- Route 66 Lost and Found: Mother Road Ruins and Relics—The Ultimate Collection
Route 66 Lost and Found is an extensive collection of photographs and short histories of places along historic Route 66. Organized (as many books on Route 66 are) by state and location from east to west along the historic highway, the book chronicles cities and towns, landscapes and historic businesses along the route. Each chapter covers a state, starting with Illinois and ending with California, and contains photographs, maps, and short histories of many of the towns and sites, such as gas stations, motels, truck stops, tourist traps, and roadside cafés that served Route 66 travelers during the highway’s period of historical significance from 1926 through the 1960s.
The most interesting aspect of the book is that it provides a historic photograph along with a contemporary view of each landscape or historic site it features. This gives the reader a direct pictorial comparison between the way a site, such as Clines Corners (a gas station and café founded in 1937 on Route 66 in central New Mexico), looked in its heyday and the way it looks today. This is a similar approach to the one taken in Thomas R. and Geradine R. Vale’s 1983 study U.S. 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America, which provided photographic insights into the evolution of roadside landscapes and structures along historic U.S. 40 over time. The paired historic and contemporary photographs found in Route 66 Lost and Found show how sites along the historic route have evolved over the years, most telling a similar story of the establishment and growth of a successful business followed by decline and abandonment after the interstates bypassed Route 66 in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the buildings portrayed in historic photographs are currently in ruins or have been lost completely, while a fortunate few, such as the restored Standard Oil Station in Odell, Illinois, look remarkably like they did when constructed. The book also shows how roadside buildings have been remodeled and reused over the decades as technologies and local economic conditions have changed. The brief description that accompanies each set of photographs is mostly based on information provided by interviews of local property owners and business people.
The photographs, maps, and historical descriptions in Olsen’s book will be especially useful to those who travel the historic highway looking for specific remnants of old Route 66. The book will also be valuable to local historians in Route 66 communities who are interested in researching historic businesses in their areas. Many of the site descriptions, such as that of the Villa Courts, in Villa Ridge, Missouri, tend to read like banal business histories, while descriptions of other, more interesting sites, such as the Dean Eldredge Museum in Flagstaff, Arizona, make for better reading. Studying this book brings the realization that the built environment along route 66 and other historic American highways has become increasingly bland and vacuous in the last half century or so. So many once quaint [End Page 204] and interesting roadside attractions are now occupied by boring, metal or vinyl-covered boxes or have become empty lots. Seeing the many lost and disfigured places makes the reader especially appreciative of the preservation activists in Route 66 communities who have saved and restored the limited number of intact sites that can still be found along the highway, such as U. Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas, and the Blue Swallow Court in Tucumcari, New Mexico.