Pontiac in Illinois is a town where the lick and promise approach isn’t good enough, and it shows. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America
When it comes to utilizing tourism as a catalyst for economic development, and historic district revitalization, towns in the American southwest have a distinct advantage. And if those communities happen to be on Route 66, those opportunities are magnified exponentially, especially with the highways centennial fast approaching.
So, what do communities along this storied highwway need to do to capitalize on the Route 66 centennial?
After publication of The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, Route 66 was billed as the Mother Road. Prior to that, in 1927, the U.S. Highway 66 Association borrowed a slogan from a 1913 promotion for the National Old Trails Road, and began marketing Route 66 as the Main Street of America.
From its inception the highway signed with a double six has had tremendous promotion and publicity and as a result, Route 66 is one of the most iconic highways in America. Depending on which alignment is followed, the highway stretches for 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica. It cuts through the heartland of America as it passes through eight states.
Certified as a U.S. highway on November 11, 1926, Route 66 has morphed into a symbol of freedom, adventure and opportunity. For legions of international enthusiasts it has come to represent the quintessential American road trip.
As a result, in 2026, many states, communities, and organizations are already making plans to capitalize on the centennial. Promotion of special centennial events and activities, Facebook groups that are organizing centennial cruises, and an increasing focus of media on Route 66 indicate that this historic milestone will have a tremendous economic impact on communities along the highway corrdior.
Route 66 corridor signage in Illinois is an example that can be emulated all along the Route 66 corridor. ©Jim HInckley’s America
The Route 66 Centennial Commission Act, signed into law by President Biden on December 23, 2020, established a 15-member commission from each of the eight Route 66 states to coordinate and promote the centennial celebration. The commission will also be tasked with assisting in the production of various materials, films and documentaries to chronicle the history, the culture, and legacy of Route 66.
What can communities along Route 66 do to capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? How can they use the centennial to attract more visitors, generate more revenue, to revitalize blighted historic business districts, and as a catalyst for the creation of long term economic development initiatives? Here are some suggestions base on successful projects and initiatives:
Enhance and revitalize Route 66 signage
One of the first projects approved by the Oklahoma Route 66 Centennial Commission was to improve and update the historic Route 66 signage throughout the state. Illinois has developed signage that clearly designates the course of Route 66, what years an alignment was in use, and what segments are designated bicycle corridors. Rich Dinkela, president of the Route 66 Association of Missouri pioneered the use of templates to paint the Route 66 shield directly on pavement, with the years of use.
Other states should follow suit and make sure their signs are visible, accurate and well-maintained. This will help drivers navigate the route more easily and safely, as well as create a more authentic and consistent experience.
Promote and participate, and develop, Route 66 events
Even though the centennial is still several years away, many events and activities are already being developed to celebrate the centennial. Other annual events, such as the AAA Route 66 Road Fest, have been developed to capitalize on the centennial.
Recognizing the economic potential of such events, in some communities tourism departments and organizers are creating festivals such as the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Missouri that bolster historic district revitalization initiatives and support local businesses. Surprisingly some events, such as the Kingman 66 Fest, are being developed with plans to grow the festival into a major centennial celebration, but yet they are severed from existing events, and do not support historic district businesses.
A number of organizations are providing free event promotion to magnify marketing of these festivals. And at Jim Hinckley’s America, there is no charge for having an event promoted on our website. Communities should use events to foster development of a a sense of community. And to successfully market an event, promotion should commence at least 18 months in advance. Marketing should be developed using community tourism websites and social media network.
Author Jim Hinckley with a Dutch group traveling Route 66 at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman, Arizona. ©
These promotions should also be developed as a cooperative partnership linked with Route 66 associations and groups. And if a community has a personage with name recognition, their inclusion with personalize marketing initiatives. Marketing should also be developed as a collaboration with nearby communities and organizations to create regional or thematic events that showcase their unique area attractions and stories.
Preserve and showcase Route 66 landmarks
Route 66 is rich with historic landmarks, such as motels, diners, gas stations, museums, bridges, murals and sculptures. But there are also natural or scenic atractions, and historic sites that predate Route 66.
These landmarks not only tell the story of Route 66, but also reflect the unique culture and identity of each community. Communities should preserve and restore these landmarks as much as possible. These can be highlighted on maps, brochures and in projects such as the narrated self gudied tour in Kingman, Arizona developed by Kingman Main Street.
They should also seek recognition from national or state historic preservation programs or agencies, such as the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program or the National Historic Route 66 Federation.
