Spotlight: California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA

Since so many citizens of the High Desert have moved here in the last decade or so, we may not realize what a long and interesting history the Victor Valley has. Fifteen years ago, three area residents, Joy Robertson, Mark Ward and Dan Harlow had a vision to both celebrate the heritage of Victorville and give people an interesting place to visit. The California Route 66 Museum and Information Center was born.

The Route 66 Museum was started as a grassroots volunteer organization in a storefront on what is now D Street. Signs of Victorville’s importance along The Mother Road can still be seen, but as years pass more landmarks are being torn down. In the museum, though, these pieces of American history live on. The building is filled with historic cars to posters advertising Route 66 and everything in between.

The mystique of Route 66 has an international appeal, as is evidenced by the many groups of tourists who stop in. They come from 77 countries spread across every continent and leave their mark on a world map. When asked why they come, they say “We love America – the wide open spaces, the cowboys, Steinbeck and the Grapes of Wrath.” Although there may not be too many cowboys traveling The Mother Road today, the dream of hitting the road and finding a new life still appeals. Volunteers told me that one group from Europe actually ships their perfectly restored classic American cars to Chicago, the start of Route 66, and drive all the way to its endpoint in Santa Monica.

International visitors aren’t the only ones taking advantage of access to thousands of historical artifacts. Locals visit as well, often noting they have driven past the museum for years and finally just had to stop in. They are never disappointed, either. Local students take field trips to the museum as well and of course it is staffed by a group of 25-30 dedicated volunteers.

Paul Chassey, a board member and volunteer, moved to the Victor Valley from down the hill. He bought a house and eventually everything was all finished. “So now what do I do?” he asked himself. He was interested in the history of Route 66 and old cars, so when he saw ad in the paper nearly eight years ago, he came down to volunteer and has been hooked ever since. The museum has no paid staff and is primarily supported through the gift shop. They also take donations from members and have a few fundraising events through the year. Local individuals also contribute in other ways. One businessman with a construction business repaves the driveway for them every year.

Board President Emerita and long time volunteer Chick Kirk shared with me the passion for preservation that is behind the museum. “Route 66 is being destroyed. For example, Popoff’s Gas Station, a famous icon on Route 66 had fallen into disrepair. The new owner decided it wasn’t worth saving and bulldozed it. It’s gone. And that happens all the time. There is another famous Route 66 gas station in Rancho Cucamonga. If we don’t save it, it will be bulldozed to make room for a shopping center.”

There is a tour map at the gift shop that lists points of interest from Victorville to Barstow and the museum makes sure to connect visitors with other local services. New Corral Motel is one of those historic places, but they also refer tourists to other hotels. The hotels also make sure guests know that there are interesting things to see in the area. Restaurants are starting to pick up in the area. The museum volunteers will tell visitors about Emma Jean’s Holland Burger and The Iron Hog, and vice versa. They make a special effort to show guests that the High Desert has a lot to offer them. “We need a few more things around town that would encourage tourists to stay the night instead of heading to Vegas,” suggested Kirk. “We are trying to revitalize Old Town but we can’t do it on our own. The economy puts a lot of things in a hold pattern, but we are glad to work with city, county, and local businesses to see change happen.”

“I can tell you this about the road,” Kirk explained. “It really grabs a piece of your heart. It’s really not the road, it’s the people. This museum is just junk without the people.” She shared an experience with a couple who visited the museum, 92 and 95 years old. They lived in Barstow and wandered through the exhibits, chuckling over this and that. Then tears started as they looked at things and reminisced, telling museum volunteers about coming from Oklahoma on Route 66 and leaving everything behind. The exhibits evoke the memories of these people who have lived the road.

If you’re interested in keeping up with the museum, they are active on Facebook, Twitter, and have a website. Most importantly, take time to stop in and visit. I was blown away by the variety of history included. The museum is open five days a week, Thursday through Monday. If you are interested in volunteering, or making a donation, email them at cart66musm@aol.com. They also welcome Route 66 artifacts that can be loaned for display, or given outright.

If you would like to see your locally-owned business highlighted on this blog, please contact Alyssa Penman by email at AlyssaPenman {at} RelyLocal {dot} com or call her at 760-246-5400. RelyLocal.com is a locally-owned business that connects local consumers to local businesses for a thriving, robust and vibrant local economy.

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3 thoughts on “Spotlight: California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Spotlight: California Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA | Local Business Spotlight -- Topsy.com

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