was certified in 1926, the road made a horseshoe-shaped loop through downtown Depew on its Main Street.
By fall 1928, according to the research of Frank Gifford of rt66pix.com, highway officials had already moved U.S. 66 to the north, outside city limits.
According to Gary Ray Howell at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation:
“As far as I can determine, I would agree with you that the first relocation of US 66 that bypassed a town entirely in Oklahoma was the 1928 relocation at Depew.”
Howell also said records indicate the bypass alignment at Depew was finished by September or October 1928.
Also, Depew Town Clerk Susie Case confirmed the 1928 bypass went outside of Depew city limits. “That about killed the town,” she said to Gifford.
The Gimmel gas station in downtown, which still stands, dates to when the Mother Road was first certified. However, it’s not been confirmed whether the station was built because Route 66 went through downtown, or whether other factors led to its construction.
Gifford wrote on the AA Roads forum:
To date, I have found nothing to undermine the larger theory that Depew was the first such bypass on ALL of Route 66. The Depew bypass was being used just 25 months after the numbered U.S. highway system was adopted. […]
Unless there’s conflicting evidence, I’m going with ODOT. It all started in Depew in 1928.
The focus point clearly is a well-preserved 1920s building — the only gas station to survive from the era when Main Street was Route 66. There’s now a direct link between that building and the story about The Mother of the Mother Road, Lucille Hamons. Both fell victim (in different ways) to the same process — bypassing.
And there’s no good answer either because, in places like Depew, the road HAD to move eventually.
It seems to me, as an outsider, that Oklahoma’s relationship with Route 66 is unique. It’s important elsewhere — but it’s intertwined with Oklahoma. The road nurtures your towns and cities, and when it gets taken away, it damn near kills them.
Depew today is largely a facade of building fronts. The Turnpike entrance is 7 miles away. The grocery store closed a couple weeks ago.
Gifford and highway officials caution that other settlements — such as Delhi and Doxey in western Oklahoma — were being bypassed about that time. However, these were little more than wide spots in the road. Depew was an honest-to-goodness incorporated town of more than 1,100 people, according to the 1930 census. It still has about 500 people today.
The Depew bypass is a fascinating and often-overlooked part of Route 66 history. Some historians often point to the interstate highway era when Route 66 towns started being bypassed. Angel Delgadillo’s oft-told story about how his hometown in Seligman, Ariz., was bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1978 remains a vivid part of that lore.
But bypasses — an effort to make highways straighter and faster — occurred almost 30 years before. And it happened before that — the Lincoln Highway was constantly being realigned and shortened more than a decade before Route 66 came into being.
As Earl Swift’s excellent book “The Big Roads” explains, highway engineers from the beginning were always looking for ways to improve the safety and speed of roads. Bypasses were part of that effort, for good or ill.
(Photo of downtown Depew by Redforkhippie)