Other Points to Consider
– Develop and diversify Route 66 attractions. While preserving the past is important, communities should also look to the future and develop new attractions that appeal to modern travelers. An example would be the Historic Electric Vehicle Association museum and conference center being developed in Kingman, Arizona.
These attractions could include outdoor recreation, arts and crafts, local cuisine, craft beer and wine, live music, sports or wellness. Communities should also diversify their offerings to cater to different segments of visitors, such as families, couples, seniors or international tourists. They should also leverage their existing assets and resources, such as natural scenery, cultural diversity or historical significance.
– Connect and network with Route 66 stakeholders. This is crucial.
Communities along Route 66 are not alone in their efforts to capitalize on the centennial. There are many other stakeholders who share their interests and goals, such as state travel and tourism offices, Route 66 associations, chambers of commerce, historical societies, museums, businesses and media outlets. Communities should connect and network with these stakeholders to exchange information, ideas and best practices. They should also join or support national or regional initiatives that aim to promote and preserve Route 66, such as the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership or the Oklahoma Route 66 Centennial Commission.
The Route 66 centennial is a great opportunity for communities along the Main Street of America to showcase their history, culture and charm to a wider audience. By enhancing their signage, promoting their events, preserving their landmarks, developing their attractions and connecting with their stakeholders, they can make the most of this occasion and ensure that Route 66 remains a vibrant and vital part of America for generations to come.
Courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
Personally I liked my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona the way it was 55 years ago. Everything was centrally located – a theater, shops, grocery store, drug store, restaurants, saloons and night clubs, and garages. The historic heart of the town was vibrant with multi generational stores, and even a soda fountain in the drug store that had opened in 1898. And there was an endless flow of traffic through town on Route 66. Author and artist Bob Boze Bell and I talked a bit about this on a recent episode of Coffee With Jim, a podcast from Jim Hinckley’s America.
Route 66 was replaced by I40. Strip malls, and national chain restaurants and stores replaced mom and pop shops. The historic heart of the city withered and urban sprawl was viewed as progress. This story has been repeated in small towns and big cities throughout America.
Things change. Whether those changes are for the better, or for the worse, is dependent on leadership, and leaderships ability to foster development of a sense of community as well as translate vision into action.
Kingman, Arizona is at the proverbial crossroads. Passionate volunteers, investors with vision, and small business owners are breathing new life into the historic heart of the city. It is evident in the ongoing transformation of the historic State Theater into the Beale Street Theater performing arts center, Chillin On Beale, the narrated historic district walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street, and renovation of the Hotel Brunswick and similar projects. All of this translates into economic development.
But a key component is missing. That has been made evident in contentious discussions about the Kingman Downtown Infrastructure Project in recent city council meetings, and proposals to divert project funds to street repair. Obviously this would hinder historic district revitalization, and related economic development.
Historic district revitalization initiatives in the United States are a key component in long term economic development planning. These initiatives preserve and enhance the historic, cultural, and architectural heritage of older and historic commercial districts, while also promoting their economic vitality and social diversity. In this blog post, I will explore some of the benefits, challenges, and examples of historic district revitalization in the United States.
Benefits of Historic District Revitalization
Historic district revitalization provides a multitude of benefits to communities, such as:
– Increasing property values and tax revenues: With proper incentive historic districts attract investment and as a result enhance tourism, which can boost the local economy and generate more tax revenue for public services. Studies have shown that historic districts have higher property values and lower vacancy rates than comparable areas.
– Creating jobs and supporting local businesses: Historic district revitalization can create jobs for construction workers, artisans, architects, planners, and other professionals involved in preservation and rehabilitation projects. It can also support local businesses by providing them with a unique identity, a loyal customer base, and access to financial incentives such as tax credits and grants .
– Enhancing overall quality of life and sense of place: Historic district revitalization can enhance the quality of life within a community and create a sense of place for residents and visitors by preserving the historic character, aesthetic appeal, and cultural diversity of neighborhoods. It can also foster social cohesion and civic engagement by creating opportunities for community participation, education, and cultural events hel within the historic district.
– Promoting environmental sustainability: Historic district revitalization can promote environmental sustainability by reducing waste, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with demolition and new construction. It can also encourage alternative modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transit by creating compact, mixed-use, and walkable neighborhoods .
Challenges of Historic District Revitalization
Historic district revitalization can also face some challenges, such as:
– Balancing preservation and development: Historic district revitalization requires a careful balance between preserving the historic integrity and authenticity of buildings and districts, and accommodating the needs and preferences of current and future users. This can involve trade-offs between competing values, interests, and goals among different stakeholders.
