America’s old Route 66 is known by a couple different names. Some call it “The Main Street of America” while others know it as “The Mother Road.” A number of states within the United States possess pieces of this once great American highway, but none have the unique stretch of forgotten road that can be found in eastern Oklahoma. Known as “The Ribbon Road” and “The Sidewalk Highway”, the section of Route 66 that passes through Oklahoma is still visible in two sections, found just minutes from each other. What makes Oklahoma’s Route 66 sections cool is the fact that unlike the many sections of Route 66 found in other states, much of the original route in Oklahoma is only about 9 feet wide. In the 1920s, Oklahoma was far from metropolitan. In fact, it was more reminiscent of the wild west than it was anything else. Oil towns were springing up all over the place and the once open prairie became sectioned with fencing by ranchers trying to raise their livestock. Tulsa, Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery was the primary originator of the entire concept surrounding a highway system spanning from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. However, cars weren’t exactly common place in the early 1920s in Oklahoma so the decision was made (to save money) to make much of Route 66 in Oklahoma a narrow single land road with gravel and dirt shoulders. Of course we know that automobiles did become common place and unfortunately, The Ribbon Road would soon became obsolete.
Once completed, Route 66 stretched across the following states (in order East – West):
- Illinois (301 miles)
- Missouri (317 miles)
- Kansas (13 miles – awwww)
- Oklahoma (432 miles)
- Texas (186 miles)
- New Mexico (487 miles)
- Arizona (401 miles)
- California (314 miles)
Over 2,400 miles of road by 1926!
Today there are only two sections of the original Ribbon Road left in Oklahoma. Both are in close proximity to each other. The northern Ribbon Road section can easily be accessed (see photo at right) from Highway 59 about half way between Afton, OK and Miami, OK (pronounced My-am-ah). What is now East 140 Road is in fact the Sidewalk Highway, or the original Oklahoma Route 66. You can turn onto this section of road and travel it all the way to Miami – but it’s bumpy (see video). The highway getting to these spots can be confusing because within a matter of minutes it changes numbers a few different times. It is highway 59, highway 69 and highway 66 at various spots between Miami and Afton, so don’t worry, they’re all the same road and much of the modern road covers the old Route 66 that connected the two sections of road we are discussing. The second section of Ribbon Road is found in Narcissa, OK, a small community just a mile or two north of Afton (if heading north, it will be a left turn). This southern section is smoother and easier on your car. There is a large technology center in Narcissa that you cannot miss. Turn there and in just a few seconds, the road will narrow to a single lane and suddenly you’re driving back in time on Oklahoma’s Route 66!
There is a lot of American history ground into the surface of the Ribbon Road. Over the years many steps have been taken to preserve the heritage and vitality of Route 66. Sadly, none of those efforts have gone into these two priceless sections of The Main Street of America. My best assumption is based on the fact that there isn’t really anything very interesting surrounding these sections of Route 66.
Downtown Tulsa, like many other areas across the country, is filled with art deco buildings, old Route 66 era gas stations, hotels and diners all being nicely renovated and preserved in order to offer the public a glimpse of what Route 66 was all about, but also to house businesses that generate money for their owners. There is nothing even remotely like that within 10 miles of The Ribbon Road. These sections of Route 66 are surrounded entirely by farmland with absolutely no historically significant buildings to be found.
It is a shame that these road simply will not last much longer. While the southern section is in better shape than the one just north of it, they are both virtually gone. Over time the wear and tear that is placed on these roads from cars, heavy trucks, the wind, rain, snow, ice and the blistering Oklahoma sun will grind these remnants of Americana into dust. I feel very fortunate to have learned of the Sidewalk Highway and to have lived close enough to it to see it a number of different times.
While you could say, “it’s just an old road”, to me it is much more than that. It’s a time capsule of what our nation was like nearly 100 years ago, when east met west, where horse drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles and where people fled west looking for opportunity during the Great Depression. Route 66, and more specifically, Oklahoma’s Ribbon Road sections of Route 66 are woven into the fabric our the United States and I hope local and state communities will do more to preserve these historic sections of road in the future.
Best wishes to you my friends.
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