It was 17 years ago, back in 1995, that the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum was opened in Clinton by the Oklahoma Historical Society after a $1.8 million project that was accomplished with a remarkable public-private partnership.
“The Historical Society had pushed ahead with the development of the museum despite an 18.8 percent budget cut,” said Kathy Dickson, OHS
“The biggest source of funding came from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which provided an $820,000 grant, the first ISTEA project in Oklahoma.”
Now, after closing in January for renovations, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum will reopen at 2 p.m. on May 26 during Clinton's 2012 Route 66 Festival. The museum will celebrate $500,000 in improvements that once again were accomplished with extensive public and private fundraising
“The Route 66 Museum offers unique insight into American history, reflecting the tremendous role of Route 66 and Oklahoma in connecting the Midwest with the West Coast starting in 1926,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “It also represents a turning point in the way we manage and develop museums across the state.
“Since 1995, this museum has set a standard for entrepreneurial innovation, a greater reliance on partnerships and a commitment to the highest standards of quality.”
With 396 miles of Route 66 protected in Oklahoma for its legendary and historic role in America's development, the Route 66 Museum has attracted visitors from every continent. These included a record 33,000 visitors in 2009, with 35 percent coming from 23 foreign countries.
The Friends of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, who have continued to support the Route 66 Museum since 1995, recognized that the exhibits had become worn and dated, said Director Pat Smith of the museum.
“Following the designation of Route 66 as a scenic byway in 2007, the museum received a grant of $120,000 from the National Scenic Byways Program and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation,” Smith said. “The Friends of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, with support from the City of Clinton, and the Oklahoma Historical Society collaborated to raise the remainder of funds.”
In addition to $19,000 in state funding, OHS personnel provided “a lot of sweat equity” toward the $500,000 renovation, said Dickson.
Not wanting to change the thematic approach, the museum will continue to tell the story of Route 66 by decade, said Smith, but patrons will have the opportunity through modern technology to interact with the exhibits.
“For example, prerecorded
“An embedded children's tour will be a welcome attraction, as caricatures of popular models of classic cars guide them through the exhibits. The changes will create a more personal, hands-on Route 66 experience.”
Throughout the day of the Grand Opening Ceremony on May 26, visitors will tour the museum without charge. Jim Ross, author of “Oklahoma Route 66,” Route 66 photographer Shellee Graham and author-artist Jerry McClanahan will host a book-signing.
Local musician Jared Deck will perform rock 'n' roll hits heard during the heyday of Route 66.
Ross will emcee the 2 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will not interfere with the Clinton Route 66 Festival. Two new members of the Route 66 Hall of Fame will be
The original Route 66 extended from Chicago southwest to St. Louis, then through Missouri, a corner of Kansas and on to Tulsa and Oklahoma City. From there, it extended west through Clinton, New Mexico and Arizona to Los Angeles.
Route 66 became known as the “Main Street of America” and was celebrated in books such as “The Mother Road” by Michael Wallis. The “Route 66” television series, which included its “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” theme song in 1960, helped make the road a pop culture icon.
By 1970, when Interstate 40 was completed in the western half of Oklahoma, the volume of traffic was shifting from Route 66, leading to the decommissioning of the road as a federal highway in 1985.
For those of us who traveled Route 66 in its heyday, as I did with my family in a 1939 Chevrolet back in 1947, memories of the old motels, diners, stores and classic cars remain intact. They again will be brought to life for us and for younger visitors who enjoy Oklahoma history, thanks to Clinton, the Friends of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Federal Scenic Byways Program and numerous other public and private museum supporters.
Max Nichols writes a monthly column for the Oklahoma Historical Society.