Route 66 communities work to highlight roadway’s golden era

From PBS Newshour

Essential question

Why are cultural symbols important to a society?


Stretching 2,400 miles between Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California, U.S. Route 66 served as a cultural symbol for America for almost fifty years.

Although the rise of the federal interstate highway system gradually redirected traffic away from the famous roadway, a new effort to revitalize communities along Route 66 is beginning to bring tourists back.

Millions traveled Route 66 every year between its designation as a national highway in 1926 and the 1970s, inspiring settings for popular movies, songs and books. When the traffic slowed as drivers turned to faster interstate highways, countless businesses closed. Many of the once-bustling Route 66 communities became ghost towns.

Now, small towns on either end of Route 66 are seeking ways to preserve and promote their heritage in the hopes of bringing tourism back. Jon Fey of the Berwyn, Illinois Preservation Committee has pushed to renovate some of the older buildings in town.

“I’m realistic enough to understand we can’t bring it all back,” said Fey. “But if there’s enough gems that we can recognize and preserve, I think we will have a real valuable commodity for the community.”

European and Asian tourists now make up about half of the tourists who drive Route 66 each summer in pursuit of the Americana that inspired so many in the past.


Key terms

Americana— refers to artifacts related to the history, geography and cultural heritage of the U.S.

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. Have you ever heard of Route 66? If so, what do you know about it?
  2. How many states does Route 66 pass through?
  3. How do changes in the ways people travel affect communities in which they pass through?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why do some people view the ‘open road’ or highways like Route 66 as a key part of America’s heritage?
  2. Do you think town leaders will continue to be successful in attracting tourists from around the world to Route 66? Why or why not?
  3. Would you consider taking a road trip along Route 66? Explain.

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