WINSLOW, Ariz.— U.S. 66, better known as Route 66, was once called names like "The Mother Road" and "The Main Street of America."
First opened in 1926, the highway connected Chicago and Los Angeles and a ton of little towns in between. The road wasn’t completely paved until 1938 and less than 20 years later was being replaced by the interstate highway system.
Route 66 was immortalized in a song written by jazz pianist Bobby Troup, who later played Dr. Joe Early on the TV series, "Emergency." The lyrics included references to numerous towns along Route 66.
Today, much of the roadway that was Route 66 is now covered by a big, fast highway, the longest stretch is now Interstate 40. When the interstate highways came along, travelers no longer drove through the main thoroughfares of places such as Gallup, N.M., and Holbrook, Ariz.
The mom-and-pop ventures, that included motor inns, service stations and ice cream shops, not to mention campy attractions such as reptile farms, began to fade away. A few of the places along Route 66 have turned those memories into a drive-through museum as a tribute to the once-vital route.
During our recent vacation, my wife and I dropped off the interstate for a little trip into a bygone era. We spent one night at the Wigwam Motel, a collection of stucco guest quarters in the shape of a teepee. It was small, but clean. And for $58, we have a lifetime memory. The Wigwam is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of just a handful of the old teepee motels still in business.
Winslow was the largest town in northern Arizona during the Route 66 heyday. While that’s no longer the case, the town received newfound fame in the Eagles’ classic song, "Take it Easy." The opening line refers to "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Ariz."
About 20 years ago, a group of local folks decided to commemorate the very corner songwriter Jackson Browne was writing about. The corner now features a statue of Browne, who reportedly got his inspiration while sitting in a corner drugstore that is now a souvenir shop for everything Eagles, Winslow and Route 66. The corner comes complete with a flatbed Ford, as noted in the song.
Farther West, we found an equally charming Route 66 tribute in Williams, Ariz. We stayed in the Grand Canyon Hotel, which boasts it is the oldest hotel in Arizona. Among its guests in early years were famed author John Muir, the Vanderbilt family and the King of Siam and his entourage. All of them had come to see the nearby Grand Canyon.
The hotel has an old sign out front boasting rooms for $3.50 and up. You’ll pay about 90 bucks more than that today. An update on plumbing and the addition of air conditioning is about all that has changed.
Down the street, you’ll find a store stating it is the largest Route 66 sign in the world.
The people of Williams fought the new interstate highway and were the last town served by Route 66 until 1984.
There is something to be said for getting off the interstate and driving along what is now called a "historical" route. I came along as travel on old two-lane routes was being replaced by the four-lane. But I fully appreciate the great time those old roads reprint and I was honored to stand on a few of those great corners on America’s Main Street.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.