Happy New Year everyone and Happy Birthday to the American Highway movement!
2016 marks :
- 100 years since the federal government first began to fun highway paving,
- 60 years since the Interstate Highway Act, and
- 90 years since the National Highway System was put in place.
Probably just as important for 66 roadies, 2016 also marks 90 years since the organization of the original US 66 Highway Association and the building of Springfield MO’s famed Kentwood Arms Hotel.
Here’s the story: John T. Woodruff, a Springfield attorney, civic leader, real estate developer, and Good Roads man, invited his buddy Cy Avery (an Oklahoma politician, real estate man, Good Roads booster and state highway commissioner) over from Tulsa to participate in the opening celebration of Woodruff’s new Kentwood Arms Hotel in July 1926. The huge hotel, set back on a wide green lawn, with ball rooms, dining rooms, porches and all the niceties of a grand hotel, would become a regional showplace.
While Cy was attending the Kentwood celebration, he and John T. drove out to look at road paving crews on what was about to become US 66. Both veteran highway promoters, they discussed the need for a booster organization for the new highway with twin goals of getting the road paved end to end, and bringing more traffic to it.
Later that same year, Cy drove back to Springfield for a meeting to discuss the feasibility of the idea with Woodruff and a group of local businessmen. Among other things, they determined that the Tulsa and Springfield Chambers of Commerce should jointly host/support the organization.
Then it was Cy’s turn. He and the Tulsa Chamber invited people from towns all along the highway to a meeting in Tulsa in early 1927. There, the enthusiastic crowd elected Woodruff to be the first president of the new US 66 Highway Association. Avery was elected state vice president for Oklahoma and also produced a $5 bill to become the organization’s first official member.
The following year, along with sports impresario C.C. Pyle, the 66 Association sponsored the Great Transcontinental Footrace. That amazing 3400 mile race (it followed 66 from LA to Chicago then runners went east to New York City), lured international participants and garnered international attention – and put Route 66 on not only the US map but made it famous around the world as well.