By Jerry Steiner
There’s nothing more emblematic of the American spirit than traveling along old Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. The Mother Road served as the main route for migration out west in the 20’s and 30’s and has been the inspiration for songs, shows, and Beat literature. Get your own kicks along Route 66 by visiting these must-see museums:
Hall of Fame Museum—Pontiac, IL
This historic Route 66 museum is housed in a former fire hall. In addition to plaques commemorating members of the Route 66 Hall of Fame, the museum includes a vintage booth from the original Steak and Shake in Normal, Illinois, a restored Conoco gas pump, and artist Bob Waldmire’s old bus and van.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum—Springfield, IL
If you’re a history buff, stop here to explore the treasure trove of artifacts and information pertaining to the United States’ 16th president—from the Lincoln stand figures in the central plaza to the family photos, china, and crystals in the Treasures Gallery. You can walk through sets chronicling Lincoln’s life in the Pre-Presidential Years and The White House Year exhibits, or catch a live theater production or seminar in the Union Theater.
Museum of Transportation—St. Louis, Missouri
This fascinating museum in St. Louis pays homage to early forms of transport in the U.S. Its rail and transit collections include freight cars, passenger cars, rail maintenance & test cars, and interurban and city transit vehicles. It also includes a motor carriage dating back to 1901, a panel truck from 1919, and The Bobby Darin “Dream Car,” which was completed in 1960. Miscellaneous exhibits include an HT Potts Tugboat from 1933 and a Douglas Aircraft C-47A from 1943.
Oklahoma Route 66 Museum—Clinton, Oklahoma
Another Route 66-centric museum is the one in Clinton, Oklahoma, which reopened last year. Among the museum’s current offerings are audio effects conversations that re-create typical bus station conversations from the 1940s and diner conversations from the 1950s, newspaper collages, and interactive kiosks narrating the history of the Dust Bowl.
Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum—McLean, Texas
One of the route’s quirkiest museums is definitely the Barbed Wire Museum in Texas. Located in a converted brassiere factory, the museum is dedicated to the history of barbed wire and housing exhibits pertaining to the material’s use in the military and in the development of ranching and fencing tools. Private collections of barbed wire-based artwork are on display as well.
Route 66 Museums and Historic Places in California
Once you cross the state line into California, you’ll have many museums to explore, but three in particular pertain to the history of the highway. For wonderful examples of roadside folk art, head to the historic Route 66 museums in Barstow and Victorville. To get a taste of what the original McDonald’s would have been like, visit the McDonald’s Route 66 Museum in San Bernardino.
Jerry Steiner has been travelling North America for the past 5 years. His favourite place is still the Grand Canyon. He enjoys blogging about where he visits.
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