Beyond Vinita, Oklahoma, Route 66 winds through several small towns, alternating between two-lane and divided four-lane highway, on its way to Claremore. Though the old highway still sees regular use among the locals, some of the communities along this stretch have been left as virtual ghosts, while others are dotted with closed business testifying to better times.
The first small community of White Oak appears after just a few miles, but very little is left in this small town other than a vintage Country Court Motel sign peeking up from the foliage and an old Moose Lodge. Seemingly, most everything else, other than a few area homes, has been wiped away by the passing years.
Another eleven miles down the road, Route 66 arrives at the small town of Chelsea, with a current population of just over 2,000 souls. Chelsea was first founded in 1870 by a homesick Frisco railroad worker who named the new settlement after his native Chelsea, England. In the beginning, Chelsea’s primary economic mainstays were cattle and hay, until oil was discovered here in 1889.
The rich oil, found just west of town by Edward Byrd, soon prompted Byrd to secure a lease from the Cherokee Nation and drill the first oil well in Oklahoma. The oil discovery was responsible, not only for the town’s growth, but also in shaping the destiny of the entire state of Oklahoma.
It was also about this same time that Chelsea was often visited by Will Rogers during his youth as his sister, Allie McSpadden lived there. Many years later, Gene Autry, would live in Chelsea when he worked for the Frisco Railroad.
In Chelsea, you can see the only known Sears Roebuck-constructed home west of the Mississippi. Still serving as a residence today, the house located at 1001 Olive Street was shipped by train from Chicago and assembled in 1913 for $1,600.
Other vintage views of old Route 66 can still be seen in Chelsea such as the old Chelsea Motel, long closed to Route 66 travelers.
Another attraction in Chelsea is the historic Pryor Creek Bridge, built in 1926 — the same year the federal government commissioned U.S. Highway 66. The 126-foot-long steel truss bridge remains open to traffic, but gets little other than recreational walkers and fishermen because Route 66 was realigned a few years after it opened. The bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Next along the Mother Road, you’ll pass by the site where the small town of Bushyhead once stood. But of this 1898 community, named after a Cherokee Chief, nothing remains today.
Before long you come to the almost ghost town of Foyil, Oklahoma. However, this very small community of just a little more than 200 people is an excellent stop upon the Mother Road for it’s nearby attraction to Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park and for its historic contribution to Route 66 .
Soon after the Mother Road was completed a man by the name of Lon Scott, the promoter for the new Route 66 Association, conceived of the idea to promote a transcontinental footrace in 1928. Pairing up with C.C. Pyle, a sports promoter, the cross-country footrace, more familiarly called the Bunion Derby, followed the new highway from the Pacific to Chicago, then onwards to New York.
Andy Payne, the winner of the footrace, hailed from Foyil, Oklahoma, passing right through his hometown along the way. Crossing the finish line 84 days after the race began, Payne finished hours ahead of the other runners, claiming the $25,000 prize and helping to putRoute 66 in the minds of Americans. Andy went home a hero and used his winnings to pay off the mortgage on his parent’s farm. Foyil’s main street was renamed Andy Payne Boulevard, where you will ride on an original stretch of pinkish Portland Cement concrete. A memorial to Payne was later erected in a park along Andy Payne Boulevard.
Just four miles east of Foyil on Highway 28A, is Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park, featuring the world’s largest concrete totem pole. At 90 feet, the totem pole towers over the park in a vivid array of folk art colors. The park also features Galloway’s eleven-sided “Fiddle House” that previously housed hundreds of hand-carved fiddles and today serves as a small museum. Throughout the park are numerous colorful totems that display a variety of Indian Folk Art. This is a definite side trip worth the taking.
Returning to Route 66, you will soon come to Claremore , Oklahoma, best known for being the hometown of Will Rogers.