– Securing funding and resources: Historic district revitalization can be costly and time-consuming, requiring significant funding and resources from various sources. These sources may include federal, state, local, or private funds; grants; tax credits; loans; or donations. However, these sources may be limited, competitive, or contingent on certain criteria or conditions .
– Navigating regulations and procedures: Historic district revitalization involves complying with various regulations and procedures at different levels of government. These may include zoning ordinances; design guidelines; building codes; historic preservation laws; environmental reviews; or approval processes. These regulations and procedures may be complex, inconsistent, or unclear. But communities that understand the importance of historic district revitalization as a component of historic deistrict revitalization can stream line the process, and initiate zoning initiatives the encourage development.
Examples of Historic District Revitalization
There are many examples of successful historic district revitalization initiatives in the U.S., such as:
Renovation of the historic Stae Theater is an example of positive historic district revitalization. ©Jim Hinckley’s America
– Main Street America: Main Street America is a national network of over 1,600 communities that use a comprehensive approach to revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. The approach is based on four points: economic vitality; design; promotion; and organization. Main Street America provides technical assistance, training, resources, advocacy, and recognition to its members.
– Beall’s Hill Neighborhood Revitalization: Beall’s Hill is a historic neighborhood in Macon, Georgia that dates back to the 1860s. Since 2004, Historic Macon Foundation has been leading a neighborhood revitalization program that involves rehabilitating existing historic structures; building new houses with historic charm; creating amenities such as a dog park and a shade tree nursery; and partnering with Mercer University to offer down payment assistance to homebuyers.
– Lowertown Revitalization Project: Lowertown is a historic district in Saint Paul, Minnesota that was once a thriving warehouse district. Since the 1980s, Lowertown has been undergoing a revitalization project that involves converting vacant warehouses into lofts; restoring historic buildings such as the Union Depot; creating public spaces such as Mears Park; and supporting arts and culture such as the Lowertown Arts District.
Historic district revitalization initiatives are a key component in long term economic development planning. For communities along the Route 66 corridor the benefits can be magnified exponentially if an agressive tourism department with vision can be created.
The Dunton Garage along Route 66 in Goldroad, Arizona.
Sales never met expectations. But in the era of renaissance on Route 66, the reprint of the little guide published by Jack Rittenhouse in 1946 is a treasure for legions of passionate U.S. 66 adventurers.
In A Guide Book To Highway 66, Rittenhouse noted, “For eastbound cars which cannot make the Gold Hill grade, a filling station in Goldroad offers a tow truck which will haul your car to the summit. At last inquiry their charge was $3.50, but may be higher. Cars with trailers may need this service.”
More often than not, the tow truck driver alluded to in the guide was Roy Dunton. In 1946, Roy was a young man that had recently returned home after serving a stint in the Navy during WWII. He simply slipped back into his prewar life.
While still in his teens in the late 1930s, Roy’s uncle, N.R. Dunton had helped him relocate from Spokane, Washington, and had given him a job at the garage. Driving the tow truck was just one of his jobs as N.R. also had the garbage and school bus contract in Goldroad. He also rented and sold mining equipment, repaired cars, sold auto parts, and had a very busy gas station.
Roy and N.R. were kept quite busy as the flow of traffic over this steep, twisted section of Route 66 in the Black Mountains of western Arizona had reached epic proportions by the late 1930s. At the end of 1939 the state highway department reported that for that calendar yer, more than one million vehicles had entered Arizona on Route 66.
On a warm spring day when Scott, Roy’s son, and I drove to Oatman with Roy, stories were shared about life in Goldroad and working on Route 66 in those pre war years. Over lunch and a cold beer at the Oatman Hotel, Roy, then about 90 years old, talked of flirting with the daughter of the owners of Snell’s Summit Station, of pumping gas at Cool Springs, about towing vehicles to the summit, and of an accident at the garage that almost ended his life.
In western Ariizona the Dunton family has played a big part in the Route 66 story since that road was the National Old Trails Road. And for more than thirty years that family has been an integral part of my work to promote Route 66, and to assist ongoing efforts to revitalize the historic heart of Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown.
For reasons unknown, Roy took a shine to me. And I let him drag me into some interesting political adventures. I served as the committee man for the Republican Party in my district, wrote press releases for events such as the annual party picnic. I also met some fascinating people such as Senator John McCain.
