Kansas Context

NPS Form 10-900-a OMB No. 1024-0018 (8-86)

United States Department of the Interior

National Park Service



Historic Resources of Route 66 in Kansas – Cherokee County, Kansas


U.S. Highway 66 (Route 66) was designated on November 11, 1926 by the Federal Highway Commission as part of a new national interstate highway network. The interstate highway system grew out of parallel movements, one seeking improved roads for long-distance travel and the second desiring better roads to improve rural economic conditions. An east-west route connecting Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 included roughly 2,300 miles that passed through eight states and three time zones. To connect Missouri and Oklahoma, Route 66 crossed a small corner of southeastern Cherokee County, Kansas. Under 14 miles in length, the Kansas segment of Route 66 is less than one-percent of the entire highway. Over the years Route 66 developed a mythical stature. In The Grapes of Wrath, author John Steinbeck chronicled the lives of people suffering the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl who traveled Route 66 west to California in search of a better life. From the hit song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” to the eponymous television show of the 1960s, popular culture heralded the road as a source of freedom and adventure. The commercial architecture along the route reflected popular styles and trends and Route 66 became the Main Street of America.


The creation of Route 66 developed from dual influences in effect at the turn of the 20th century. The first effort was a continuation of the Progressive Movement that began in the late 19th century, advocating for improved economic and social opportunities in rural areas. One particular concern was improving farmer’s access to markets by constructing adequate roads in rural areas. The second effort, known as the Good Roads movement, sought to upgrade roads to make them safe and reliable for automobile travelers, in particular those traveling long distances. Unlike horse-pulled wagons, cars and trucks required hard-surfaced all-weather roads that were dependable year round. By the early 20th century automobile enthusiasts nationwide lobbied for the construction of permanent all-weather roads and the expansion of local, state and national highway systems1.

The first national vision for an improved highway system was realized when President Woodrow Wilson enacted the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916. As its name implies, this legislation provided federal aid to the states for the construction of roads. Based on a draft prepared by the recently formed American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO)2, this bill levied a gasoline tax to fund road building across the country, proposing an appropriation of $75 million over five years. The money would be distributed to the states using a formula weighted to consider equally land area, population and miles of rural postal delivery routes. The federal aid would equal 50 percent of construction costs, not to exceed $10,000 per mile. The state highway agencies would recommend projects, but the final determination for funding fell to the Secretary of Agriculture 3. The bill also required that each state establish a highway agency staffed with engineering professionals to oversee the federal-aid projects4. Significantly, the legislation bridged the differences between the progressive factions, who sought to enhance economic opportunities in rural America by improving local roads, and the long-distance roads advocates, who urged the construction of a network of interstate and transcontinental roads5.

Initiation of the 1916 road act got off to a slow start. America’s entry into World War I the following year placed a strain on federal finances as well as road-building materials and personnel. However, cross-country military shipments during the war exacerbated the already poor condition of existing roads and emphasized the need for a national system of improved highways.

When the 1916 road bill expired, the Federal Highway Act of 1921 created a system of federal-aid highways that would incorporate up to three-sevenths of the existing state highway system into a network of interstate roads. This act again bridged the interests between farm-to-market proponents and long-distance advocates. Up to 60 percent of each state’s available federal-aid funds could be used to finance improvements to the interstate roads. By November of 1923, working with the state highway departments, the Bureau of Public Roads had designated a federal-aid highway network that included 5.9 percent of all public roads in the United States6.

The Federal Highway Act of 1921 ushered in the golden era of road building in the United States. In 1922, the states spent $189 million to build over 10,000 miles of federal-aid roads. This more than tripled the number of road-miles improved since 1916. Typical projects produced graded-earth, sand-clay or gravel road surfaces7.

In 1924 the Department of Agriculture appointed five representatives from state highway commissions across the country to a special Joint Board of Interstate Highways. The Joint Board was charged with naming specific routes and developing insignias for the federal highways. From their pool of federal-aid roads, the commission asked each state to recommend the existing routes most suitable for designation as interstate highways8. Segments of existing roads were cobbled together to create the new federal interstate system. At the time of designation, some of these roads were improved and others were not. The panel also developed the now-ubiquitous shield-shaped signage to help travelers reach their destinations, as well as the system designating federal highways as numbered, rather than named, roads. East-west routes received even numbers and north-south routes received odd numbers, creating an axial system that began in the south and west. The numerals “0” and “5” were assigned to major highways9.

By the late 1930s nearly all rural roads had received some initial improvements, although not all were paved, and AASHO was looking toward the next phase of national road improvements. The next major plan presented to congress was the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944. This legislation laid much of the groundwork for the current interstate highway system. It identified an extensive highway network that connected the nation’s major metropolitan areas, cities and industrial facilities10.

The “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” finally came in to being with the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. This bill authorized $25 billion in funding through fiscal year 1969 for an interstate highway system roughly equivalent to that proposed a decade earlier. The federal government would pay 90 percent of project costs. AASHO was charged with developing minimum standards that would produce uniform road designs, including the elimination of at-grade railroad crossings throughout the interstate network. Access to the highways would be limited to interchanges specified in the original plans or subsequently approved by the Secretary of Commerce. Unlike many of the turnpikes already built, no service stations or other commercial establishments were permitted within the right-of-way11. The federal highway system developed in the 1920s had relied largely on existing roads, which typically lacked continuity in either design or condition. By contrast, the design standards imposed on the new interstate highway system resulted almost entirely on the acquisition of new right-of-way and the construction of new road. The older federal highways were reduced to back roads that continued to service the local population, while long-distance haulers and travelers utilized the four-lane expressways to reach their destinations.


