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City Officials Break Ground on New Route 66 Roadside Park

Groundbreaking for Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park (Credit: Taylor Brim)

As the shovels hit the dirt, cheers erupted from the crowd.  The creation of the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park on College between Fort and Broadway has officially begun.

According to City Manager Greg Burris, plans for revitalizing the College St. corridor were created through an extensive public engagement process and were approved by City Council in August of 2012.

The city’s director of planning and development, Ralph Rognstad, says the new park will look like a roadside park that travelers along Route 66 might have stopped at.  Features will include the original Red’s Giant Hamburg sign, a motel cabin that will serve as restrooms, a replica gas station or a real one of they can find one to purchase and a Birthplace of Route 66 sculpture. 

Rognstad hopes the park and other revitalization along the corridor will encourage development in that area.

"I think a key ingredient of Route 66 was the entrepreneurship that occurred along it.  There was a lot of small business people who opened up diners and motels and that, and, you know, we hope that maybe we can do the same thing.  We encourage small businesses to open up along the route," he said.

He says there are plans for streetscape improvements on College from Grant to Kansas. 

Money for the park has come from the community through Crowdsourcing.  That fundraising effort will continue, according to Rognstad, for other elements of the park.

Route 66 meandered across Springfield from Kearney to Glenstone to St. Louis St., through Park Central Square to College St., then headed west along what is now Chestnut Expressway.

Tom Peters, dean of libraries at Missouri State University, says Springfield’s claim to fame as the birthplace of Route 66 started with a meeting in the basement of the old Colonial Hotel.

"They'd been working at this for about 12 years, and they were down to just what number it was gonna have because this was just the start of the national numbering scheme, and so they'd been batting around 60 and 68 and 64, and they decided that 66 was the number they wanted to go with, and they sent a telegram to Washington that evening, and there are still images of that telegram, so that was the date, April 30, 1926, they sent the telegram to DC, and we consider that the birth of Route 66," he said.

Rognstad says they hope the latest efforts will put Springfield on the map as the birthplace of Route 66 and will provide more opportunities for tourism.

"Typically, people don't spend a lot of time here, and they don't necessarily stop--I know that Rail Haven is a popular stop--but they will stop maybe in St. Louis, and then they kind of drive through and end up in Carthage or Joplin and then they go on to Tulsa," he said.

He says if there are more businesses for people to stop at along the route in Springfield, they’ll stay longer.

A ribbon cutting for the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park is planned for August during the Route 66 Festival.  The driveway and the Red’s Giant Hamburg sign should be installed then, and streetscaping is expected to be complete.