Miami, Oklahoma – Culture on Route 66

Miami Vintage Postcard


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, by the name of 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 to buy the acreage for the new town by the Secretary of the Interior on the behalf of the Ottawa Tribe of Indians.

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

Miami Mining 1909

The Coleman Theater, Miami, Oklahoma

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

While Miami was destined to develop slowly like so many other small towns in Indian Territory, that all changed with the discovery of lead and zinc in 1905. As the miners flooded the town, it began to boom, with an increase in 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 in an attempt 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 played host to 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 a long period of time. In 1989 the theater was given to the City of Miami by the family of George Coleman and has since undergone extensive restoration.

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, Wyandotte, Quapaw, Eastern Shawnee, and Loyal Shawnee.

Waylan's Burgers in Miami, Oklahoma

Waylan’s Burgers in Miami, Oklahoma by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Miami is also home to the Ottawa County Historical 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 of Miami is the last section of the original nine-foot wide “Ribbon Road” that is 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 built, Oklahoma’s budget was tight, so rather than covering half the mileage, they covered half the width. This remarkable piece of vintage pavement zigzags for 13 miles between Miami and Afton. Amazingly this original stretch of pavement is in extremely good shape for its age, but take care along this stretch for oncoming vehicles. If you plan to travel this short stretch of the Mother Road, use caution if it’s been raining or if you have an oversized vehicle.

Nine Foot Road, Route 66, near Afton, Oklahoma

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

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

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December 2019.

Also See:

Oklahoma – Indian Territory

Oklahoma Route 66

Oklahoma Route 66 Photo Gallery

Route 66 Main Page