(ODD)yssey, Blog Post

So where is the ‘birthplace of Route 66?”

Over the next few weeks, I’m writing about stops on my recent road trip with Sweetums so sign up for blog notices if you want to follow along.

NOTE: We followed COVID regulations everywhere we went and we wore our masks, although I usually removed mine for photos. We want everyone to be safe when traveling.

Stop No. 3: Springfield, Mo.

Our road trip last month took us back to Route 66, which we had traveled during our honeymoon in 2016. We discovered during our stop in Springfield, Mo., that it was billed as the “birthplace of Route 66.” Later in the trip, we found a memorial in Tulsa, Okla., to Cyrus Avery, the man who is billed as the “father of Route 66.”

So we wondered, what’s the story?

It turns out both cities were very important in the development of the famous “Mother Road.”

It was in Springfield that developers of the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route chose its official numeric designation: 66. The route was already in development when highway officials, including Cyrus Avery, agreed on the number. Springfield is home of a Birthplace of Route 66 Festival, cancelled this year due to COVID. A history on the festival website says: “U.S. 66, also known as Route 66, the Mother Road, the Main Street of America, and the Will Rogers Highway, was officially named ‘U.S. 66,’ via telegram at a meeting of highway officials in Springfield, Missouri on April 30, 1926. Calvin Coolidge was President, Prohibition was still in full swing, motion pictures were a year away from becoming ‘talkies,’ and Henry Ford had just lowered the price of the automobile. The stage was set for what would become not only the country’s first cross-country highway, but an enduring piece of Americana that travelers from around the world still yearn to experience.”

A plaque was installed in Park Central Square to commemorate Springfield as the “birthplace.”

So where does Tulsa, Okla., come into the picture? The city of Tulsa is about a 3 hours’ drive from Springfield and it is not the centerpoint of the route. It is, however, the birthplace of Cyrus Avery, the man who came up with the idea of building a Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway in a time where people were first beginning to drive cars.

Avery (1871–1963) mapped the route of the highway as a first step to creating a Federal Highway System. He also led efforts to pave the route and to promote its use to motorists.

A memorial to Avery’s contribution in Tulsa is made up of two life-size bronze sculptures depicting a man driving a horse-drawn carriage coming upon a newfangled motorcar. The family in the car – a father, mother, little girl, dog and cat – are showing their surprise at meeting the horses on the road. It is called “East Meets West” and was made by artist Robert Summers. The sculptures are located near an abandoned bridge on Route 66, which can be seen from the plaza where the sculpture is located. It was preserved in honor of Avery. We visited both Springfield and Tulsa on our recent trip. Check out the photos below.  

A sign along Route 66 in Springfield, Mo., says it is the Birthplace of Route 66. (Wil Elrick)
Historical marker in Springfield, Mo. (Birthplace of Route 66 Festival)
The tribute to the Father of Route 66, Cyrus Avery, in Tulsa, Okla. (Wil Elrick)
Detail of the sculpture at Cyrus Avery Plaza. (Kelly Kazek)
Sweetums and Kelly at Cyrus Avery Plaza in Tulsa. (Wil Elrick)
Cyrus Avery Plaza in Tulsa. (Wil Elrick)
A preserved abandoned portion of Route 66 at Cyrus Avery Plaza in Tulsa. (Kelly Kazek)
The Route 66 Rising sculpture in Tulsa. (Wil Elrick)
The Route 66 Rising sculpture in Tulsa. (Wil Elrick)

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