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Was Depew the first Route 66 town to be bypassed? July 1, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History, Towns.
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The jury’s still out on exact dates and other historical data. But a roadie has compiled compelling information that indicates Depew, Okla., was the first incorporated Route 66 town to be bypassed — way back in 1928.

When U.S. Highway 66 was certified in 1926, the road made a horseshoe-shaped loop through downtown Depew on its Main Street.

By fall 1928, according to the research of Frank Gifford of rt66pix.com, highway officials had already moved U.S. 66 to the north, outside city limits.

According to Gary Ray Howell at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation:

“As far as I can determine, I would agree with you that the first relocation of US 66 that bypassed a town entirely in Oklahoma was the 1928 relocation at Depew.”

Howell also said records indicate the bypass alignment at Depew was finished by September or October 1928.

Also, Depew Town Clerk Susie Case confirmed the 1928 bypass went outside of Depew city limits. “That about killed the town,” she said to Gifford.

The Gimmel gas station in downtown, which still stands, dates to when the Mother Road was first certified. However, it’s not been confirmed whether the station was built because Route 66 went through downtown, or whether other factors led to its construction.

Gifford wrote on the AA Roads forum:

To date, I have found nothing to undermine the larger theory that Depew was the first such bypass on ALL of Route 66. The Depew bypass was being used just 25 months after the numbered U.S. highway system was adopted. [...]

Unless there’s conflicting evidence, I’m going with ODOT. It all started in Depew in 1928.

The focus point clearly is a well-preserved 1920s building — the only gas station to survive from the era when Main Street was Route 66. There’s now a direct link between that building and the story about The Mother of the Mother Road, Lucille Hamons. Both fell victim (in different ways) to the same process — bypassing.

And there’s no good answer either because, in places like Depew, the road HAD to move eventually.

It seems to me, as an outsider, that Oklahoma’s relationship with Route 66 is unique. It’s important elsewhere — but it’s intertwined with Oklahoma. The road nurtures your towns and cities, and when it gets taken away, it damn near kills them.

Depew today is largely a facade of building fronts. The Turnpike entrance is 7 miles away. The grocery store closed a couple weeks ago.

Gifford and highway officials caution that other settlements — such as Delhi and Doxey in western Oklahoma — were being bypassed about that time. However, these were little more than wide spots in the road. Depew was an honest-to-goodness incorporated town of more than 1,100 people, according to the 1930 census. It still has about 500 people today.

The Depew bypass is a fascinating and often-overlooked part of Route 66 history. Some historians often point to the interstate highway era when Route 66 towns started being bypassed. Angel Delgadillo’s oft-told story about how his hometown in Seligman, Ariz., was bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1978 remains a vivid part of that lore.

But bypasses — an effort to make highways straighter and faster — occurred almost 30 years before. And it happened before that — the Lincoln Highway was constantly being realigned and shortened more than a decade before Route 66 came into being.

As Earl Swift’s excellent book “The Big Roads” explains, highway engineers from the beginning were always looking for ways to improve the safety and speed of roads. Bypasses were part of that effort, for good or ill.

(Photo of downtown Depew by Redforkhippie)

Comments»

1. Susan Yates - July 1, 2012

Ron, please, let us know when the antique shop mentioned in the AAForum posting opens.

How sad to hear Spangler’s grocery finally threw in the towel. After a haunting trip to Depew with friends from the UK in 2010, I returned just for the purpose of grocery shopping at Spangler’s to lend what economic support I could. but sadly found there were no groceries to be bought, just a dozen boxes of candy bars spread out on the shelves closest to the register counter. The rest of the building was empty, save for a TV tuned into a Sunday football game with a chair pulled up to it for the tall, white haired gentleman dressed for Church who waited on me. He took my money for the candy I bought and told me that once during Depew’s heyday there had been five large grocery stores, two hotels, I forget how many banks, and a movie house, all busy, all the time. The town was long ago hit with the double whammy of Route 66 re-routing and area mines closing following a boom and bust cycle that first built then crippled the attractive little town. It says a lot about our “Sense of Place” as Michael Wallis calls it, that so many people have held on to their beloved heimat three quarters of century after the economic rug was pulled out from under them.

2. Beth - July 1, 2012

I’m so glad we took the short Depew sidetrip. I found it one of the most compelling little towns along the way. Not a ruin like Glenrio, but almost completely deserted when we came through. If I’m not mistaken, Main Street looked to me like original 66 pavement.

Ron Warnick - July 1, 2012

Beth, according to Jim Ross’ book “Oklahoma Route 66,” the horseshoe alignment that goes through downtown Depew was paved between 1925 and 1927. Considering that Route 66 wasn’t officially designated until November 1926, it’s likely the pavement predates the Mother Road.

