What is the capital of Route 66?

Tulsa World newspaper columnist John Klein a few days ago wrote an essay with this provocative title: “Tulsa is already the heart of Route 66. Soon it will also be the capital of the Mother Road.”

Klein lays out his case with quotes from Route 66 Alliance officers Michael Wallis and Ken Busby, who hope to break ground soon on the $26 million Route 66 Experience complex near Tulsa’s Arkansas River. They cite the city’s attempts over the last 15 years to play up its Route 66 heritage and its “potential” for more.

The column also notes the soon-to-open Mother Road Market and A Gathering Place park along the river.

But the Tulsa-is-capital case also becomes undercut by the column, citing a USA Today article last month of 50 “bucket list”  destinations. A seven-mile stretch of Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, landed on the list. No other stretches of the Mother Road made the cut.

Here is what USA Today stated about Tucumcari:

New Mexico: It’s easy to miss the small city of Tucumcari when you’re speeding down Interstate 40 through the New Mexico desert. But put on your blinker, get off the highway and discover why it deserves a reputation as a bucket list destination. Tucumcari’s downtown, along Old Route 66, boasts building-sized murals that depict the city’s history as a ranching town and Route 66 destination. At night, neon lights blaze to life along the famous highway. Stop by Watson’s BBQ ($6 and up) at Tucumcari Ranch Supply to taste local delights from baked goods to beef. Get a selfie with a skeletal Torvosaurus, T-Rex’s cousin, at Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum ($6.50), or explore oddities and antiques at Tucumcari Historical Museum for free.

That sparked a thought experiment: What city is the capital of Route 66?

To arguably be considered Route 66’s capital, one has to consider whether the town:

  • contains a lot of Route 66 history or historic properties; and/or;
  • played a role in the rise of Route 66 or its renaissance.

Like many other capitals, a central location can be a factor but is not a crucial one.

The criteria produced this back-of-an-envelope list of nominees in addition to the aforementioned Tulsa and Tucumcari:

Pontiac, Illinois: Its embrace of Route 66 in the past 15 years — especially moving the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum there — vaulted it to the list. With its mayor providing greetings, it’s often the town where westbound travelers first feel the Route 66 experience.

Springfield, Missouri: It probably wouldn’t have made the list five years ago. But Springfield’s rapid adoption of its Route 66 history (including parlaying the “birthplace of Route 66” into a fast-growing festival) makes it a contender.

Galena, Kansas: The once-declining mining center saw a fast turnaround of its downtown, and its important role in inspiring the fictional Route 66 town of Radiator Springs in the “Cars” movie (including the character Tow Mater) shouldn’t be dismissed.

Shamrock, Texas: The historic U-Drop Inn gas station and diner (now a tourism office), along with its stretch of old motels along Route 66 and the recent Texas Welcomes the World Route 66 Festival, puts it on the list.

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Traffic jams and other problems created by Albuquerque Rapid Transit have degraded the experience somewhat, but the sheer number of old motels, restaurants and other businesses along Route 66 still make it an indispensable stop.

Williams, Arizona: It fought its Interstate 40 bypass tooth-and-nail during the 1980s and resolutely kept the Route 66 street names on its eastbound and westbound stretches. It’s now a thriving tourism spot, mostly because of its proximity to Grand Canyon National Park.

Seligman, Arizona: This small town in western Arizona makes the list automatically because of a one-man Route 66 booster, Angel Delgadillo. It also was where the Route 66 Association of Arizona started, and Seligman’s main drag still retains much of its old-school Route 66 charm.

Santa Monica, California: This town is known for its traditional (if unofficial) end of Route 66 at the Santa Monica Pier. It’s gained more cachet in recent weeks at the true western terminus of Route 66 when a retro Mel’s Diner opened at Olympic and Lincoln boulevards.

Other possible contenders include Atlanta, Illinois; Carthage, Missouri; Clinton, Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; Adrian, Texas; Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Amboy, California.

We’re going to throw it open for a vote. We’ll leave the poll open for a week, then tally up the totals. We’ll even allow write-in votes.

(Image of a Route 66 sign by eGuide Travel via Flickr)

4 thoughts on “What is the capital of Route 66?

  1. My husband and I were in Tulsa for the Eagles concert this year, ate at the corner cafe (a must eat place to dine)and drove a stretch of route 66. The only thing that could have made that weekend even better was if we had a 65 Mustang to drive.

  2. Fun poll! Although there truly shouldn’t be a debate. Tulsa is clearly the Capital of Route 66. The person who gave it the number 66, Cyrus Avery, was a Tulsan. Avery, the Father of Route 66, routed the highway through Oklahoma because of the Eleventh Street bridge crossing the Arkansas River mere blocks from downtown Tulsa. It not for the bridge, the highway likely would’ve been routed on a more direct path between Chicago and Los Angeles through Kansas – skipping St Louis and Springfield, MO altogether.

    Home of the Father of Route 66 AND the bridge that determined hundreds of miles of alignment? Tulsa wins in a landslide.

  3. Assuming his history is correct I agree with ES. However which town should be the capital has another dimension. With an eye to the future and growth of Route 66, a lot of which I assume is driven by tourism, the capital should be an aspirational place. A place of significance for Route 66 travellers. For that reason I like that Tulsa is near the middle of the drive rather than at the ends. I didn’t get to spend much time in Tulsa but to be a ceremonial capital it needs to have the infrastructure and events calendar to support being named as the Capital of Route 66.

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