Related: Life is a highway: Big tourism plans underway for ‘Historic Jefferson Highway Route’ in Oklahoma
Buckle up, literally. The Jefferson Highway is gaining plenty of traction once again.
The Jefferson Highway, established in 1915, is the oldest highway to pass through Oklahoma. Nationally, it was one of the first highways in the US before they switched over to the number system in the late 1920s. It spans 2,300 miles from Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans.
The highway has anything and everything on it; Whether it’s music or military history, eclectic and unusual things, historic lodging and roadside attractions.
The Oklahoma Senate approved Senate Bill 8 in early 2021 designating the historic highway as the “Historic Jefferson Highway Route.” The measure was authored by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair.
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The Jefferson Highway Association is working hard on a national level to spread awareness and preserve its history in the communities along the route. Roger Bell, president of the JHA, alongside board and committee members, have been working tirelessly on this task for over six years. The JHA was formed about a decade ago. Before that, it was a long, lost period of history.
Multiple state of Oklahoma officials have also been involved creating signage and mapping out areas, and offering tourism tips and tricks to get the ball rolling — like the ever-so-famous Route 66.
The Jefferson Highway is gaining legs. Bell, and the Jefferson Highway Association folks, could use some creative help from the communities along the route to spread that same message.
Wagoner is one of those communities.
“Find something unique to your community,” Bell said. “It does not have to be the most expensive things. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s kind of like a community challenge.”
For example, city officials with Mason City, IA — a community along the Jefferson Highway — made a gigantic photo frame where visitors can take a selfie inside, like a post card. It’s the little things that can make a big impact.
The Jefferson Highway Association held its annual communities meeting in Pryor on April 6. It was a stellar turnout of curious community government and tourism officials in Oklahoma. Kyle Stevens, with the Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation, unveiled the route’s signage design to attendees and presented valuable mapping information. Oklahoma tourism officials were also on hand to discuss how the Jefferson Highway could utilize their services. Lastly, Route 66 Executive Director and CEO Ken Busby gave the key note presentation — an enthusiastic mastermind when it comes to all things tourism.
“Route 66 and The Jefferson Highway are hooks to get people to Oklahoma,” Busby explained in his opening remarks. “Just remember — when promoting the highway, make it good for the community, and not just for tourists.”
Bell liked that statement in particular. The support is definitely needed from Oklahoma cities along the route. The list is long, but it includes Vinita, Big Cabin, Wagoner, McAlester and Eufaula to name a few.
Currently, there isn’t a state-wide Jefferson Highway chapter, just the national organization. He’s hoping Oklahoma can be the first to establish one.
“So many of these communities have great stories to tell,” Bell said after Busby’s presentation. “We need support and leaderships from the cities.”
According to Bells “President’s Report” distributed to attendees at the meeting, “a principal goal of this special committee is to allow these proposed organizations to work hand in hand with the parent Jefferson Highway Association. Each would have leadership groups, separate meetings, regional events, etc., but would still be part of the JHA group as members. Their leaders are expected to have direct links to the JHA full organization.”
Wagoner, in particular, put their name in the hat to become involved in the Jefferson Highway’s first State Chapter. Billy Sumner, with McAlester’s Tourism office, took the reigns and collected business cards with all of the other interested communities along the route. Bell is hopeful all states along the route will do the same in the near future.
Multiple communities stepped up after Bell’s plea for support on Wednesday. If any other interested parties would like to join in on the State Chapter, they are asked to contact their respective city hall for further information. If city hall is unaware of the State Chapter and/or the Jefferson Highway, they can always contact the Jefferson Highway Association. Go to Jeffersonhighway.org/board to get in touch with an affiliated individual.
“Everyone has a role to play,” Bell said.
Old-timers in Wagoner County may remember the Jefferson Highway Garage and service station along the route in Wagoner. The small train stop in Okay, formerly Muskogee and Rex, was also along the route.