Route 66 in Kansas

The entire length of the segment of Route 66 that travels through Kansas is less than 14 miles – which is, as one commentator points out, less than one percent of the approximately 2,300 miles of the road that runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California.   Still, the Kansas segment was one that partook of the majestic sweep of the old road as it crossed the state on its way from Missouri to Oklahoma.  It passed through or near some half a dozen small towns as it traveled first due west upon its entrance into the state near Galena, Kansas, before turning abruptly south to its rendezvous with the Oklahoma state line.   Kansas and Illinois shared the distinction in 1929 of being the only two states to have their entire lengths of Route 66 hard-surfaced.  Only small segments of the road elsewhere were hard-surfaced by 1929 (Missouri was the closest to being finished, with two-thirds of its portion of Route 66 hard-surfaced).

The area of Kansas that Route 66 traveled through was one of the most active lead mining areas in the United States, and the Mother Road passes close to one of the largest lead smelters in the nation in Kansas, the Eagle-Picher smelter.  Zinc was also mined in large quantities in the area during World War II, but both the lead and the zinc mines eventually played out.

Kansas has another, unfortunate distinction: It is the only state that was completely bypassed by the Interstate that replaced its segment of Route 66.  I-44 goes directly from Missouri to Oklahoma some miles to the east of Kansas, and all that remains of the old road that once traveled through Kansas are some dusty memories and a two-mile segment of Route 66 west of Joplin, Kansas that travelers can still drive on.