1Mary Rowland, “Kansas and the Highways, 1917-1930,” Kansas History, 5 (Spring 1982): 34.
2AASHO was the precursor to the current American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials or AASHTO.
3The Department of Agriculture included the Bureau of Public Roads, precursor to the Federal Highway Administration.
4Rowland, 34-5; Richard Weingroff, “Federal Aid Road Act of 1916: Building the Foundation,” accessed on-line at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw96a.htm, (accessed on-line November 2002) 4.
5Weingroff, Ibid.
6Richard Weingroff, “From 1916 to 1939: The Federal-State Partnership at Work,” accessed on-line at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw96c.htm, (accessed on-line November 2002) 2.
8Mary Jo Meacham, Brenda Peck, Lisa Bradley and Susan Roth, “Route 66 and Associated Historic Resources in Oklahoma” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, (1994) E3.
9Spencer Crump, Route 66: America’s First MainStreet, (Williams, Arizona: Route 66 Magazine, rev. 2nd ed. 1996), 9.
10Richard Weingroff, “Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating the Interstate System,” accessed on-line at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw96e.htm, (access on-line November 2002) 1-2.
11Ibid., 9-10.
12 Crump, 9; Meacham, et.al. E3-4.


Recognizing the potential economic benefits, cities across the country lobbied hard to have a federal highway pass through their community. The initial concept developed by the Federal Highway Commission’s Joint Board for a route from Chicago to southern California followed a course through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. One member of the Joint Board was a businessman from Tulsa, Oklahoma named Cyrus Avery. Avery was a member of the Oklahoma Highway Commission and a long-time Good Roads advocate. Avery promoted an alternate route for this particular interstate that would follow a more southerly route through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. He contended that this alignment would avoid heavy snows in the Rocky Mountains as well as the long stretches of desert through Nevada. The flatter terrain, he also argued, would make road-building more cost-effective. Avery hoped this route would be designated US Highway 60. Because the road started in Chicago instead of the East Coast the round number was not available, and it received the designation “66” instead.

Following the passage of the 1956 road bill, work began on a bypass of Route 66. Interstate 44 (I-44) crossed Missouri from St. Louis to Joplin roughly paralleling the route of US 66. In 1961, the southern section of I-44 was completed. It extended from Joplin to the Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma, bypassing Kansas completely.


The Kansas road system was historically rooted in local needs and desires. In the 1860s, the territorial legislature established a system whereby counties designed, built and funded all of their highways and bridges. There was also a limited network of territorial highways, those that crossed multiple jurisdictions. Local road officials drafted adult males to assist in road building, which essentially included removing trees and tall stumps, staking the alignment and providing directional signage at intersections. By the turn of the 20th century, the state legislature had approved general tax levies and the creation of special benefit districts, wherein a tax was levied on adjacent property owners to fund road construction. To qualify the Board of County Commissioners had to declare a road thus improved a “public utility.” Overall, the development of roads remained at the discretion of local officials.

Responding to the increased use of the automobile, in 1907 the Kansas legislature directed county and township boards to regularly drag certain roads to create a smooth driving surface. In 1909 the legislature further directed the local boards to designate certain roads as “drag roads,” based on grade and travel volume13. Larger counties (those with populations exceeding 20,000) received permission to hire a County Engineer, who would supervise all county road and bridgework and who would coordinate efforts among the local boards regarding the township roads. The counties could also seek the services of the State Engineer of Roads and Highways when in need of additional professional assistance14. This was the first acknowledgement that a unified approach to road design and construction might be of benefit to the state15.

The demand for good roads, by farmers, industrialists and recreational users, coupled with the availability of federal-aid funds to construct modern roads led to a great expansion of the Kansas road network between 1917 and 1930. Local entities were generally satisfied with the decentralized system that had built Kansas roads for 60 years, but the federal government, in its quest for a cohesive national highway network, imposed compliance with federal regulations in exchange for receiving federal money. This included establishment of a state highway agency to oversee road building activities16.

The Kansas legislature established the first State Highway Commission in 1917 in response to the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916. The Commission staff included engineers, administrative staff, and a chief engineer, who held the title of State Highway Engineer17. The Commission included three members whose role was largely to establish road building standards and to serve as a clearinghouse for the federally-funded projects. The Highway Commission directed the county engineers to designate between 10 and 15 percent of their most highly traveled roads as “county roads.” All remaining roads were “township roads.” The match for the federal aid was provided by the county (50 percent), the township(s) (25 percent), and the benefit district(s) (25 percent)18. The benefit district law continued to finance most road construction in Kansas until 1926.

While this arrangement met the needs and desires of the state and the counties to maintain the existing decentralized system of road building, it did not satisfy the federal requirements, which intended the state, not the counties, to be in charge19. To meet the letter of the law, the State Highway Commission first set about designating “state roads” that would be eligible for federal funds and determining the number of miles in the state system, which the State Highway Engineer would supervise. The Highway Commission held a series of public meetings around the state to gather input. However, because Kansans continued to regard road building as a county function turnout was low. The State Highway Engineer gained more power than the local officials realized, including the authority to review and approve road improvement plans, to develop regulations for road construction, and to inspect locally built roads20. With a state highway department in place Kansas would now be enable the use federal aid. However, entry in to World War I reduced the availability of man power and construction materials, and road building languished.

After World War I popular opinion held that road building was too costly. Kansans favored road building as long as the federal government assumed most of the cost. During the 1919 legislative session the Good Roads groups and the state highway commission led an effort to amend the state constitution so that the State, rather than the counties, would finance and direct road building activities. The amendment was sent to the general population for approval in 1920. Outside interests, such as the B.F. Goodrich Rubber Company and the Sinclair Refining Company, joined in-state groups, including the State Association of County Commissioners, the State Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Editorial Association, the Kansas Bankers Association, the Kansas Board of Agriculture and the Good Roads organizations in support of the amendment21. Governor Henry J. Allen, a Good Roads advocate, voiced his support as well. Kansas voters approved the amendment on November 20, 1920, enabling the creation of a centralized state highway system in Kansas22.

