Screenshot of the Route 66 Experience from Ace Sign Company website.
In 2026 the Route 66 centennial will spark the largest block party in American history. In preperation of this mega event the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield is about to unveil the Route 66 Experience that was developed in partnership with Ace Sign Company.
This will be the cornerstone for the city’s expansive Route 66 centennial celebrations. In 2026, Springfield will also be hosting a special Miles of Possibility Conference, the only annual conference that is focused on the business of Route 66.
100 Years of Adventure
This iconic old road is not our most scenic highway, nor its most historic. But since at least early 1927 when the U.S. Highway 66 Association was formed to lobby state and federal governments for paving it from end to end, and to market it as America’s Main Street, it has had the best publicity.
Evidence of the roads popularity, and the growing interest in the Route 66 centennial, can be found in communities between Chicago and Santa Monica. You can see it in events such as the recent AAA Route 66 Road Fest in Tulsa, Oklahoma. You can see it with companies that are initiating marketing special tours in 2026. And you can see it in social media groups where people are asking questions, and making plans to travel the road with like minded friends.
Jim Hinckley’s America
As Jim HInckley’s Americais rooted in my association with Route 66 that dates to 1959, it is not surprising that the number of inquiries for information, and the requests for interviews, is growing exponentially. But as to my plans for the centennial, I don’t have anything set in stone.
My primary focus at thist time is what it has always been – sharing America’s story and inspiring road trips by telling people where to go. A facet of this is building a series of linked platforms to assist event organizers, grass roots initiatives and tourism offices.
One of these is the weekly podcast, Coffee With Jim. Reach and engagement shows steady growth. And this makes sponsors happy.
Illustrating the vision for the podcast is the guest list for upcoming programs. On Sunday, July 30, Wade Bray will be joining me to talk about the Route 66 centennial. He is the designer behhind the new interactive Angel Degadillo exhibit at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman, Arizona. He has also developed the annual AAA Route Road Fest in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The following Sunday, I will be joined by Joe Sonderman. Sonderman is a prolific author, as well as an historian that has a deep knowledge about St. Louis that he shares passionately. He also serves on the board of directors for the Route 66 Association of Missouri.
And then on August 13, we turn our focus to the past, present and future of the electric vehicle. Our guests will be Roderick Wilde and Kent Bakke of the Historic Electrice Vehicle Foundation. This organization is in the process of establishing an electric vehicle museum, and educational facility, along Route 66 in Kingman.
Steve Roth of Quatro Publising joins me on the 20th to discuss the changing face of publishing. And, of course, we will also be talking about Route 66 books and how their popularity is linked to the Route 66 centennial.
What Are Your Plans?
Do you have plans for the Route 66 centennial? If so, we would like to hear about them, and how we might be able to assist.
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 tourdeveloped 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:
– 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.
But there is another facet to Jim HInckley’s America. That is the development of educational programs, speaking at schools, and even providing someone on one time for students.
These projects are almost entirely made possible through partners that provide support through our crowdfunding initiative on Patreon. As my dearest friend and I are used to eating on a regular basis, crowdfunding is key to make these type of projects relatively feasible.
We don’t talk much about these initiatives. I don’t feel comfortable giving the impression that they are done for profit.
To date I have had the distinct privilege of working with a variety of schools at all grade levels. Counted among the most memorable programs were those made at schools in Germany. I learned as much or maybe more than the students.
Incentive to continue thiese programs and projects, and the inspiration for them, often comes from students, from their parents and from teachers. A few months ago I receoved a message from a teacher at a school in Chandler, Arizona with a request to speak to her class.
Obviously that wasn’t feasible at the time. It had to wait until I had business in the area. Meanwhile one of the teachers sudents accepted my offer to assist directly via phone or Zoom. One student accepted that offer. He was working on a project about the societal impact of Route 66 in the 20th century. Did I mention that he was just eleven years of age?
Well, we talked on the phone and I answered his carefully crafted and well thought out questions. Then he talked his parents into bringing him to my program at the Performing Arts Center in Apache Junction. Well, yesterday I received this note. “I’m happy to share that I made it to state level and will be participating in the program at ASU (Arizona State University) in April.”
That, my friends is the true reward for what I do. That is the inspiration needed. To my supportring partners on Patreon, thank you. We did it. We made a difference.
In coming weeks I will be sharing an array of exciting updates about pending travel, new programs, and items associated with the fast approaching Route 66 centennial. And as I will be attending a rather dynamic conference and symposium soon, there is every confidence that we will have much to discuss.
The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.
On June 27, 1985, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertified US 66 and voted to remove all its highway signs. So, officially Route 66 doesn’t exist. And yet an argument could easily be made that today that storied highway is more popular than at anytime in its history.
US 66 was a mere highway that connected Chicago, Illinois with downtown Los Angeles, California when it was certified in November 1926. But almost from inception, marketing and promotion ensured it was in a class all its own. It quickly evolved from highway into an icon that came to symbolize the quintessential American road trip.