Beth - July 1, 2012

Wow, that’s amazing. It certainly did look like original concrete, with no asphalt covering it. Very cool!

3. Rick Martin - July 1, 2012

Can’t say for certain but a couple of towns in Illinois could be possibilities also.

In 1925 state maps show what became State Highway 4 as “under construction or contemplated. It was certainly not complete. The road from Chicago to Joliet went through Summit, Lambert, Lemont, Lockport and possibly Romeo.

By 1927 the state map showed highway 4 as partially complete with “dirt and unimproved” sections and the road going through Summit ……Lockport designated 4A. It is possible that 66 following 4A was either “temporary” or “alternate” at this time.

The US Dept of Agriculture produced the new numbered highway system map in 1926. While it is not highly detailed it does appear to show 66 as east of the river following 4A rather than 4 which was west of the river.

At the least you could say that even if 4A was never designated US 66 that 66 / SH 4 caused Summit, Lambert, Lemont, and Lockport to be bypassed very early on. Maybe as early as 26 or 27.

So technically it was not a relocation of 66, but 66 itself bypassed these towns just like the Interstates did later.

My sources for this come from the State of Illinois map archives.

4. Ron Warnick - July 1, 2012

Very interesting, Rick.

It wouldn’t surprise me if other possible bypass cases from the late 1920s are found in the coming days.

5. Anonymous - July 2, 2012

It’s actually not important to be the first, nor last to be bypassed. Bypasses were built on the predecessors of Route 66 all the time prior to the arbitrary date of November 11th, 1926. Just look at National Old Trails: till 1917 they didn’t even settle the alignment through the desert – some wanted San Francisco as the endpoint (and hence a far more northern route, some wanted San Diego to host the terminus and hence a far more southern route. In the end Los Angeles got it and the Route though the desert became what would be Route 66 in 1926.

Now in 1926 or 1928 traffic levels would be much lower than today and these towns would still depend much more on the railroad than on vehicle traffic. So why would they care all that much that US 66 wasn’t on their mainstreet but a few block on the other side of the railroad ?

Depew did continue despite being on “the wrong side of the tracks”. For residents this is a very minor thing, actually even a positive thing: living a bit off of “bloody 66″ would have had it’s advantages for sure. For a business it’s curious however that they did not move to the highway like many other businesses have done all over the US.

So to me the interesting bit to investigate would be: how did the businesses survive and why did they not move the the highway ? Much more so than a “first” set after an arbitrary date.

CarlB - July 3, 2012

I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss vehicle traffic as inconsequential if by the mid-1920′s there was enough demand for motorcars to support the village having its own Ford or Chevrolet dealer, per http://www.visitdepewok.com/depew_history

6. Frank Gifford - July 2, 2012

Written inquiries have gone out to all remaining DOTs now that Depew has been established.

On comments from Rick Martin:
1) Your information is new and advances the football. I’m content to let IDOT sort it out.
2) All the places you mention are now part of the Chicago sprawl. Any change would have had a lesser impact–even at the time–because of other significant roads and commerce nearby. Later the suburban effect took hold. Depew’s situation is much different.

On comments from Anonymous:
1) Why are you anonymous?
2) While railroads were certainly important, Depew put in concrete paving with TOWN funds. That establishes the importance of the car, plus the desire to be on 66.
3) On the last half of your comments: You really need to go there. It was not a “very minor thing, actually even a positive thing” and the evidence is all along Main Street. Or call Town Hall. The quote I got was “That about killed this town.” Or just read the first comment about this article one more time.
4) If Depew is unimportant, so are The Mother of the Mother Road and Angel Delgadillo in Seligman–so we should forget about them too. It’s the same process and Depew is where it started along Rt 66 in Oklahoma.

7. kevin schuchman - February 14, 2013

Here’s an article that verifies the date.

CREEK COUNTY CLOSES
GAP IN HIGHWAY 66
OKLAHOMA CITY, Sept. 1.—
Creek county’s contribution to United States highway No. 66 has been completed. Concrete now completely spans the county, the last link between Bristow and Depew having been completed yesterday. The stretch from Depew to tho Lincoln county line was finished last year. Highway engineers said that 14 miles
of paving in Lincoln county soon would be completed and read to use.
The gaps between Stroud and Chandler and Wellston and Arcadia are all that remains to complete highway No 66 between the Kansas-Oklahoma state line and Oklahoma City.

The ADA EVENING NEWS
ADA, OKLAHOMA
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 1928


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