With the victory at hand, the next issue was providing the state highway department with the funds to build roads. The 1916 federal aid was set to expire in 1921, and nationally there was pressure to replace the federal aid system with a federally administered road building program. Ultimately, the Federal Highway Act of 1921 reaffirmed the principles of the 1916 law23. However, because the new legislation required that state aid equal the amount of federal aid and that the states fund road maintenance, Governor Allen was concerned that once again the Kansas highway program would not qualify when the state legislature failed to appropriate funds to finance the voter-approved state highway system in 192124.

As early as 1919 the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads threatened to withhold federal aid from Kansas until the state highway department could provide adequate engineering supervision on federal-aid projects25. The Kansas legislature continued to be reluctant to establish a centralized road construction program, preferring to leave the design, construction and financing in the hands of local officials. A new governor, Jonathan M. Davis, a populist Democrat elected in 1923, favored the long-standing decentralized road system. The legislature followed Davis’ lead, and further efforts to bring the Kansas state highway organization into compliance with federal law failed26.

Two years later, Ben S. Paulen, a Republican, succeeded Davis as Governor. The oversight and construction of roads had deteriorated significantly during the previous two years, and Governor Paulen turned attention back to the road situation. A state road bill in 1925 established an independent state highway commission, a state road system not to exceed 8,690 miles, a state highway fund, and a county and state fund for road maintenance and construction. The legislation also levied a two-cent per gallon motor fuel tax to fund road construction in the state. The Legislature again passed the measure but neglected to approve the necessary funding27.

The absence of state funding for the highway department threatened the ability of the state to supervise the $2 million in federal-aid roadwork currently underway in the state. Because federal legislation mandated state oversight, the federal government temporarily suspended all road-building aid to Kansas, leaving the state with the burden of paying for road improvements already in progress. Governor Paulen invited representatives from the Bureau of Public Roads to Kansas to review the situation and to offer recommendations for improvements to the state highway department that would be meet the federal criteria. The BPR report recommended that the state highway department could function adequately with a staff of 45 and an annual budget of $137,300. This was roughly $88,000 more per year than currently allocated, but compliance with these conditions would enable the state to leverage over $2 million per year in federal highway aid. When the legislature met later that spring it approved the requested budget, and federal aid was again released to Kansas on August 1, 192528. The following year it was estimated that the state had access to roughly $6 million for road improvements, including federal aid, state aid and dollars from the county and state road funds.

Funded by federal aid and the old system of benefit districts, which were active in 47 eastern counties, the 1920s were the prime years of road building in Kansas29. Through the end of 1925, federal and state authorities had supervised the construction of 460 miles of concrete roads, 350 miles of earth roads, 285 miles of gravel roads, 130 miles of brick roads and 60 miles of macadam roads for a total cost of nearly $39 million. Of this amount $16 million was federal funds. In 1928, over 124,000 miles of public roads crossed Kansas. Of those miles, the State Highway Engineer listed 8,690 as federal-aid roads and an equal amount as state roads. A decade later Kansas had over 130,000 miles of roads30. That figure included nearly 9,000 miles of improved roads, roughly the same figure under State maintenance31.

Following the Great Depression, the State Highway Commission continued to build roads at a vigorous pace. In 1936 the state received about $675, 000 in federal funds for the construction of secondary state and county roads. The start of World War II curtailed the road building momentum, as Highway Department personnel joined the military or other war-time activities and construction materials were in short supply. The staff of the highway construction division alone dropped from 437 full and part-time workers in June 1940 to 49 employees in June 1944. The limited road construction that did occur during this period focused on projects that connected defense operations (military bases and war plants) to the state highway system or maintained existing roadway32.

When the war was over, the legislature reexamined state highway needs and developed a long-range program for building highways. By the end of the decade, a plan was put forward to finance new and improved roads. It included raising the gasoline tax to five cents per gallon and raising motor vehicle license fees, which had been reduced during the Depression, to a level consistent with fees in other states. Early in the 1950s the legislature also set up a turnpike authority. The authority could issue bonds and build a turnpike, without using state funds, should such a plan prove feasible. The legislature also approved a controlled access law, which enabled the State Highway Commission to limit the number of access points entering a highway. This legislation came none too soon. The federal-aid acts of 1954 and 1956 limited the use of federal highway dollars to roads with controlled access33.

The 9,531 miles of all-weather state highways crossing Kansas in 1956 included 702 miles of interstate and roughly 8,800 miles of federal-aid roads. The state highway commission estimated that an additional 20,000 miles of country roads were also eligible for federally-funded improvements34.

Hard Surfaced Roads in Cherokee County
Hard surfaced roads came relatively early to Cherokee County compared with other areas of Kansas. During the last quarter of the 19th century lead and zinc deposits were discovered in Cherokee County as well as the adjacent counties in Missouri and Oklahoma. By the turn of the 20th century, the ore had brought wealth to the area, which included two bustling communities, Galena at the Missouri State line and Baxter Springs just north of the Oklahoma state line. In discussing the physical advantages of the county, a 1904 county history mentions the “good-roads spirit” supporting the improvement of public roads. By this time the city of Galena, “always forward in matters of this kind,” had improved several roads using the waste “chat” from the local mines as a macadam-like surface. The author notes, if properly applied “…it forms a solid cement-like surface which will endure of a score of years.” He notes that there were many miles of macadamized roads in the vicinity of Galena and Baxter Springs. “Besides affording easy transit for the people … these roads give the country an appearance of tidiness much above what was formerly seen.”35 Chat was exported to surrounding communities, including the county seat in Columbus, and there was the expectation that all the primary roads in the county would be hard-surfaced within a decade. Both the farmers and the industrialists favored the road improvements.

In the July 1920 issue of Kansas Highways, C.M. Cooper, Cherokee County Engineer reported that he was working to establish a standard 24-foot crown on all county roads. Money was also allocated for grading roads and improving culverts. When a grade was deemed satisfactory, the roads were hard-surfaced with chat. Cooper estimated that 18 new miles of hard-surfaced roads had been added to the existing 25 miles that year. Approximately $24,500 had been spent on new surfacing and $10,000 on maintaining existing surfaced roads. A 1923 county history boasted of the fine paved streets and other modern infrastructure in the Galena vicinity36. This was the height of the mining boom in the Tri-State District, and as a result the mining communities in southeastern Cherokee County experienced a period of prosperity that enabled substantial infrastructure improvements37. Even into the 1950s the region shipped three to five million tons of chat annually for use in railroad ballast, concrete production and asphalt aggregate.