The unexpected death of Scott Dunton about ten days ago was the end of era for Kingman, for Route 66, and for me personally. Scott and I began working on projects to utilize the growing interest in Route 66 as a catalyst for historic district revitalization back in about 1992. That was shortly after he and his father had purchased the venerable old Kimo Cafe that dated to 1940, and initiated its transformation into Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. As a bit of FYI, the “D’ in the name is for Dunton.
In 1994, Scott and I launched the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona. Fueled with a passion for the endeavor we hit the ground running. But as so often happens, life got in the way and the association went into a holding pattern for a few years.
But shortly after the turn of the century, Scott and I began working together in earnest. I had resigned from the associations board of directors, but this didn’t prevent Scott from using the association to help me promote Kingman, and Route 66.
We served on a few city commissions’ together. Scott was opiniated to a fault. But there was never any doubt where Scott stood. He was also generous, passionate about his hometown, Kingman, and unreservedly dedicated to his family.
Left to right, Scott Dunton, Kingman Mayor Jen Miles, author Jim Hinckley and Dries Bessles of the Dutch Route 66 Association.
I was as stubborn as Missouri mule. My weakness was the oppposite of Scott’s. I was obsessesed with diplomacy, even when it wasn’t warranted or was was detrimental to a project. So, we butted heads a bit here and there but with the passing of time we learned how to work together. Our strengths and weaknesses provided balance. The association, Scott, and I became a team.
Scott or the association often covered a portion of my travel expenses when we took Jim HInckley’s America on the road promoting Kingman and Route 66. Scott provided an office at the historic Dunton Motors dealership that I could use as a studio for live programs, or to meet with media for interviews.
The associations monthly meet and greet held at different businesses became a venue for networking, for building a sense of community, for developing a diverse array of cooperative partnerships, and for creating an awareness about Route 66 and how the interest in that road could be a transformative force in Kingman. Working with local clubs and the organizers of Chillin’ on Beale, the meet and greet was often transformed into a reception for visiting groups such as Route 66 Germany.
Neon sign acquisition and restoration, grafitti clean up, public arts projects such as the murals on the water tanks along Route 66 and the Running Hare scultpure created by Don Gianella are all manifestations of Scott’s commitment to the city of Kingman. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Dunton Motors Dream Machines, and the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona are also manifestations of his passion for Route 66, and his desire to ensure travelers had memorable stops in Kingman.
Scott’s passing is truly the end of an era.
Near Hoover Dam the Colorado River courses through a stunning landscape of deeply shaded canyons and multihued mountains of stone. ©Jim Hinckley’s America
When putting together a jigsaw puzzle you can’t throw away red pieces just because you don’t like the color. You can’t tell the story of Goldilocks and not include the three bears. You can’t cut cannibalism from the tragic story of the Donner Party. And you can’t tell America’s amazing story without including the history of slavery and the civil rights movement, the genocide of native people and the patriotism of the code talkers, the Know Nothing Party, the contributions of immigrants and the history of prejudices against immigrants.
Northern and western Arizona is a land of scenic wonders without equal. Here you will find the awe inspiring majesty of the Grand Canyon and the red rock country at Sedona. And in the Black Mountains you can drive a segment of Route 66 cut through landscapes so stunning a one eyed blinid man would have trouble taking a bad photo.
But before Route 66, the National Old Trails Road, Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, and the Beale Wagon Road cut across this vast desert wilderness this was the home of the Pai and Mojave people. It was their trade routes that were followed by an expedition led by Father Garces in 1776, and the explorers that followed. That trade route became the Mojave Road across the vast wilderness of the Mojave Desert.
The oral traditions of the Pai tell of a great flood that was drained when the creator thrust a stick into the ground. This oral history tells the story of the people that were created from the reeds. Then Kathat Kanave gave the people the knowledge neede to live in this diverse and often harsh land.
According to legend after a mud fight between children the tribes were seperated. The Mojave were given the upper Colorado River Valley north and south of where Route 66 crosses that river. The Yavapai that became mortal enemies to the Hualapai were drven south below the fork of the Bill Williams River. The people now known as hopi and Navajo were moved east. And the Havasupai had a new homeland at what is now Grand Canyon National Park and the valley’s near Cataract Canyon.
The Hualapai were largely a nomadic people that lived in bands or clans. At the time of European contact the Pine Springs and Peach Springs bands were recorded as being the largest with four camps of about 200 people.
