American motorist was realized in 1926 with the creation of Route 66. Tourists flocked onto the new highway and families headed west in hopes of a better life, sightseers, truckers hauling goods from coast to coast, all found respite in Santa Rosa’s motels and cafes which lined the highway through town. In the early years leaving Texas, westbound motorists passed Santa Rosa and turned northwest to Romeroville where it turned west, retracing the final 58 miles of the Santa Fe Trail. State Highway 3 was a dirt road that entered into Santa Rosa from the east and connected the eastern part of the state to Las Vegas, NM which was then a major trade center and the largest city in New Mexico. It followed a rural route, which is now the runway of the Santa Rosa/Route 66 Airport and headed down into Santa Rosa along present day Blue Hole Road. Evidence of early Route 66 travel remains along the first alignment of Route 66 in Santa Rosa. Concrete billboards attached to boulders are evident on this old entrance to Santa Rosa.
The original Route 66 alignment snaked through Santa Rosa on local streets and dirt roads. Early motorists paused in the business district for gas and food or rested overnight in the camps, motor courts, motels and hotels that sprung up with demand. Railroad era Fourth Street has served as Santa Rosa’s Main Street since 1901. It was Route 66 until the 1937 alignment switched over and still boasts turn of the century architecture. A movie theatre, banks, barber shops, drugstores, pool halls, dance halls, bars, cafes, hotels, mercantile, grocery stores and cafes lined its blocks.
When John Steinbeck’s epic novel of Dust Bowl migration was made into a classic film, director John Ford chose Santa Rosa for his evocative train scene. In it, Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) hopped a freight train which steamed over the Pecos River Railroad Bridge at the West End of town, but Santa Rosa’s stretch of Route 66 is forever memorialized in American film history. Ironically, Ford used “Route 66” as his film’s working title to disguise its controversial subject.
The earliest gasoline sales along Route 66 were made from curbside pumps. Campgrounds joined cabins together to form motor courts. After 1937, “66” went straight through town on the now familiar east-west alignment. It roared past shiny new cafes, service stations and up-to-date motels.
Roadside dining was an important Route 66 experience. Santa Rosa’s. home-owned and home-operated roadside cafes were famous up and down the highway. The “Fat Man” symbol of the Club Café was a familiar icon and appeared on the highway as early as 1937. The Route 66 landmark is now closed but was operational from 1935 to 1992. Joseph’s Bar & Grill, family operated since 1956 is now the home of the grinning “Fat Man.” Gloriously neon-lit roadside cafes include the Comet II (circa 1952) and the Sun n’ Sand Restaurant (1966) The Silver Moon has been in business here since 1959.
Fortunately it is not too difficult to relive the golden era of Route 66. You can still get a taste of the old days at some of the classic cafes that refused to be forgotten. Now oldsters, hipsters, and roadsters still wind their way along this historical road. Follow the classic neon to the Lake City Diner, the Comet II, Joseph’s, Route 66 Diner, Silver Moon or Sun n Sand.
The Route 66 Auto Museum features one of the finest collections of Route 66 memorabilia and classic car collections anywhere. Bozo and Anna and their staff are always friendly and have a great gift shop. The teasers in the front are great but the Route 66 journey in the back is well worth the 5 bucks.