By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – On September 23, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary honoring the most famous historic highway in the world.
Located at 2229 West Gary Boulevard in Clinton, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, officially opened on that date (Sept. 23) in 1995. The museum became the first and largest facility in the nation dedicated to the history and culture of Route 66, which spans from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California.
With over 930,000 visitors in 25 years, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum has become a must-see for travelers—both Route 66ers and everyday vacationers.
“The popularity and importance of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum played a large role in Clinton hosting the International Route 66 Festival in 2007, which brought more than 20,000 people to Clinton,” according to Pat Smith, museum director for the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The success of the festival also led to the transformation of the community’s annual Hot Dog Daze into Clinton’s Route 66 Festival, she noted.
After 17 years the museum fully renovated all of its exhibit galleries, bringing the facility into the 21st century. This achievement was celebrated with a special grand opening ceremony on May 26, 2012.
The museum has hosted numerous special events that attract Route 66ers from around the globe. Since 1996, the museum has held Route 66 anniversary celebrations every five years.
Past celebrations have featured premiere Route 66 historian Michael Wallis, as well as special exhibits by Route 66 artists and authors such as the late Bob Waldmire, Shellee Graham, Jim Ross, Jerry McClanahan, Kathy Anderson and many others.
The Oklahoma Route 66 Association also inducts notable Oklahomans into the Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame every two years. Inductions are held for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the promotion and/or preservation of Route 66.
The selection includes a nomination and committee process conducted by the association. The winners’ plaques are displayed in the Hall of Fame, which is located in the museum’s Wow! Room.
The museum’s galleries are designed to offer visitors a personal journey through the history of the nation’s most revered highway, where they will encounter the iconic images and myths of the Mother Road.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancelation of this year’s Route 66 Festival, the public can still help the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum celebrate this milestone anniversary by visiting sometime during the year.
Museum staff say visitors will learn about the dreams and labor needed to make the road a reality as they experience the flow of thousands fleeing the drought and despair of the Dust Bowl while headed toward the “land of promise.”
The museum offers the sounds of the Big Band era which was all the rage, as returning soldiers dominated the road.
Guests can sit at the counter or booth of the 1950s diner and feel the open road as America’s families vacationed along Route 66.
The museum also offers changing special exhibits focusing on the Route 66 experience in the new Now and Future Gallery. The gift shop offers a variety of Route 66 memorabilia.
As to how the museum came to be located in Clinton, in an interview with Route 66 News, Smithstated, “There became a need for a museum to really tell the history of Route 66 because it was no longer a main road to travel. Route 66 is the most famous historic highway in America. So, what a perfect place, right here in Clinton, Oklahoma.
“Even though it is no longer a main road to travel, we have thousands of people from all over the world to visit and travel Route 66,” Smith added. “It is becoming a really popular road again.”
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, occupancy is limited to no more than thirty visitors in the museum at one time. Visitors will be admitted in the order they arrive. There are outdoor exhibits to view while waiting.
Guests are asked to practice social distancing by staying six feet away from staff and visitors who are not in your party. Staff members ensure all areas are clean and sanitized.
Groups of more than eight are not being scheduled at this time.
In accordance with Oklahoma State Department of Health guidelines, all visitors, staff, volunteers, contractors and vendors are required to wear face masks in public areas of Oklahoma Historical Society museums, sites and affiliates, including the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum.
The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and is closed Sunday and Monday.
Regular admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children and ages 5 and under are free. For more information, contact Pat Smith at 580-323-7866 or [email protected].
Founded in 1893, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society, whose mission is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people.
To learn more about the Oklahoma Historical Society, visit okhistory.org.