Route 66 News

Has a sea change occurred with Route 66 tourism?

About 100 residents of the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood, Mo., recently gave opinions on how to revitalize the Watson Road, aka Route 66, according to an article in Call Newspapers.

It’s encouraging enough so many showed up to an alderman’s town-hall meeting. But what intrigued me is so many people cited Route 66 as a way to revamp the corridor — including the idea of building a museum:

Residents liked the idea of branding and marketing Crestwood as a Route 66 tourist destination, possibly through a museum.

Some of the other possibilities they suggested include an entertainment complex or drive-in theater at the mall site with a name related to Route 66 or a trolley traveling up and down Watson Road. […]

Truman Middle School social-studies teacher Jane Hake threw her support behind a Route 66 museum in Crestwood and offered to take any members of the crowd on a field trip to see a similar museum in Illinois that is popular with the thousands of people who travel the route each year. She also suggested that perhaps students from Lindbergh Schools could collaborate on a service-learning project to help research the city’s Route 66-related history.

There’s more in the article. Whether a Route 66 museum would be a good idea in Crestwood is debatable, especially considering Illinois has at least three.

But that’s not what struck me about the article. As one who lived in the St. Louis metro area for most of the 1990s and half of the following decade, I could attest the region — especially the Missouri side — showed mostly disinterest in Route 66. The way the nearby town of Marlborough, Mo., acted about its historic motels — including the long-gone Art Deco masterpiece, the Coral Court — you would have thought it wanted to erase them from memory.

But thinking in recent days about the Mother Road in general, it’s become clear Route 66 tourism has gained a lot more interest from its towns and cities. Maybe they’re seeing the success of towns such as Pontiac, Ill., Atlanta, Ill., and Seligman, Ariz., that embraced the Mother Road’s heritage. Or maybe city officials across the country were swayed by the Route 66 economic impact study from Rutgers University.

Something seems to be happening about the public perception of Route 66 tourism. Maybe it’s not a sea change, but it’s close.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Maybe I’m off my rocker. But it seems clear such interest in Mother Road tourism would have been unthinkable in many areas just 15 years ago, about the time I became interested in it.