1. Home
  2. Post
  3. Discover Historic Route 66

Discover Historic Route 66

By The National Trust for Historic Preservation Jul 2, 2018

Route 66. The Mother Road. The inspiration for those oft-quoted “kicks.” And now, the backdrop for an epic road trip that will showcase why this historic route deserves our support.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation—the cause for people saving places—is taking to the streets (literally) to capture the stories and advocate for the preservation of the most enduring highway in America’s public consciousness. Our mission: help designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail and keep the route as a vital, iconic, and evolving piece of Americana.

Just like Route 66, Polaroid is an iconic part of American history and culture. That’s why to celebrate the route and drive awareness for its preservation, a team from the National Trust is traveling Route 66 from July 2nd to August 3rd—along with a crew of Roadies, a bedecked Airstream trailer, and a handful of Polaroid Snap Touch instant digital cameras to document the journey. Every week on the Polaroid blog, we’ll be checking in from the road to share our latest Polaroid pictures of the kitschy stops, breathtaking vistas, and once-in-a-lifetime adventures that only a class road trip can provide. And we’ll be uncovering new stories, too, and showcasing the diverse people who live along this historic route.

But first, a little more about the road we know and love. Officially commissioned in 1926 as part of America’s first federal highway system, Route 66 was originally a hodge-podge of routes, roads, and trails that predated automobiles. (Learn more about Route 66’s layered and diverse history.) When the number of registered vehicles in the United States jumped from 450,000 in 1910 to 8 million in 1920, motorists demanded improved highways to travel across the country.

Entrepreneur Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, Oklahoma—today known as the “Father of Route 66”—promoted the idea of an interregional link between Chicago and Los Angeles. The highway would be the shortest year-round route between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast, traveling through eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

As Route 66’s use and popularity grew, mom and pop shops, quirky roadside architecture, motels, theaters, and gas stations sprung up in main streets, urban centers, and rural areas. These unique sights not only provided a respite for travelers, but they also came to signify the places that featured them. Overall, Route 66 brought widely disparate regions across the country together, and many communities along the route prospered.

Eventually, though, the growth of interstate traffic and development of larger, newer highways made Route 66 obsolete, and many of the once-prosperous communities declined. Route 66 was officially decommissioned in 1985.

But that did not spell the end for the storied route. Business owners, passionate Route 66 supporters, nonprofits, and state and federal agencies who grasped the road’s impact on American identity joined forces and lobbied to commemorate and invigorate the route. The result was the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, authorized by Congress through 2019 to continue providing financial and technical assistance to facilitate Route 66’s preservation.

Then, in 2015, the Road Ahead Partnership was created to revitalize and sustain Route 66 as a national icon and international destination, for the benefit of all Route 66 communities, travelers, and businesses. Representatives from all eight states along the route work on a broad range of issues from preservation and economic sustainability to promotion, research, and education.

With the Corridor Preservation Program set to sunset in 2019, the National Trust, the Road Ahead Partnership, and other state and local partners want to make sure that Route 66 receives permanent designation as a National Historic Trail. National Historic Trails are nationally significant historical travel routes designated by Congress. There are currently 19 National Historic Trails, including the Santa Fe and Lewis and Clark Trails. This permanent designation, which would not increase regulations or restrictions for the route, will attract greater public interest and investment to its communities and encourage their economic revitalization. Plus, it means that visitors from the U.S. and abroad will get to experience Route 66 for generations to come. 

By the trip’s end, we hope to capture the spirit of Route 66 and share it with travelers old and new, real and virtual—anyone who dreams of the open road. We hope you’ll join us on this incredible journey.