By Jeanne Drennan
There is a reason why Route 66 is nicknamed the Mother Road. When it was established in November 1926 as one of the first highways in the United States, this 2400-mile expanse of blacktop connected Chicago to Santa Monica and opened up the American West to millions of motorists. More than just a highway, Route 66 also became a catalyst for unprecedented economic expansion in the communities through which it passed.
East Mountain residents share in this history, with many of us living on or near the section of Old Route 66 (NM 333) that runs west from Moriarty through Edgewood and on into Tijeras. While the heyday of Route 66 is long past thanks to its full replacement by the Interstate Highway System in the 1970s and ‘80s, sections of the road, including our segment of NM 333, have been designated National Scenic Byways. Likewise, organizations have sprung up to preserve sections of that road and celebrate its history.
Here in our neck of the woods, Relive the Route, or RETRO, has been established with a mission to enhance the quality of life of East Mountain residents through economic development along the Route 66 corridor from Moriarty to Tijeras. Says RETRO project coordinator, Roger Holden, “We identify, develop, and promote the history of our area, its resources and uniqueness, in order to create an enriching and authentic visitor experience.”
With assistance from co-chairs Debbie Pogue and Madeline Heitzman, Holden is working on new and innovative ways to increase exposure for businesses, attractions, and historic buildings along the route.
The first order of business is to refurbish the signs along the route, which will be paid for by a grant from the National Parks Service and matching funds raised through various events. Once the signs are in place, which Holden estimates to happen sometime in January or February 2014, a celebration will take place along the Route 66 corridor starting in Moriarty. Included in the festivities will be what organizers hope is a string of participants lining the route, led by various dance troops in a line dance performed to the famous tune “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”.
In addition, several initiatives are currently underway to help breathe new life into our Route 66-based communities, including the restoration of the signs at the Whiting Bros. gas station in Moriarty. “These are the last remaining Whiting Bros. signs that stand above a still-operational gas station on Route 66,” says Holden.
Started by four Arizona-based brothers, Whiting Bros. at its peak operated 40 gas stations and dozens of motels and truck stops along Route 66. Today, these signs draw tourists from all over the world, and the Whiting Bros. in Moriarty still contributes to the economy. “The station, purchased in 1985 by Sal and Inez Lucero, has remained virtually unchanged,” Pogue reports, “and has become an iconic anchor on Route 66. It has been a vital part of this small community for over 60 years.”
The Midway Trading Post, another restoration initiative, received some much-needed TLC by volunteers as well. In a fabulous clean-up effort, this historic spot is now free from trash, weeds, and graffiti. In addition, a freshly painted building and refurbished boxcar with the Route 66 emblem, painted by local artist Willy Fisher, now stands proudly along the Route. According to RETRO, the long-term goal for this property is to turn it into a tourism center. Lewis Antique Auto, already an attraction unto itself, is also included in the list of initiatives and draws car and truck enthusiasts from near and far.
Another recently completed project includes Moriarty’s Murals Along the Mother Road, whose call for entries went out late this past summer. The five winning entries were announced October 1, and formal awards along with a $500 stipend were presented to each winner on October 12 at the Pinto Bean Fiesta.
Visitors can now enjoy Edgewood artist Paul Harmon’s Retribution Road at the Moriarty Chamber of Commerce; Moriarty resident Willy Fisher’s work on a wall at Lisa’s Truck Stop; and Edgewood’s Tony Jaramillo Jr.’s work at Shorty’s BBQ. Elizabeth Harris, who also calls Edgewood home, painted her Main Street America mural at Mike’s Friendly Store, and Edgewood resident Robin Matlack has her work displayed at KC’s Restaurant.
Also in the works is the Rt. 66 Arts Alliance, which Holden reports will be “A coordinated effort of all East Mountain artists to have studio space in which to work and display every facet and media of art.” RETRO is also looking at developing an arts drive along the Route 66 corridor similar to the arts crawl in the North-14 area.
Perhaps the most exciting announcement for the restoration of Route 66 came this past August, when New Mexico Governor
Susana Martinez announced that the Moriarty section of the route is one of seven rural communities in the state to receive the New Mexico Main Street Frontier Community Award. A program of the newly created Frontier Communities Initiative, New Mexico Main Street is intended to create economic development projects that strengthen historic rural communities throughout the state. To that end, Professor Alfred Simon and a team of five graduate students from the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning worked in the community for several weeks to assess Moriarty’s pedestrian safety and infrastructure needs. Holden reports that the town of Moriarty is now including the team’s design plan in its Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan (ICIP) for presentation to legislators to receive the funds to incorporate it.
The stretch of highway that was once Route 66 boasts a rich and storied past. Thanks to restoration efforts like RETRO, its future is also bright with potential. Great things are happening in our backyard to celebrate both, so make sure you get out and enjoy the festivities. For more information and a schedule of upcoming events, log onto facebook.com/relivetheroute
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