13W.V. Buck, “Kansas Highway Development and Road Legislation,” in The History of Kansas State and People, ed. William E. Connelley, (Chicago: American Historical Society, Inc. 1928) 976.
14The State Engineer was an engineer on the faculty at the Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University).
15Buck, 977.
16Rowland, 32.
17Buck, 978-9.
18Ibid., 979.
19Rowland, 37.
21Ibid., 39.
22Ibid., 37.
23 Ibid., 42.
24Ibid., 40.
25Ibid., 43.
28Buck, 983.
29[Kansas Highway Commission], “Kansas Highway History and General Facts on Organization and Operation,” (March 1956), on file at the Archives of the Kansas State Historical Society, 2.
30Buck, 984.
31Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration, The WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas, with an introduction by James R. Shortridge, ([n.p.]: Kansas Department of Education, 1939; reprint, Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1984), 85.
32[Kansas Highway Commission], 10.
33Ibid., 11.
35Nathaniel Thompson Allison, ed and comp, History of Cherokee County, Kansas, (Chicago: Biographical Publishing Company, 1904) 111.
36C.M. Cooper, “Cherokee, “Kansas Highways, (July 1920) 34.
37Galena Weekly Republican, “History of Cherokee County: The Galena Smelter,” (23 June 1923).


Like many of the new federal highways, Route 66 followed a previously existing alignment through Kansas. From the Missouri state line about one mile east of Galena, it entered the state heading northwest. After passing the Eagle-Picher Smelter, one of the largest lead smelters in the United States, the road turned south on Main Street, passing through the Galena business district. At 7th Street, Route 66 turned west again. The road continued west through the Quaker community of Riverton. Beyond Riverton, Route 66 curved south at the Brush Creek Bridge to Baxter Junction. In Baxter Junction the road turned east and then south on the old military road. Route 66 followed Military Avenue south to the Oklahoma state line with a small S-curve south of downtown.

The road between Galena and Riverton began as a cowpath. Around 1910 a bridge was constructed across the Spring River38. This occurred shortly after the Empire District Electric Company dammed Shoal Creek just south of its confluence with the Spring River and constructed the hydroelectric plant at Riverton. The facility generated enough electricity to illuminate 80 communities as well as mining operations throughout the surrounding tri-state area. The dam created the recreational Lake Lowell. Like the lake, the nearby Spring River Inn and a country club constructed on the grounds of the electric plant north of Lake Lowell catered to wealthy patrons from Galena39. During this period an electric interurban railroad, the Southwest Missouri, linked Carthage, Missouri to Baxter Springs and Miami, Oklahoma to Joplin, Missouri. The public transit system transported workers from their homes to jobs in the multitude of mines, mills and other industrial facilities, such as the Eagle-Picher Smelter and the Empire District Hydroelectric Plant, throughout this corridor40.

Improvements along the future Route 66 were made in 1922 and 192341. In 1923 a group of Galena businessmen financed the paving of the road to Riverton, probably through a special benefit district. It was at this time that the viaduct and other structures through the mining district east of Galena were installed, as well as the Marsh Arch bridges east and west of Riverton. An article reporting the construction of a service station on the Brush Creek “Rainbow Curve” in January 1928 referred to Route 66 as the “Galena-Baxter Springs concrete road” suggesting that the route was fully paved by this date42.

Improvements to Route 66 in Kansas
As cars became faster, highway engineers advocated straightening, widening and bypassing older sections of highways, including Route 66. During the 1930s roads were designed for travel speeds of 50 miles per hour (mph). By the 1950s design speeds of 70 mph required greater sight distance and softer curves to maintain safety standards. Roads originally constructed 18 to 20 feet wide, were increased to 22 to 24 feet when paved, and by the 1950s paved surfaces were often 32 feet wide. Extant sections of historic Route 66 in Kansas measure approximately 25 feet wide. Other changes in standard road design included softening the slope of roadside ditches to improve safety and increasing the thickness of the pavement to accommodate the additional wear imposed by increased heavy truck traffic. Similarly, prior to 1930 the standard dimension for vehicular bridge width was 20 feet. Around 1930 that dimension increased to 24 feet, and after World War II it increased again to 26 to 28 feet. This often necessitated the replacement of older bridges or the construction of a parallel structure to safely carry traffic.

Complying with the 1956 federal interstate plan, future highway expenditures focused on the construction of new four-lane, limited-access roads. The end of the Route 66 era in Kansas arrived in 1961 with the completion of Interstate 44. The new, modern highway connected Joplin, Missouri to the Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma, by-passing Kansas completely. As happened across the country, the completion of Interstate 44 drained many long-distance travelers, both recreational and commercial, from the local road. This reduced the volume of traffic traveling the old highway and led to the demise of many existing tourist facilities.

However, the old road continued to serve the local population, and during the early 1960s, it received a series of improvements.
• A bypass removed traffic from downtown Galena and from the old road serving the industrial facilities east of town. The “new” US 66 follows old US 166 east along 7th Street, becoming a four-lane divided highway between Galena and Joplin.
• A second barrel was added to Route 66 between Galena and Riverton, widening this stretch of road to four lanes and separating the directional traffic with a grassy median. This addition included the construction of a two-lane concrete girder bridge across the Spring River adjacent to the historic Marsh Arch Bridge originally located just east of Riverton. The historic bridge was demolished in the early 1980s and replaced by the present two-lane concrete girder span.
• A second bypass connected Riverton and Baxter Springs. It begins at the junction of US 69/166/400 and US 66 just west of Riverton. Rather than follow the old road west to the Brush Creek curve, the bypass makes a gentle arcing curve southwest to join Military Avenue at 3rd Street in Baxter Springs. While this alignment is designed for four lanes, only two lanes have been built to date.
• Finally, in Baxter Springs, the S-curve at the south end of town was by passed by a new section that follows a wide, smooth curve. A McDonalds and a Wal-Mart were built on the vacant land between the old and new roads in the 1980s.

