Communities on Route 66 prepare for 100th birthday of Mother Road

Feb. 22—CARTHAGE, Mo. — Two years may seem like a long time, but for some residents of communities along the Mother Road — Route 66 — 2026 is bearing down on them like an old Mack truck.

The old road, memorialized in song, movies and books, turns 100 years old in 2026, and some area communities are preparing for a flood of visitors from across the U.S. and around the world.

"Events to celebrate the Route 66 centennial year are being planned across the eight states the historic route passes through," said Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Patrick Tuttle in a news release. "Celebration events will span the 2025, 2026, and 2027 travel seasons, with the most significant emphasis between March and October, the most active months for international tourism."

In Carthage, work continues to renovate the land around one of four remaining Route 66-era motels in Missouri.

In 2021, the Boots Court Foundation reopened the 13 rooms at the motel located at Central Avenue and Garrison Avenue in Carthage, a spot where the east-west Route 66 met the north-south Route 71.

The foundation bought the Boots as well as an old service station at the corner of Garrison Avenue and Olive Street and two homes around the service station. They tore down the two houses, planning to build a green space that people staying at the Boots could use.

The service station opened as the Boots Court offices and a visitors center in 2023 and Boots Court manager Jeremy Morris said work will begin to restore and renovate the green space this year.

"We're going to add a lane to connect the two properties, and we're going to add three key pieces of art. The first one we're working on is a 28-foot mural on the south side of the visitors center," Morris said. "We're trying to restore the old billboard, and this will be similar to a vintage advertising piece. Between the motel and the visitors center, maybe about 12 feet off the curb, we're going to have what we're calling an art mound. It's probably going to be a 22-foot-wide circle; we're going to move Lowell Davis' sheriff's car and his billboard on top of it. Lowell Davis' daughter April Davis is going to repaint the billboard and make it sort of a 'welcome to Carthage' kind of billboard."

Morris said they will build five spaces with RV hookups behind the visitors center and create a space between the visitors center and the Boots parking area for a small park with gazebos, barbecue pits and seating for people to relax in the evening and talk with friends along the route.

Morris said all this work should be done by the end of 2024 or early 2025 and will prepare the Boots Court for what could be a flood of visitors coming to celebrate the centennial of Route 66.

Morris said people are making reservations now to stay in the Boots Court in 2025, 2026 and 2027.

"I think it's going to be a huge boon to local businesses on the route," Morris said. "We've got people coming from all over the world, and they're not price-conscious. They've got money to burn, and they want to spend it on the route supporting communities on the route."

—In Joplin, Tuttle said Joplin is making plans to prepare for the centennial and working with partners along the corridor in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma to make sure travelers know there are significant things to see on Route 66 in the area.

"Route 66 and the coming centennial celebrations are a big deal to international guests, who are already booking their 'holiday' travels for those years," Tuttle said. "No wonder there are more international Route 66-related associations (12-plus) than states that the route passes through (eight).

"As many communities along Route 66 annually do, festivals and events with a local flair and regional appeal are in the planning stages, while new ones are encouraged to be developed. Domestic travel along America's Longest Museum will significantly increase for the next few years, and the international markets will explode. Company is coming — in a big way, and Route 66 communities need to plan for it."

Tuttle announced last week that the Netherlands-based World Street Painting Foundation would be coming to Joplin from June 4-8 to kick off events in Joplin on Route 66.

"This initial (teaching) event will be on the grounds of the Harry M. Cornell Jr. Arts and Entertainment Complex," Tuttle said in a written release. "Introducing the public to what the festival is all about and the 3D Painting art form will help build momentum, capture marketing images and video, and attract needed sponsors as the plan moves towards a capstone event in 2026 when the festival will showcase the work of 20 artists."

—Renee Charles, president of the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association said Kansas' share of the Mother Road is small and that residents of Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs are at work now planning for the centennial.

"We're just 13.2 miles, but, wow, what things we have on those 13.2 miles," Charles said. "Of course with all our events going on, like the Baxter Cowtown Days and Galena Days, we're going to incorporate the centennial information to those events. We've got projects going on like coming into Galena from Missouri we've got a drive-thru highway shield that's being built right now so people can drive through and take pictures with their vehicle under a Route 66 shield. That's right on the other side of the Galena viaduct."

Galena resident and former Mayor Dale Oglesby was named to the national Route 66 Centennial Commission, and that group is preparing a website and looking at projects nationwide for inclusion in its website and publications.

—Amanda Davis, president of the Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, also represents Ottawa and Delaware counties on the Route 66 Association of Oklahoma.

She said Oklahoma has the most drivable miles of the old route in the country, and the state has been gearing up for the centennial for about two years.

She said communities along the route should be preparing now for the traffic that will be coming though their neighborhoods.

"It's very crucial just to have all the players at the table and just make sure everyone's on the same page," Davis said. "That's going to be critical because it's going to be a pretty competitive market. A lot of those travelers, they have their route set and they know where they're going and how long they're going to be there, and we're all trying to attract them into our communities. I don't think it's ever too early to start just to be sure your messaging is out there and it's strong. The sooner the better."

She also recommends that businesses that benefit from the leisure market be preparing as soon as possible to promote themselves.

"I would have signage up that says 'Welcome to Route 66,'" Davis said "I would make people feel as welcome as possible. Any type of thing they could do, whether it's a sticker or a magnet or something that helps people remember their trip. Even through we're in 2024, I think it's important because those people, they're our best advertisers because of word-of-mouth. They're going to be out and having those conversations and telling people about their experiences."