Miami, Oklahoma – Culture on Route 66

Miami, Oklahoma, courtesy Google Maps.

Miami, Oklahoma, courtesy of Google Maps.

Miami, Oklahoma, pronounced “My-am-uh,” takes its name from the Miami Indians and became the first chartered town in Indian Territory. Miami began with the son of a missionary to the Peoria Indians named Wayland C. Lykins. With visions of becoming a cattle rancher within the broad expanse of the tall prairie, Lykins was determined to buy a piece of the prime grazing land. Traveling to Washington, D.C., Lykins was granted the opportunity by the Secretary of the Interior to buy the acreage for the new town on behalf of the Ottawa Tribe of Indians.

Vintage Miami, Oklahoma

Vintage Miami, Oklahoma

When the sale was approved on March 2, 1891, new settlers were offered the opportunity to purchase lots. Starting with nothing more than a trading post, the settlement was called Jimtown because there were four men in the emerging community by that name. However, when Jim Palmer established the post office in 1890, the town was renamed in honor of his wife, a Miami Indian.

While Miami was destined to develop slowly like so many other small towns in Indian Territory, all that changed with the discovery of lead and zinc in 1905. As the miners flooded the town, it began to boom, with an increase in the population of 141% in a brief period.

With the completion of Route 66 through Miami, the community soon gained all manner of roadside services. In 1929, zinc and lead-mining millionaire George L. Coleman built the Coleman Theatre to bring culture to Miami. Built in a Spanish Revival style, the classic theater soon attracted hundreds of patrons to Vaudeville Shows and the popular Big Screen movies of the past. The theater once hosted the likes of Will Rogers, Tom Mix, and the Three Stooges. This beautiful icon has never closed, even though it fell on hard times for an extended period. In 1989, the theater was given to the City of Miami by the family of George Coleman and has since undergone extensive restoration.

Mining near Miami, Oklahoma.

Mining near Miami, Oklahoma.

As the first town in Indian Territory, several Native American tribes still make their home in the area, including the Miami, Modoc, Ottawa, Peoria, Seneca-Cayuga, Wyandot, Quapaw, and Eastern Shawnee.

The Coleman Theater, Miami, Oklahoma

The Coleman Theater, built in 1929, has never closed by David Alexander.

Miami is also home to the Ottawa County Historic Society’s Dobson Museum, where Native American artifacts and other historic items depict the lives of early settlers and the legacy of the great lead and zinc mines.

Just outside Miami is the last section of the original nine-foot wide “Ribbon Road” listed as an Oklahoma National Historic Landmark.

This section of the road predates Route 66, having been built in the early 1920s. Legend has it that when the road was buiOklahoma’sma’s budget was tight, so rather than covering half the mileage, they covered half the width. This remarkable piece of vintage pavement zigzags 13 miles between Miami and Afton. Amazingly, this original stretch of pavement is in very good shape for its age, but be careful along this stretch for oncoming vehicles. If you plan to travel this short stretch of the Mother Road, use caution if it has been raining or you have an oversized vehicle.

Nine Foot Road, Route 66, near Afton, Oklahoma by Kathy Alexander.

Nine-foot wide road between Miami and Afton, Oklahoma, 
Kathy Alexander.

The only town on this nine-foot roadway was the small community of Narcissa, established in 1902. All that is left today is an old garage and gas station.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated February 2024.

Also See:

Oklahoma – Indian Territory

Oklahoma Route 66

Oklahoma Route 66 Photo Gallery

Route 66 Main Page