This monument to a dark chapter in the history of the Pai people at Beale Springs is just one piece of the puzzle. More pieces are needed if the picture is to be seen with clarity.
From about 1300 to 1850 the Pai adapated an intricate relationship with the land. The bands migrated seasonally as they followed game and periods of harvest. Pottery and baskets were essential, an in time they developed a unique and beautiful design.
The Mojave developed productive farms along the Coloraod River. For the Hualapai farming was limted to the valleys occupied by the Havasupai, and the valleys of the Bill Williams and Santa Maria Rivers. Small scale farming to supply bands with a few dozen people took places at places such as Beale Springs, Peach Springs, and Diamond Creek. Squash, beans, maize and pumpkins were the primary crops before European encounter.
To drive Route 66 without knowing the story of the road, and the people that linked their lives to that storied highway, would be little different from a trip on the interstate highway. It would be sterile and colorless.
To drive Route 66 without knowing the story of the Pai, the pioneers, the tragic clash of cultures, and eforts to heal old wounds, is akin to just reading every second chapter in a book. The story is incomplete.
Enhance your journey on Route 66, and through life. Learn before you go. Don’t be offended by the storytellers. Let history fill your adventure with color, with balance, with inspiration, and without important lessons from the past.
Jim Hinckley’s America is the sharing of America’s story. Tales of the Pai, this too is America’s story.
Depot Plaza in Kingman, Arizona ©Jim Hinckley’s America
Its origins are as a remote auxilliary Kingman Army Airfield landing strip on the shores of Lake Havasu that morphed into a rustic camp for fisherman in the post war years. In 1963, Robert McCulloch, owner of McCulloch Motors, chose the site for a planned community and a factory where his outboard engines could be tested.
In 1964, there was only one unimproved road into the envisioned city. McCulloch was a visionary. So, he developed an air charter service to fly in prospective land buyers that wanted a fresh start or an escape from harsh winter climates. Between 1964 and 1978, 137,000 potential land buyers flew to what would become Lake Havasu City. In 1978 the town was incorporated. By 1981 the modern community built on the hills above the shimmering lake had a population of 17,000 people.
From its inception the city recognized the value of tourism. There was an understanding that tourism was more than just heads in beds. It was an opportunity to showcase the community to prospective residents and business owners.
Agressive marketing, leadership that developed cooperative partnerships within the community, a focus on the development of events that support the business community, and utilization of all available resources have paid dividends. Even though summer temperatures often reach 120 degrees or more, Lake Havasu City consistently rates as one of the top destination cities in Arizona. On the city’s tourism website the calendar of events illustrates the community’s marketing success.
Sixty miles to the east is Kingman, Arizona, a town with an astounding array of diverse attractions. The towns link to Route 66 has ensured international name recognition. And yet as a destination it remains relatively obscure.
In recent years the Colorado River Area Trail Alliance has developed an expansive series of hiking and mountain trails in the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area. The scenic trail system that includes an array of historic sites is located less than two miles from the historic district and Route 66.
There is a thriving arts community and the historic State Theater is being renovated as a performing arts center. Chillin on Beale, held on the third Saturday afternoon of each month, April through October, adds a colorful vibrancy to the historic district that is in the midst of a slow motion renaissance.
At the west end of the historic business district along Route 66 are two delightful parks, one of which is shaded by towering tress. As they are located adjacent to the Powerhouse Visitor Center and Mohave Museum of History & Arts, they are ideally suited for the hosting of events such as the Kingman Festival of The Arts, and for vendors during the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona sponsored annual Route 66 Fun Run. But, oddly enough, the annual Kingman Route 66 Fest is held in a park located miles from the historic heart of the city, and nearly a mile from the nearest restaurant.
Kingman Main Street recently spearheaded development of an innovative narrated self guuided historic district and Route 66 corridor walking tour. Phase one will be completed in a few weeks, and yet it is already becoming an internationally recognized attraction.
Spring flowers along Route 66 in the Black Mountains. ©Jim Hinckley’s America
Hualapai Mountain Park is located a mere twelve scenic miles south of Kingman. This pine forested island in a sea of desert is is a true oasis. Hualapai Lodge and pictuersque stone cabins built by the CCC, and rustic camp sites, provide a wonderful option to chain motels. And there are miles of shade dappled trails that climb through the forest to scenic overlooks.
Lake Havasu City. Kingman. Needles, California. Bullhead City. Western Arizona is a destination for a memory making holiday filled with adventure in any season. Telling people where to go, it’s what we do in Jim Hinckley’s America.