In the spring of 1927 the US Highway 66 Association was formed to lobby for having the highway paved from end to end, and to market the highway. In essence it served as a sort of chamber of commerce for the linear Route 66 community.
One of the associations first initiatives that branded the highway as the Main Street of America. This tagline was borrowed from a marketing campaign for the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in the southwest, launched in 1913.
The Transcontinental Footrace along Route 66 that garnered international media coverage in 1928 gave he highway a promotional boost. Likewise with a promotioonal campaign that linked Route 66 with the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. And of course there was The Grapes of Wrath, the book and the movie, the song and the television program as well as movies such as Easy Rider.
As Jim Hinckley’s America has as its foundation the sharing of America’s story, and telling people where to go, it isn’t surprising that many of the adventures that we share are linked to Route 66, especially as we draw closer to the centennial in 2026. We inspire road trips and bring history ot life through podcasts and programs, social media network and YouTube channel videos, books and feature articles, tourism development work and educational programs.
For 2023, aside from custom programs for events or organizations, we have created a fun filled, fast paced, trivia filled presentation about the dawning of the American road trip. We are currently booking for spring and summer, and are making plans for a Route tour this coming fall.
And we are taking the Car Talk From The Main Street of America podcast in a new direction. Yes, we will still be inspiring road trips and talking about, and with, interesting people. And we will be sharing fascinating stories about the dawning of the American auto industry.
But the emphasis will be placed on steam and electric automobiles. The goal being to counter myth with fact, and highlight these vehicles role in the past, the present and the future of the auto industry.
We are also making plans to take the Jim Hinckley’s America show on the road. In the first engagement for 2023, nearly every seat in the house at the Performing Arts Center in Apache Junction, Arizona was full for the Route 66 in Arizona program. This was my first program made on behalf of the Arizona Lecturer Series.
On the weekend of February 11 at the Route 66 Info Fair in Needles, California, I will be speaking about Edsel Ford’s epic journey along the National Old Trails Road in the summer of 1915. And,of course, I will also be telling people where to go as we give assistance with their Route 66 travel planning.
It is shaping up to be quite a year. We hope to see you on the road this year. In the meantime, get out there on the road and dsicover America.
The embryonic electric vehicle museum is the first and only museum dedicated to this style of vehicle. Credit Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation
Mention Porsche and visions of fast, sleek cars come to mind. But for the company’s namesake Ferdinand Porsche it was electricity, not gasoline, that first piqued his interest.
In 1893, at age 18, Porsche electrified his parents’ house. Before the turn of the century he was working for the Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG Béla Egger company in Vienna. It was that company that he first began designing and experimenting with automobiles. They were battery driven electric cars.
In 1900 he designed a highly advanced automobile. The ‘Semper Vivus’, his second car, was launched as the production-ready Lohner-Porsche ‘Mixte’. It had an internal gasoline engine powered by naptha. But rather than driving the car the engine was used to power a generator that sent a charge to the wheel hubs for propulsion.
The first decades of the 20th century, much like the first decades of the 21st century, were an era of innovation in the auto industry. But the innovators of the 21st century had a slight advantage as they were standing of the shoulders of pioneers.
Byron Carter capitalized on the bicycle mania of the 1890s and produced a quality two wheeld product in Jackson, Michigan. Still, there was little to differernate his bicycles from hundreds of others on the market at the time.
His, cars, however, were another matter. The Cartercar was friction drive, which eliminated the need for a transmission. The Carter Two Engine was even more radical in design. It was a four cylinder automobile, with conventional transmission. The selling point was reliability. Under the hood was a second four cyclinder engine, in case of mechanical failure with the first engine!
Before the introduction of the electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac, steam and electric powered cars were the industry leaders. These were the trend setters. A White steamer was the first automobile to replace carriages at the White House. A Stanley built steamer set a land speed record of nearly 150 miles an hour in 1906.
Rapid advancement of gasoline engine technology, and development of an electrical system that included starter and lights, proved the death knell for steeam powered cars. Electric cars fell out of favor, but as we see today, they still pique the interest of innovators who see a different future for the automobile.
Detroit Electric enjoyed strong brand loyalty. And they found a market in the growing number of female drivers as they were relatively clean and easy to operate, especially in comparison to cars such as the Model T Ford. Still, by 1914 the company reached its zenith when annual production topped 4,000 vehicles. The comapny continued producing vehicles into the 1930s, and even built a limited edition vehicle that used by the postal service.
The past, the present and the future of alternative energy vehicles, and supportive infrastructure are a regular topic of discussion on Car Talk From The Main Street of America, a podcast from Jim Hinckley’s America. We guarantee that the program will provide lots of fodder for trivia fueled discussions, be filled with surprising stories, and will have you looking at Tesla built cars in a whole new way.