DISCOVERING THE UNITED STATES THROUGH ITS
ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, MUSEUMS, PARKS, CITIES, AND TOWNS
ROUTE 66 MUSEUM – VICTORVILLE, CA
If not for Route 66, Victorville might have never grown beyond a blip on the map in Southern California. With a respectable population of 121,901, the city (from the perspective of the corner booth at Apollo Burger) overlooks miles of sagebrush with a row of mountains in the distance.
Patti, the director of the California Route 66 Museum, points out that the town doesn’t seem like much because it’s so spread out. Once upon a time, Victorville was just Victor, California. In 1901, the “ville” was added. But a more significant change occurred in the 1930s, when the benefits of Route 66 really made their mark. There were businesses up and down the portion of the route which toured through Victorville, a kind of boom town seen across seven states.
By the end of the 1960’s, Interstate 15 had come along, bypassing the city by a shade. And like many other Route 66-inspired communities, Victorville fell prey to changing times. Perhaps because of its proximity to Los Angeles and the overall development of the High Desert, Victorville did not turn into a ghost town. But there’s no denying the lasting effects, as a number of boarded up or vacant businesses on Seventh Street attest.
The California Route 66 Museum contains just three rooms: Route 66, Transportation, and Victorville-Early Days. It’s a non-profit organization running on the goodwill of its patrons—there’s no entrance fee, and the displays and artifacts are there via donations. The museum, while not all that large, nevertheless packs in a lot of material.
The crown jewel is a 1917 Model T, while others may be fans of the 1951 Pepsi vending machine or the 1950 jukebox. Whether it’s signage, toys, maps, brochures, old photos, old yearbooks, or yes, even license plates that pique your interest, you are sure to be delighted. The gift shop area is full of wonderful novelties as well, from puzzles to keychains to reusable bags, postcards to wall clocks to playing cards. You can take your photo on the Model T, in a 1966 Flower VW bus, or as I saw one couple do, sitting in a re-creation of a classic diner booth.
There’s old radios and toy cars, a vintage wooden outhouse, gas station décor, an example of a Native American-made doll sold along the route, a tribute to Roy Rogers, displays of how the route related to bus service and train service, buttons and badges, the route’s place in popular culture, and newspaper items such as a telling of a flood in the area many years ago.
Route 66 was designated as such in 1926. Stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles, it served as a major west-east artery in the early days of national highway construction. Compared to modern interstates, the route served both big cities and small towns. Rather than follow a straight, traditional course, Route 66 went out of the way to connect to rural communities. This proved prosperous for farmers and truckers.
John Steinbeck nicknamed it the “Mother Road” in The Grapes of Wrath, and the mass migration of people from the plains states using the route to flee from the Dust Bowl catapulted Route 66 into the American consciousness. Laborers found work during the Great Depression completing the route, and its usefulness during World War II further cemented its value. After the war, an increasingly mobile American populace (including thousands of military members who trained in parts of the country served by the route) utilized Route 66 to relocate. In 1946, Nat King Cole recorded Bobby Troup’s song, simply named “Route 66,” which quickly became a hit.
The highway helped spawn a new travel culture, marked by diners, garages, more elaborate gas stations, tourist courts, motels, and roadside attractions.
By the mid-1950’s, highways including Route 66 had deteriorated due in part to high level of traffic and the excessive use of trucks during World War II. Public pressure led to the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956. By 1970, modern four-lane highways had bypassed nearly the entirety of Route 66. And in 1984, the final section of the original road, in Arizona, went to the wings of Interstate 40.
Today, Route 66 still stirs strong memories among many Americans. The fact that the California Route 66 Museum runs by volunteers with donations is proof of that—as is the bevy of websites and books devoted to The Mother Road. As national66.org says, “Route 66 symbolized the renewed spirit of optimism that pervaded the country after economic catastrophe and global war. Often called ‘The Main Street of America’, it linked a remote and under-populated region with two vital 20th century cities – Chicago and Los Angeles.”
Sources: California Route 66 Museum, national 66.org