WBEZ Chicago: Route 66 was ‘a microcosm of America.’ Now, preservationists want to collect its stories.

“‘Get your kicks on Route 66,’ Nat King Cole famously sang in 1946 about one of the United States’ first highways. The iconic road, which stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, figures prominently in pop culture, appearing in music, television and Disney/Pixar films.

“Now, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is honoring the highway’s past by collecting stories and photos from people who traveled along the route, all ahead of its centennial in 2026 and with the hope of elevating the stories of overlooked groups.

“‘There are stories of Native Americans on Route 66, of Black Americans, immigrant stories, Latinx and Mexican Americans on Route 66. Those are some of the stories that have not really been told,’ said Amy Webb, senior director of preservation programs at the National Trust. ‘What we want to do as Route 66 is coming up on its second century and celebrating its centennial is to really kind of expand that narrative.’

“The National Trust, a nonprofit that works to save the country’s historic sites, announced last month the launch of its ‘Preserve Route 66: Share Your Story’ campaign, which aims to gather 2,026 stories for the highway’s centennial.

“Whether you’re a historian or regular road tripper, you can submit pictures and memories in the form of a few sentences at a submission portal on the National Trust’s website. Currently, 80 submissions are featured on the website, with more being submitted daily, Webb said. The stories will be used to develop an interactive map for the centennial, which will also include information from state preservation offices and the National Parks Service.

“Route 66, at 2,440 miles long, was designated as the nation’s first-ever all-weather highway in 1926. By the 1950s, travel along what John Steinbeck called ‘the Mother Road’ had become a popular American road trip, with stops along the way to see small towns, bright neon signs, truck stops and other roadside attractions. Some small towns opened shops, motels and gas stations, with the route pumping revenue into these areas. The route, which Webb called a ‘microcosm of America,’ was decommissioned in 1985 and was replaced by new interstate highways.

“‘It’s unfortunate that we continue to lose bits and pieces of Route 66, or whole buildings, every year,’ Webb said. ‘In preservation, the only way that places get saved is that somebody cares about them, and we know that people care deeply about places on Route 66.’

“In Chicago and beyond, some of the original establishments that popped up along Route 66 are at risk of being lost to development, Webb said. ‘People in Chicago may know of places that they remember that aren’t here anymore and we want to hear those stories, too,’ she said.”

“‘Oftentimes we lose things, things are demolished because people don’t speak up on how much they love it,’ she said.” (Cha, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/3/24)

Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times


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