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Oklahoma Route 66

Touring the Vinita
Area

Oklahoma Route 66

 

Vinita, Oklahoma
The Lewis Motel and Clanton's Cafe are classic Route 66 businesses that are still surviving in the great old Route 66 town of Vinita, Oklahoma.

Unlikely Ally

Between Joplin, Missouri and Tulsa, Oklahoma Interstate 44 is a toll road. Not that I'm cheap or anything but I didn't want to pay any tolls. This is a sentiment held by other people, especially truckers, and has the unlikely result of promoting Route 66. Many travelers take the old Mother Road to ovoid paying the toll fees. This helps keep the towns and businesses alive with the increased traffic. The Interstate has proved an unlikely ally to Route 66 in this part of Oklahoma. Besides for me, driving the two-lanes like Route 66 is relaxing. It's nice not to have to jockey for position with the 18-wheelers. It may take a little longer to get to where I want to go, but it sure is worth it. I can feel a part of the country around me when I'm on Old Route 66. I see so much more too.

         

Vinita, Oklahoma is a great historical Route 66 town. Driving along Route 66 you can see many examples of what Route 66 was like back in its hey-day. Vinita is the second oldest town in Oklahoma and was founded in 1871 when the railroad came through. It was originally named Downingville but the name was changed to honor Vinnie Ream, the sculptress of the life-sized statue of Lincoln at the United States Capitol. There are many surviving vintage Route 66 buildings in Vinita, from cafes to motels, gas stations and more. Downtown Vinita has many examples of art deco and turn-of-the-century architecture to be framed in the lens of the traveler's camera. This is a fun town to stay awhile and explore.

Vinita Clanton's Cafe

         
Vinita Downtown Downtown Vinita is full of wonderful examples of unique architecture from the early years of Route 66.

Vinita Art Deco Arch

         

Chelsea Motel

 

Chelsea, Oklahoma was founded in 1870 by a homesick Frisco railroad worker. Supposedly he was yearning for his native town of Chelsea, England. Chelsea has the distinction of being the site of Oklahoma's first oil well in 1889. The discovery of oil in Oklahoma would shape the destiny of the state for future generations. Gene Autry, the "Singing Cowboy" also lived in Chelsea for a time when he worked for the Frisco Railroad.

As you travel down Route 66 through Chelsea look for signs of old Route 66 tucked away here and there like the old Chelsea Motel. Once this old sign would have been a welcome site to tired travelers. By the look of the old motor court though, that was quite a while ago.

 

Foyil, Oklahoma is the hometown of Andy Payne, winner of the famous 84 day 2400 mile transcontinental footrace known as the "Bunion Derby." The story of the Bunion Derby is once of the most flamboyant and original schemes to promote the Mother Road. Seventy-five years ago this spring 2003 an improbable event occurred on the then new east-west highway called Route 66. It was the time when our nation’s love affair with the automobile and the open road was just starting. Our modern highway system was in its infancy and the romantic west beckoned to a people just discovering a new found mobility; a wanderlust that would spawn a new road revolution. America was on the move! Into this wonderful mix of exciting events Lon Scott, the promotion man for the new Route 66 Association, came up with the outlandish idea of a transcontinental footrace to promote Route 66.

Andy Payne in the Bunion Derby
Andy Payne #43 in Parks, Arizona 1928

             
With the help of C.C. Pyle, a sports promoter, a cross-country footrace from the shores of the Pacific all the way to New York was planned. The race route would follow the new highway, Route 66, to Chicago then on to New York. Dubious news reporters laughed at the idea and mocked Pyle. They dubbed the 3,422-mile transcontinental footrace the Bunion Derby. That name, meant as a joke, caught on and became the Bunion Derby from that day on. Almost three hundred runners signed up for the race. The $25,000 prize money was too enticing. Of the 275 runners that started from the western end of Route 66 only 55 would cross the finish line in New York 87 days later. A young, part Cherokee farmer from Oklahoma, Andy Payne, was the first to cross the line hours ahead of the other runners. Andy went home a hero in his own state of Oklahoma. He was able to pay off the mortgage on his parent's farm and in 1934 went on to become clerk of the state Supreme Court. He was reelected to the post seven times! Foyil's main street was renamed Andy Payne Boulevard.
            

Foyil Totem

The Foyil Totem

A few miles east of Foyil is another unique roadside attraction, the world's largest totem pole. The Totem Pole is 90 feet tall and contains 200 carved pictures on it. Built between the years 1937 - 1948 by Ed Galloway, a self-taught artist and craftsman, it was a major attraction on old Route 66. Totem Pole Park or better known as Galloway Park is located 4 miles east of Foyil on 28A and has been a famous detour off Route 66 for many years. In the park you will find folk art concrete totems and a multi- sided "Fiddle-House." The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Ed Galloway, a self-taught artist and craftsman was born in 1880. He was an industrial arts teacher at the Sand Springs Children Home who retired to Foyil with his wife in 1937.

         
For the next 25 years Ed worked seven days a week on his park and began showing it to travelers on Route 66. Ed also built the Fiddle-House between the years 1948 - 1949 to house his extensive fiddle collection, each crafted from exotic wood by Ed himself. Ed Galloway passed away in 1962 and his wonderful art, his legacy to the world, was left unattended for the next twenty years. Thankfully it was saved by the Kansas Grassroots Art Association, who did the restoration work, the Rogers County Historical Society and the Foyil Heritage Association. Today the wonderful art work of Ed Galloway is still attracting Route 66 travelers from all over the world. When I dropped in to admire Ed's work there was a group from Germany doing the same. If you are in the area this is truly a "must stop" for the road wanderer.

Foyil Totem Detail

 

Claremore, Oklahoma is perhaps best know as the hometown of the famous humorist Will Rogers. The Will Rogers Memorial is located here. It is an eight-gallery museum with theaters, interactive TV, art and artifacts that celebrate the memory of this Oklahoma Native Son. There are many other museums located here also, J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum, The Lynn Riggs Memorial, and the Oklahoma Military Academy Memorial Museum,  making Claremore a town with a lot of history to see. The Will Rogers Hotel is another attraction to be seen in Claremore.

Claremore got its beginning as an Osage Indian community in the early nineteenth century. A real boom came to the town in 1903 when mineral water was accidentally discovered while the town was looking for oil. Radium baths houses became the rage in Claremore. Though I don't have any pictures of Claremore as of yet, look for more information on this great Route 66 town in the future. Looks like another road trip is in order!

 

Photographs Taken May, June 2003

Click on an area or city of Route 66 on the map below to take a cyber tour of that section of the  Mother Road

Travel Cyber Route 66 in Oklahoma

Go West on Route 66

NAVIGATION NOTE: Buckle up and hold on to your mouse! These pages are arranged like the map above, from the western state border to the eastern state border. I have set up this site as if you were traveling from EAST to WEST, much like the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. You can click on the Route 66 shields to "travel" the Mother Road in either direction though. Or you can select any shield below to take you to that specific state.

Go East on Route 66

To Catoosa &
the Blue Whale

To Afton

 

Select the Route 66 State to Visit

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