The final change to old Route 66 in Kansas occurred in 1992 when the construction of a softer curve bypassed the Rainbow Bridge at the Brush Creek curve a second time. After a hard fight by the Kansas Route 66 Association, County officials agreed to leave the Brush Creek Bridge standing as a historic landmark. Travelers can see the bridge in its historic setting from the bypass and can choose to drive across the bridge, which is now limited to south-bound traffic only.


38 Andy Eisler; Isabell Eisler; Joe Eisler; Scott Nelson; Darrell Ray; Dean Ray; Floyd Steele; and Katherine Steele. Personal communication with Elizabeth Rosin. July 8, 2002.
39Federal Writers’ Project, 441.
40Scott Nelson; Darrell Ray; Dean Ray; Jim Ray; Floyd Steele; Katherine Steele; and Dean Walker, Personal communication with Cathy Ambler (November 7, 2002); C.M. Sarchet, Baxter Springs Chamber of Commerce, notation on rear of photograph P1782 in the files of the Baxter Springs Heritage Center, n.d.
41Eisler, et.al.
42“New Service Station Construction on Rainbow Curve” in Cruisin Kansas (Riverton, Kansas: Kansas Historic Route 66 Association, June 1993), 4.


Accompanying the era of the automobile was a surge in new commercial development that catered specifically to cars and their passengers. Road-related establishments included sales offices for new and used automobiles; gas and service stations to keep the cars running; restaurants, tourist courts and motels to service travelers; and various stands and shops that offered diversions. For long-distance travelers, such as those following Route 66, the most important commercial resources were gas, food and lodging.

At the start of the Route 66 era the communities along Route 66 in Kansas had booming economies that already supported a variety of gas stations and restaurants. The change in the number of tourist courts and motels during the period of significance most directly reflects the commercial impacts of the road on this area. The Baxter Springs Sanborn Map shows that the Sunbeam Tourist Camp was built at the southwest corner of Willow and 2nd Street in Baxter Junction before 1930. This camp included 11 cabins, 10 with attached carports, a central lavatory and an office. To further meet the needs of travelers this intersection also had three filling stations and one auto repair shop. By 1942 another tourist court had joined the tourist milieu in Baxter Junction. This court included an L-shaped band of six attached cabins, separated by carports. The owner’s dwelling was also located on the property. Also before 1930, the Sanborn map for Galena shows the development of the Camp Joy tourist camp between Galena and Riverton. This complex included a filling station plus five cabins with electric lights and stove heat all arranged in a row fronting Route 66. There was another small row of cabins in Riverton, on the south side of Route 66 west of Military Road. These cabins are no longer extant by 1945, possibly a victim of World War II. A final cabin court was located on the S-curve south of Baxter Springs near Murphey’s diner, a 24-hour establishment, and a service station. After World War II, the Capistrano Motel also provided lodging at 22nd and Military Avenue in Baxter Springs. Another tourist amenity were the several rock shops that sold mineral samples to tourists passing through the area. One was located just west of Galena and another was located in Baxter Junction.

As mining declined in the region, older commercial buildings were replaced by modern facilities that would serve Route 66 travelers. In 1933 the Galena newspaper reported that the old Banks Hotel at the north end of town was demolished for the construction of a new filling station. The article stated, “Motorists will look upon the removal of the building favorably since it obstructed the view of motorists traveling on the highway in either direction…. The new project will leave a clear view at the curve, lessening the hazards to motorists.”

Because the Kansas segment of Route 66 was so short, local residents did not perceive the national significance of the designation. According to Wanda Murphey, who operated Murphey’s Café in Baxter Springs from 1940 through 1976, most of the businesses catered primarily to a local clientele, although she recalled that truckers made up a notable percentage of her customers. The road was a means to an end – it enabled truckers to haul ore from the mines to the mills and processing facilities; it enabled workers to reach their jobs throughout the region; and it provided area residents with access to regional markets.

However, Route 66 did have direct economic impacts on the area. In addition to the proliferation of tourist amenities, the interstate highway attracted five national trucking lines that operated facilities in Baxter Springs after World War II. One of those, Yellow Freight, arrived in 1932. At its peak, in the late 1950s Yellow Freight employed about 150 workers and moved about 140 trucks a day through the Baxter Springs hub. This was the company’s division point and maintenance facility for an eight state region. In the mid-1950s Baxter Springs could also boast about the number of manufacturing concerns in town that produced products ranging from clothing to precision tools. The high quality of the roads and widespread automobile ownership were cited by the Chamber of Commerce in 1955 as an asset to local industry.

While the impact of its designation was slow and cumulative, the effect was more noticeable when Interstate 44 bypassed Route 66. It became more difficult to sustain the existing number of automobile service facilities and restaurants; although the strong local customer base helped many businesses survive. Significantly, none of the tourist courts or motels constructed to serve Route 66 travelers remains extant; only one small set of cabins has not been demolished. These are currently used for storage.

Local residents who have lived and worked along Route 66 felt that the popularity of Route 66 was inspired by the stories presented in popular culture that spun interesting tales about people, places and events along the road. Travelers came in search of the myths and were often disappointed when the journey did not live up to their expectations.


A variety of property types survive that have direct associations with the automobile culture of Route 66. Many of these resources responded to federally-funded road improvements made during the early 1920s and predate the Route 66 designation. They include elements of the road itself, as well as commercial businesses developed to serve travelers.


The most intrinsic resources significant under this MPDF are those related to the physical road itself, including the roadbed, culverts, and bridges. The prosperous economy of Cherokee County at the turn of the 20th century yielded a higher than usual proportion of improved local roads than were found in other parts of the state. Following the passage of the 1921 Federal-Aid Highway Act, the alignment that became Route 66 was further improved with the construction of new bridges and culverts. A variety of these resources are extant.

