Cyrus Stevens Avery: The Father of Route 66

Posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2011 in Stories

An undaunted champion of human rights and civic causes throughout his almost ninety-two years, Cyrus Stevens Avery — a proud Tulsan by choice — led the effort to establish U.S. Route 66, the most famous highway in the United States and possibly in the world. Without the hard work and persistence of the untiring Avery, it is doubtful that U.S. 66 – the 2,400-mile ribbon of asphalt and concrete that ties together eight states between Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California – ever would have become a reality.

As a result of his dedication and diligence, Avery — founder of the U.S. 66 Highway Association — has become known to tens of thousands of admirers, including legions of travelers and historians, as “the Father of Route 66.”

Born in Stevensville, Pennsylvania, in 1871, Avery came with his family to Indian Territory in a horse-drawn wagon when he was in his teens. He grew up on a farm near Spavinaw Creek in the Cherokee Nation. An energetic highway entrepreneur long before most roads were even paved, Avery graduated from William Jewell College at Liberty, Missouri, and launched his business career in Vinita and Oklahoma City. In 1907, the year Oklahoma became a state, he wed his wife of sixty-five years, Essie McClelland. The Averys established their home in Tulsa, where they raised three children and Cy soon became a successful business and civic leader.

Besides launching several businesses and boosting many major public-works projects, Avery emerged as a voice of reason in 1921 when his adopted city was the scene of bloody racial violence. During the turmoil when the notorious Klu Klux Klan terrorized African-American citizens and brought murder and mayhem to Tulsa’s streets, Avery supervised a victim-relief effort and stood firm against the forces of intolerance and bigotry.

Nicknamed “Mr. Democrat,” the politically active Avery, who among other duties served as a Tulsa County commissioner, was a proponent of the good-roads movement even before he became the first chairman of the Oklahoma State Highway Commission. He served as a leader of the American Association of State Highway Official and also acted as a consulting highway specialist as the federal government developed a national system of numbered highways.

Avery’s efforts paid off when Route 66 became a reality. “We assure you that U.S. 66 will be a road through Oklahoma that the U.S. Government will be proud of,” Avery wrote shortly before November 11, 1926, the day U.S. Route 66 was officially born. Avery’s words hold true today for the many people who continue to use the long stretches of “the Main Street of America” that remain.