U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
|Needles Field Office|
Historic Route 66
Historic U.S. Route 66
Officially established on November 11, 1926, US Route 66 began in Chicago, Illinois and terminated in Los Angeles, California a distance of 2,448 miles. It was one of the original highways in the US highway system, and probably the most famous.
Originally, there were no official roads crossing America. There were dirt trails used by settlers during the development of the west and there were railroads. Individual towns established themselves around these transportation routes. When someone wanted to travel to another town with their vehicle, they either took the established trail or used a frontage access road for the railroad. Since towns were situated on an existing railroad line or trail, the primary trading businesses were located on that route. That led to the term “Main Street” for a town’s business. As traffic increased between towns, these “Main Streets” became connected into a continuous road. One of the nicknames of US 66 was “The Main Street of America”.
Establishment of a highway system
In the early 1920s, there was recognized a need to formally develop, manage and fund a national highway system. Prior to this, individual towns maintained the streets within their jurisdictions and perhaps a short distance outside of their boarders, but certainly not to the next town.
What was unique about Route 66 was that it traveled diagonally from the northern mid-west to southern California thus connecting smaller rural towns along the route. Many roadside services such as service stations and diners established their business models as a result of this road. In fact, it has been stated that Route 66 led to the invention of the motel.
In the early 1930s work on the road was stopped due to the great depression. During that same period thousands of people from the mid west dust bowl region traveled to California in search of work and a better life. Work resumed on the road as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal using WPA resources. The entire distance of the road was paved by 1938.
Over the years there were several upgrades of the road necessitating realignment of certain sections. In any given area, it is not uncommon to have as many as five “original road” sections
Post war highs
After world war II, Route 66 prospered as tourism and motor commerce expanded westward. The US highway system reached its zenith in the early 1950s just before the Interstate Highway System was developed. When Interstates were completed, they often relegated the existing US route to secondary status. In the case of Route 66, several Interstate Routes –most notably I-40 in the southwest– completely bypassed it. US Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985.
Rebirth of a legend
Route 66 captures and represents the pioneering spirit of emigrants set on coming west. It played a major role in the development of the United States in general and the southwest in particular.
In California, the original 66 is known as The National Old Trails Highway. It runs from the Colorado River west of Needles, CA through Goffs, Essex, Danby, Chambless, Amboy, Ludlow, then on to Barstow before reaching Los Angeles. Through numerous clubs, associations, and interested individuals the spirit and grandeur of a pioneer trail that helped to settle the west continues to live on.