All 13.2 miles of the historic Route 66 roadbed designated in Kansas are extant and remain drivable, although modern bypasses carry the majority of traffic around some of the older segments. A 1920 report by the County Engineer discussed on-going efforts to improve all county roads to a standard 24-foot width. The road had little or no soft shoulder on either side. Beyond the shoulder, the ground sloped steeply away from the road creating shallow drainage ditches. As early as 1904 the roads in Cherokee County were paved with excess chat produced by the many area mines. Asphalt now covers the original concrete road beds.

Register eligible segments of roadway will be those that retain integrity of location, design, materials, setting, feeling and association. These sections, such as the 1.2 miles between downtown Galena and the Missouri state line, have been substantially unimproved since the 1920s. Integrity of the historic setting is critical. For instance, the segment west of US 166 and north of Baxter Springs continues to be rural in character with occasional houses, farmsteads, and meadows interrupting the wooded canopy flanking the road.

The Kansas segment of Route 66 crosses two historic bridges. The first and largest is the viaduct east of Galena, a concrete-encased steel girder structure, constructed circa 1923, that carries the road over the tracks of the Missouri Kansas and Texas Railroad. This bridge was built through the Federal-aid road improvement program prior to the designation of Route 66. It served an important function by safely transporting workers and goods over the railroad to the Eagle-Picher Smelter as well as the numerous nearby mines. This bridge retains a high degree of integrity in the areas of design, materials, workmanship, location, setting, feeling and association and is being nominated to the National Register as part of the Kansas Route 66 Historic District, East of Galena in conjunction with this MPDF.

The second extant historic bridge is the Rainbow Arch Bridge that crosses Brush Creek west of Riverton. This was one of two concrete Marsh Arch Rainbow bridges originally constructed along this route. The other, spanning Spring River east of Riverton, was demolished in 1991. The Brush Creek Bridge was listed on the National Register in 1983 in conjunction with the MPS for Rainbow Arch (Marsh Arch) Bridges of Kansas. It is believed to be the only bridge of its type remaining along the entire length of Route 66.

Route 66 includes a number of historic culverts from the early 1920s road building period. These simple, poured concrete structures are found along the stretch of road east of Galena and on the segment between the Brush Creek curve and Baxter Junction. Their original design featured one or two-bay railings across the top. The majority of culverts have lost their superstructures in collisions with vehicles. Where the railings are missing, the anchor points remain visible.

To be eligible for listing on the National Register a culvert must retain the physical features that identify it as a historic roadway structure. Integrity in the areas of design, materials, workmanship, location, setting, feeling and association are necessary. Where the absence of original railings weakens integrity of design, these culverts may still be register eligible in some circumstances, such as the roadway district being nominated east of Galena. This nomination includes a section of historic road bed and a bridge in addition to seven culverts. While only a few of the nominated culverts retain their railings, the concentration of road structures contributes to the cultural landscape of the road and they remain significant elements of the historic district. If railings were part of the original design, a culvert should retain at least one railing in order to be considered individually register-eligible.


In addition to public infrastructure, Route 66 generated commercial architecture that served the traveling public. The commercial property types associated with Route 66 in Kansas include gas stations, restaurants, lodging, and other roadside businesses.

The architecture associated with Route 66 commercial properties is typically vernacular in design. The most common building materials were brick, stone, and concrete applied to one and two-part commercial block building forms as well as to functional property types, discussed below. The buildings that most clearly depict a specific architectural style were generally corporate designs applied to resources on a national scale, such as gas stations affiliated with a particular brand.

One popular motif, applied to a variety of simple commercial buildings along Route 66 in Kansas, was a local vernacular known as Ozark Giraffe. Drawing on the abundance of limestone and ironstone in the vicinity, these buildings feature a slab-rock veneer that is a variation and modernization of older, cobblestone structures. By the 1930s, agricultural extension bulletins illustrated this construction technique and popularized it throughout the Ozark region for residential, as well as small commercial designs.

The design feature that most distinguished road-related businesses from those of previous eras was the integration of a curb cut, driveway or off-street parking. Often developed on the perimeter of traditional downtown commercial districts, these buildings were designed specifically to accommodate customers arriving by automobile. The presence of a curb cut of parking area will be a significant factor in determining the register eligibility of resources associated with Route 66.

Gas Stations
The number and designs of auto service stations evolved as the number of cars traveling the roads increased. The earliest buildings designed specifically as filling stations were simple vernacular structures that featured an attached canopy to shelter drivers and station attendants projecting from the front of a small office building. These stations were found in both the small communities and larger towns along Route 66 in Kansas. Of the structures that remain, none retain their original canopies, due in part to the increased width of the public right-of-way and the hazards created by faster driving speeds and larger vehicles.

As the number of cars increased so did the number of filling and service stations. The second generation of gas stations was designed to convey a sense of familiar surroundings to attract auto travelers. By the late 1920s, gas stations often resembled small houses with Colonial, Craftsman, Tudor or Mission styling. In contrast with the newness of the automobile technology, the architecture of the gas station was homey and traditional. Large gasoline companies in particular adopted the cottage motif as corporate iconography as they sought to develop brand recognition and loyalty. For instance, Phillips Petroleum hoped that the Tudor design and recognizable color palette of their stations would provide local residents as well as travelers with a sense of comfort that they were purchasing gasoline from a known entity.

While many early filling stations provided only gasoline, by the 1930s stations needed to offer vehicle maintenance and service to remain competitive in the expanding market. It was common for older stations to add one or more service bays to their existing facilities, creating long, rectangular or L-shaped buildings. Often the additions mimicked the architectural details of the original station design in an effort to maintain corporate image. The addition to the Baxter Springs Independent Oil and Gas Station (940 Military Avenue) illustrates the care with which these additions were made. The service block added before 1942 mimics the roof shape and Tudor gable treatment of the original cottage station.

