Route 66 through Chelsea begins on Walnut Street, then curves southwest for about 1 mile. You wouldn’t know it by the looks of it, but Chelsea used to be one of the largest towns in Oklahoma. In 1889, it was incorporated under the law of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. That same year, Edward Byrd secured mineral leases from the Cherokee Nation and drilled the first non-commercial oil well in Indian Territory. By the early 1900s, Chelsea became an important site for cattle ranching, shipping, and farming oats, corn, pecans, and wheat. Chelsea also reportedly had the first state bank in the Indian Territory in 1896.
Pryor Creek BridgeThe largest totem pole is 90 feet tall, with 200 carved images and a turtle at its base.The original 1926 Pryor Creek Bridge is an iron truss bridge 123 feet long and 18 feet wide. This six-panel bridge has beams that run diagonally forming an “X” pattern; it’s also a “through truss” bridge, which means that the beams cover the top of the bridge, making it look more like a tunnel. The bridge carried Route 66 traffic until 1932. Although it’s rusted, the single-intersection lattice guardrail is intact and the structure retains its historic significance and integrity. It is no longer open to traffic, but you can walk across it. The bridge is located on the south side of Route 66 at S 4260 Road, before you reach downtown Chelsea.
As Route 66 became more popular, it became more difficult and dangerous to cross it on foot. As a result, several underground pedestrian passages were built throughout the route. You can still see the one in Chelsea (Walnut St. near 6th St.). Other Oklahoma pedestrian tunnels were built in in Tulsa, El Reno, Sayre, and Oklahoma City.
The Hogue House (1001 Olive St.) is believed to be the first Sears “kit home” in Oklahoma, and was one of the first to be built west of the Mississippi River. Between 1908 and 1940, more than 70,000 kit homes were sold in the United States. The kit contained all the materials needed to construct the Sears pre-fab house: the 2,400 square-feet home cost $1,663 and had a 14-foot living room, a 12-foot dining room, a 10-foot kitchen, four bedrooms, and a 30-foot porch. Lumber was measured and cut to size, then shipped to consumers on railcars.
The “Sears Saratoga” Hogue House is one of the best examples of the Sears Modern Home series. The house remained in the same family from 1912 until it was sold for $137,000 in 2014. The house is located one block northwest of Route 66. Turn right (northwest) on E. 10th Street, then make another left (southwest) on Olive Street. This is a private residence, so please be respectful and do not disturb the owners.
Where to Stay and Eat
Breakfast is served all day at Pat’s Main St. Diner (251 W. 6th St., 918-789-2001, 6:30am-9pm Mon.-Sat., 7am-3pm Sun., $5-10), where the hand-battered onion rings and pies are made from scratch. The waitresses will make you feel right at home with their friendly coffee “warm ups.” (They also warm up your syrup—that doesn’t even happen at home.) From Route 66, Pat’s is two blocks northwest (turn right) on W. 6th Street.
The rooms at the Chelsea Motor Inn (325 E. Layton St., 918/789-3437, $50-60) are clean and well-maintained and an excellent value for the money. Rooms are furnished with microwaves, refrigerators, and flat-screen televisions. Even if the Route 66 room is booked, the whole experience has the charm of bedding down at a classic roadside motel.
Getting Back on 66
Leaving Chelsea, drive southwest for 6 miles on Route 66 to the town of Bushyhead. Before reaching Foyil, turn east on Highway 28 and drive 3.5 miles to Totem Pole Park. If you don’t have time to see Totem Pole Park, keep heading south on Route 66 to the town of Foyil.
Chelsea Side Trip: Totem Pole Park
One of the largest folk-art monuments in the country, Totem Pole Park (21300 E. Hwy 28A, 918/342-9149, 11am-3pm Mon.-Sat., 12:30pm-4pm Sun., free) was built by the late Ed Galloway between 1937 and 1961 as a tribute to the American Indian. The park features four 9-foot Indians, each representing a different tribe. The largest totem pole is 90 feet tall, with 200 carved images and a turtle at its base. It is estimated to have taken 28 tons of cement, 6 tons of steel, and 100 tons of sand and rock to build. Galloway died in 1961 and the Rogers County Historical Society took over the property in 1989. Restoration efforts are underway.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Route 66 Road Trip.