The iconic, 2,448-mile highway – nicknamed “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck – is the subject of an exhibit debuting May 31 at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown. America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66 showcases the role the highway played in shaping the automobile culture of the country in the mid-twentieth century.
Federal Highway Route 66 was established November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. It originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California.
Early in its history, Route 66 served as a conduit for migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl of the ’30s, hoping desperately for better opportunities in California. Later, it became a major tourist route and a monument to America’s automotive culture. America’s Road takes visitors on a historical and geographical tour of Route 66 through stories, artifacts, a photo essay and interactive experiences. Eight classic cars, including a 1969 Mercedes once owned by Elvis Presley, will also be on display.
America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66 runs through Sunday, August 24.
“We are excited to be the first venue to host America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66,” said Mercer Museum Executive Director Doug Dolan. “Nearly every aspect of twentieth-century United States history is reflected in the story of the people and events along the highway.”
In the exhibit, visitors will “travel” across Route 66 from the road’s inception to the present day. An original 1965 Ford Mustang, hailing from the heyday of Route 66, serves as the centerpiece of the exhibit. The vehicle was used to drive the entire length of the highway by the exhibit’s developer, Seth! Leary of NRG! Exhibits, during the summer of 2010.
The America’s Road exhibit touches on themes like American migration, the evolution of automobile travel and roadside architecture. Interactive experiences include a drive-in movie theater, period music show and a kiosk where visitors can share their own travel stories. Photographer and author Russell Olsen researched and photographed 75 classic Route 66 service stations, motor courts, restaurants and other sites along the highway. In the exhibit, the photos are shown both as they appeared during the mid-twentieth century and as they look today.
The Mercer Museum will enhance the exhibit with vintage automobiles and other items of automotive culture. One of the vintage automobiles, a 1969 Mercedes 600 (short-wheelbase), once owned by Elvis Presley, is now a part of the extensive collection of Gene Epstein of Wrightstown, Bucks County. Purchased in Hollywood and originally registered in Tennessee, the car was purportedly one of Elvis’ favorites. He kept the vehicle for six or seven years before passing it on as a gift to a friend. The Presley Mercedes joins several other classic cars from the 1940s through the 1960s in the exhibit, including a rare Oldsmobile “Woody” wagon and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird.
During the run of the exhibit, the Mercer will host an America’s Road program series. For a complete list of America’s Road programs, visit mercermuseum.org.
America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66 is included with museum admission. For more information, call 215.345.0210 or visit mercermuseum.org.