Route 66 in Kansas also includes a number of buildings from this era constructed solely for the purpose of servicing vehicles. These are rectangular block buildings, often with stone or brick veneer, distinguished by one or more large and prominently placed overhead doors marking the service bays.

By the end of World War II, the influence of International Style design was visible in the architecture of auto-related services. The Streamline Moderne attempted to replicate in buildings the aerodynamic, streamlined designs of automobiles popular at the time. In the 1930s and 40s, as a symbol of the modern industrial era and the automobile age, streamlined architecture was chosen with increasing frequency to express the constantly expanding role of the automobile in American life. The basic form was the box, often with an enameled or metallic façade, and a flat roof. Rounded corners and curving entries emphasized the essence of movement. The curved corner office on the former DX station at 945 Military Avenue in Baxter Springs represents this trend.

Over the next decade, the space age further abstracted the modern form of the gas station. Flared rooflines and vertical pylons were common devises used by the larger corporations, such as Phillips Petroleum, to identify their brands and to display company logos. One example of a space age station with a flared triangular canopy is extant at the corner of 19th and Military Avenue in Baxter Springs.

To be eligible for the National Register, a historic filling station or service station must have been associated with Route 66 between 1926 and 1961 and must retain integrity of design, materials, workmanship, location, setting, feeling and association. It is especially important that the setting include a paved area where vehicles pulled in to refuel, although it is not necessary for the pumps or pump islands to remain intact. It is common for old service stations to find new uses that alter some of their original design features, such as replacing overhead doors with windows. These resources may still be eligible if they clearly convey their original function and if the changes are reversible.

The design of properties that provided lodging changed the most dramatically during the automobile era. At the start of the 20th century, hotels were concentrated in urban areas, catering primarily to those traveling by train. Parking facilities were rarely found in association with a hotel, and when they were they typically charged an additional fee. However, the independence offered by the automobile prompted an increase in vacations to destinations not easily accessible by train. The earliest auto travelers camped along the side of the road or at campgrounds established by many communities along the main roads entering town.

By the 1920s the novelty of camping had worn thin for most travelers. Property owners began building small groups of cabins for those desiring slightly more commodious lodging. Like the campgrounds, the cabin courts were erected next to gas stations or restaurants, in fields or scenic overlooks, or behind a house, wherever an enterprising landowner deemed fit. A typical cabin might have a stove and indoor plumbing. Curtains in the windows and a flower box out front were nearly ubiquitous in an effort to create a homey appearance and to dispel notions of illicit rendezvous. By the start of the Depression, one-stop facilities including cabins, a gas station and a restaurant were common.

A number of cabin courts were constructed in Kansas along Route 66. The eleven cabins and office at the Sunbeam Tourist Camp in Baxter Junction were arranged in a rectangle around a central lavatory. The Camp Joy complex, located between Riverton and Galena, included a filling station in addition to the cabins, all of which faced the road; and the Baxter Court Cabins on the S-curve south of Baxter Springs were located across the street from a diner and a filling station.

Over the next decade, the design of the motel began to evolve from the cabin court. It became increasingly common for rows of individual cabins to be connected, often linked by covered car ports. Satterlee’s tourist cabins in Baxter Junction illustrate this arrangement. The single L-shaped building contained six cabins, each with a carport.

In the decade following the war, the modern one-story motel emerged. As Americans enjoyed the prosperity of the post-war period, the number of motels nationwide quadrupled. During this period, the Capistrano Motel was erected at 22nd Street and Military Avenue in Baxter Springs.

Unfortunately, the majority of lodging facilities constructed along Route 66 in Kansas have been demolished. Only a partial section of Satterlee’s tourist cabins is extant. Additional elements of the Sunbeam Cabin Court and Camp Joy may be preserved archaeologically. Because it is an extremely rare resource and because the remaining portion of the cabins is substantially intact, the Satterlee’s cabins appear eligible for listing on the National Register. Although its integrity of design has been weakened by the demolition of approximately one-third of the structure, the resource retains integrity of materials, workmanship, location, setting, feeling and association and remains recognizable as a World War II-era tourist court.

Eating Establishments
The auto traveler needed not only places to sleep but also places to eat. Along Route 66 in Kansas, travelers could find dining opportunities at the local cafes in Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs. These were usually part of the main street architecture and not distinguished by any auto-related design. An example of this type of restaurant is Murphey’s Café. Originally housed in a diner at the S-curve south of town, in 1941 Murphey’s moved to a building at the southwest corner of 12th and Military in Baxter Springs, a location it occupied for over 50 years before moving to across the street.

Other smaller diners, luncheonettes and barbecue spots also opened along the route, catering more specifically to travelers. Many were housed with filling stations and/or groceries, such as the Williams’ Store in Riverton and the Willow Street Service Station, both of which served lunches.

By the 1930s, new restaurants were built with off-street parking that catered to the automobile. These were simple block structures with flat roofs and large plate glass windows, such as the Luncheonette at 13th Street and Military Avenue in Baxter Springs. Restaurants constructed after World War II were similar in design, although they were increasingly sited toward the rear of the lot with ample parking visible in front.

Local residents also reported that several roadhouses had existed along the corridor. These were vernacular buildings, often at crossroads, that served food and beverages. One, now demolished, was located near the Brush Creek curve. Another was noted outside Galena.

Few register-eligible eating establishments remain along the Route 66 corridor in Kansas. To be eligible a resource must be associated with Route 66 between 1926 and 1961, and retain sufficient integrity of design, materials, workmanship, location, setting, feelings and association to communicate its historic function.

Other Commercial Businesses
A few other businesses along this stretch of road catered to Route 66 clientele. Interviews with local residents noted that there had been several shops and road side stands that sold mineral specimens from the local mines.

