The Decline and Revival of Route 66 – A Comprehensive Analysis

Route 66, also known as the Mother Road, has a rich history that once represented the pinnacle of American freedom and adventure. Stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, this iconic highway played a significant role in developing the United States throughout the 20th century.

However, with the rise of the modern interstate system, Route 66 experienced a steady decline, ultimately leading to its decommissioning in 1985.

Despite its official demise, a resurgence of interest has emerged in recent years, driven by nostalgia and a desire to preserve the historic road. Various preservation efforts, such as the Route 66 Corridor Act, have revived classic motels, diners, and attractions along the route.

Nowadays, the Mother Road has become a destination for road-trippers seeking to capture the American spirit it once epitomized.

Through the decline and revival of Route 66, we can witness the ever-evolving landscape of American culture and history.

As people continue to explore and cherish this storied highway, we are reminded of the enduring allure and significance of the open road and its role in shaping our national identity.

The Birth and Glory of Route 66

In the early 20th century, America saw a growing need for better roads and highways. In response to this need, the iconic Route 66 came into existence.

Established in 1926, Route 66 started in Chicago and spanned eight states, eventually ending in Santa Monica, California. It became a symbol of America’s highway culture and was dubbed the Mother Road by John Steinbeck in his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Cyrus Avery, often called the “Father of Route 66,” played a crucial role in highway development. He envisioned a road connecting the 35th parallel and proposed a diagonal route through Illinois to Springfield and St. Louis.

This eventually became U.S. Highway 66. The route covered over 2,400 miles and connected cities, towns, and rural communities, allowing for easier travel and commerce between them.

The heyday of Route 66 saw countless travelers embark on cross-country road trips. It was more than just a road; it was a way of life, epitomizing the American dream. Thousands of businesses, including motels, gas stations, and roadside attractions, sprung up along the highway to cater to the needs of these travelers.

As the years went by, several parts of Route 66 were upgraded, bypassed, or abandoned due to the construction of new, more modern interstates. Nevertheless, the legacy of the Mother Road still lives on. Here’s a brief overview of the states that Route 66 passed through:

  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • Kansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • New Mexico
  • Arizona
  • California

Route 66 was a cultural icon during its glory days, embraced by numerous artists, authors, and musicians who immortalized its sights and stories.

While much of its original charm has faded today, the route remains an integral part of America’s history and continues to hold a special place in the hearts of those who have traveled its winding path.

The revival of interest in Route 66 can be seen through various preservation efforts, festivals, and the growing number of books and documentaries celebrating its rich history. As we explore the story of Route 66, let us not forget its humble beginnings and the remarkable journey it represents for millions of travelers who have traversed this iconic slice of Americana.

Declining Years and Decommissioning

The decline of Route 66 started with the development of the Interstate Highway System, which was initiated by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.

This act aimed to improve the efficiency of the US road system. It was heavily influenced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s experiences with traffic congestion during his time in the military.

As the construction of the interstate highways progressed, sections of Route 66 were bypassed by new, more efficient roads such as Interstate 40. These bypasses diverted traffic away from the once-popular Route 66, significantly decreasing businesses and communities that relied on the road for their livelihood.

It is important to note that improvements in road infrastructure impacted Route 66 and the shift in travel preferences for faster, more convenient modes of transportation.

With the Interstate Highway System providing a faster alternative, Route 66 struggled to compete and was eventually surpassed by these modern highways.

In addition to economic struggles, the towns and businesses along this historic road had to cope with decreasing funding and maintenance from the government. Eventually, Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, giving way to a new era of highway travel that prioritized efficiency over the classic charm of a historic byway.

Despite the decline and decommissioning, Route 66 has experienced a revival in recent years. People have rediscovered the nostalgia and stories attached to this iconic highway, and many towns and businesses have capitalized on the growing interest.

Today, we can find vibrant Route 66-themed memorabilia, landmarks, and museums that celebrate the history and culture of this classic American road.

Restoration and Modern-Day Relevance

Recently, there has been a renewed interest in preserving Route 66. Various organizations and programs have been established to safeguard its legacy and restore its historic sites.

One of the key initiatives is the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, a collaborative effort between various government agencies, the private sector, and local communities along the route.

In 2000, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) designated Route 66 as a National Scenic Byway, giving it a special status and providing additional support for its preservation.

This recognition further solidified the importance of this iconic highway in American culture. Moreover, several segments and sites along Route 66 have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring the protection of their architectural and cultural significance.

State governments have also played a crucial role in restoring Route 66. Arizona, California, and other states have designated portions of the highway as “State Historic Route 66” or “State Route 66,” creating a unified effort to keep this historic road alive.

Tourism has been a driving force behind the revival of Route 66. Small towns along the route have embraced their connection to the iconic highway, creating museums, restaurants, and attractions that draw visitors worldwide. These efforts benefit the local economy and help preserve the spirit of the road.

Some of the most popular attractions along Route 66 include:

  • In Arizona: the Wigwam Motel, Petrified Forest National Park
  • In California: the Santa Monica Pier, the Route 66 Museum
  • In Texas: the Cadillac Ranch, the Route 66 Historic District in Amarillo
  • In Oklahoma: the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, the Blue Whale of Catoosa
  • In New Mexico: the Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari
  • In Missouri: the Route 66 State Park, the Wagon Wheel Motel
  • In Kansas: the Galena Mining & Historical Museum, the Baxter Springs Heritage Center

The resurgence of Route 66 has not only led to the restoration of its physical infrastructure but has also become a subject of academic research. Scholars study this legendary road’s history, architecture, and cultural impact, further solidifying its significance in the American consciousness.

Through collaboration, preservation efforts, and embracing tourism, we have witnessed a remarkable revival of Route 66.

As we continue to cherish this iconic highway’s vibrant history and culture, it remains an unmistakable part of the American landscape, connecting the past with the present and ensuring its relevance for future generations.