The Main Street of America

The Main Street of America

Shortly after the U.S. Highway 66 Association was established in early 1927, a marketing campaign was launched that branded the newly minted highway as the Main Street of America. It was a brilliant strategy as one of the most famous “named highways” in America, the National Old Trails Road, had been branded the Main Street of America by Judge Lowe of the National Old Trails Road Association in 1913. Linking Route 66 to a road with an established reputation, a road popular with tourists traveling to see the natural wonders of the southwest was the cornerstone for the eventual transformation of this highway into an an icon with an international fan club.

The National Old Trails Road, after 1913, coursed across northern New Mexico and Arizona, and across the California desert to Los Angeles. It provided travelers with access to the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. Near Peach Springs, Arizona a popular side trip was Diamond Creek which is still the only road that allows for vehicle access to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. These natural wonders were one reason the then twenty-one year old Edsel Ford and his college buddies traveled along this road to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in California during the summer of 1915. Likewise with Emily Post. Attesting to the popularity of the National Old Trails Road in the southwest is the fact that more than 20,000 people attending the Panama Pacific Exposition from outside California arrived by automobile and the overwhelming majority traveled this road.

While much of the National Old Trails Road history is documented there are still secrets hidden in dusty archives, road departments, family photo albums and old travel diaries. One of these mysteries is found on the western slope of Sitgreaves Pass in the Black Mountains of Arizona. Route 66 enthusiasts are intimately familiar with this section of highway that began as the National Old Trails Road. Arguably it is one of the most scenic portions of this storied old highway and Oatman is known throughout the world.

This old road dates to about 1907. It was upgraded to meet the needs of the National Old Trails Road in about 1913. When was it bypassed? When was it realigned to the current course for the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66?

This rare map from the state of Arizona shows U.S. 60 instead of U.S. 66

Much of this morning was spent with an engineer and unofficial archivist at the Mohave County Road Department in search of answers. Instead of what I was looking for, I found new mysteries that need answers as well as rare and obscure historic footnotes. As an example, did you know that originally U.S. 66 was designated U.S. 60? Early 1926 Arizona maps show U.S. 60 and it is also designated the National Old Trails Road in places. This takes us to another mystery. U.S. 66 and the National Old Trails Road shared the same road in much of the southwest. There are postcards that show both designations. When did the first U.S. 66 signs go up? Was the road ever signed as U.S. 60?