In rural areas like Cherokee County it was not uncommon for one commercial building to serve a variety of functions. For instance, a general store, like the Williams’ Store in Riverton, might also have gas pumps and serve lunches. Usually these multi-function businesses were independently owned by local individuals, although the gas they sold might be affiliated with a national corporation. Simple vernacular designs, these buildings were not stylistically distinguished although they reflected general national trends for small commercial architecture, such as the rusticated concrete block design of the Willow Street Service Station in Baxter Junction.

To be eligible for the register, other commercial buildings must demonstrate an association with Route 66 between 1926 and 1961 and must retain sufficient integrity of design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association to convey their historic function. Because few such resources are extant along the corridor, alterations to the original design may be allowed as long as the features that define the essential function and design remain intact.


Historic resources associated with Route 66 in Kansas are found along the historic road alignment in Cherokee County. This alignment passes through the towns of Baxter Springs, Riverton, and Galena. The existing by-passes were constructed after the period of significance and do not contain resources significant under this Multiple Property Submission.


The Historic Resources of Route 66 in Kansas Multiple Property Submission was prepared during the fall of 2002 in conjunction with a reconnaissance survey of the road. The survey, completed by Historic Preservation Services (HPS) during July 2002, identified over 100 resources fronting Route 66 that date to the period of significance. In downtown Baxter Springs and Galena the survey also included commercial resources within one block of the road. The period of significance for this MPS encompasses the years during which U.S. 66 was the primary interstate route connecting Chicago to Los Angeles. It begins in 1926 with the designation of U.S. 66 as a federal highway and ends in 1961, the year Interstate 44 bypassed the Kansas segment of Route 66.

All of the surveyed resources were photographed and documented on Kansas Historic Resources Inventory Reconnaissance Forms. HPS used the general contexts and functional resource categories outlined in the National Park Service Special Resource Study for Route 66 as the basis for defining contexts and property types in Kansas. The Kansas contexts reflect the development and construction of the physical road and the resulting commercial development. The surveyed resources included public works and commercial buildings. In conjunction with the building survey, staff from the Kansas State Historical Society also completed an archaeological reconnaissance survey of the alignment that identified three archaeological sites with moderate to high potential for the presence of significant resources. From a list of potentially eligible resources prepared by HPS, HPS and the Kansas State Historical Society staff selected three resources to nominate to National Register in conjunction with the Multiple Property Documentation Form. These resources were the Williams’ Store, Riverton; the Baxter Springs Independent Oil and Gas Company Station, Baxter Springs; and the Route 66 Historic District, East of Galena, a section of historic roadway and road structures near the Missouri state line.

In addition to the NPS study, preparation of the Kansas MPDF also pulled general contextual information from the MPDF for Route 66 and Associated Historic Resources in Oklahoma. The internet web site of the Federal Highway Administration provided a good historical overview of the federal highway system. Information specific to the history of Route 66 in Kansas was obtained from the archives of the Kansas State Historical Society, the Galena Museum, the Galena Archival Library, and the Baxter Springs Heritage Center. HPS also conducted oral histories with members of the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association, as well as other current residents and property owners along the route.

All of the material assembled for this project is archived at the Cultural Resources Division, Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka.


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Buck, W.V. “Kansas Highway Development and Road Legislation.” In The History of Kansas State and People, ed. William E. Connelley, 966-984. Chicago: American Historical Society, Inc. 1928.

Cooper, C.M. “Cherokee.” Kansas Highways. July 1920: 34.

Crump, Spencer. Route 66: America’s First Main Street. Williams, Arizona: Route 66 Magazine. 2nd rev ed., 1996.

Denver Service Center, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. “Special Resource Study: Route 66 (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California). July 1995. On file at the Cultural Resources Division, Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas.

Eisler, Andy; Isabell Eisler; Joe Eisler; Scott Nelson; Darrell Ray; Dean Ray; Floyd Steele; and Katherine Steele. Personal communication with Elizabeth Rosin. July 8, 2002.

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“Military Rule Ends in Cherokee County; Civil Authorities in Charge.” Lawrence World. 7 August 1935. In the clipping files at the Archives of the Kansas State Historical Society.

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Murphey, Wanda. Personal communication with Cathy Ambler. November 7, 2002.

Nelson, Scott; Darrell Ray; Dean Ray; Jim Ray; Floyd Steele; Katherine Steele; and Dean Walker. Personal communication with Cathy Ambler. November 7, 2002.

“New Service Station Construction on Rainbow Curve.” In Cruisin Kansas. (Riverton, Kansas: Kansas Historic Route 66 Association. June 1993.

Sanborn Map Company. Fire Insurance Maps for Baxter Springs and Galena, Kansas. Various dates.

Rittenhouse, Jack. A Guidebook to Highway 66. Los Angeles: Jack D. Rittenhouse. 1946.

Rosin, Elizabeth. “Auto-influenced, Commercial Roadside Architecture of Delaware’s Lower Peninsula/Cypress Swamp.” Draft Report prepared by The Cultural Resource Group, Louis Berger and Associates, Waltham, Massachusetts for the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office. 1990.

Rowland, Mary. “Kansas and the Highways, 1917-1930. Kansas History. 5 (Spring 1982): 33-51.

Sarchet, C.M. Baxter Springs Chamber of Commerce. Notation on rear of photograph P1782. In the files of the Baxter Springs Heritage Center, Baxter Springs, Kansas. n.d.

Small, Nora Pat. Rainbow Arch (Marsh Arch) Bridges of Kansas National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form. 1983.

Wallis, Michael. Route 66: The Mother Road. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Weingroff, Richard F. “Federal Aid Road Act of 1916: Building the Foundation.” Accessed on-line at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw96a.htm. Accessed on-line November 2002.

Weingroff, Richard F. “From 1916 to 1939: The Federal-State Partnership at Work.” http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw96c.htm. Accessed on-line November 2002.

Weingroff, Richard F. “Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating the Interstate System.” http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/rw96e.htm. Accessed on-line November 2002.

“Zinc Strike Riots.” Kansas City Star. 28 June 1935. In the clipping files at the Archives of the Kansas State Historical Society.