Memories of Route 66

Guest Blogger Felicia Fairchild shares her memories of a childhood road trip and her excitement about bringing a Michigan version of the famous Route 66 to life.

One of the most indelible memories of my childhood was a trip “out west” – as my parents liked to refer to it – via the famous Route 66.  I remember it vividly even to this day; perhaps because my parents took me out of school to accompany them on what my teachers agreed would be an important “educational journey” – my first Road Trip!

That trip was a journey that held many “firsts” for me.  I believe it played a major role in molding my future, building my character, and binding my love of travel with the intellectual aspects of art, history, culture, and education. I don’t believe we ever stopped to see the world’s largest ball of twine – if we did I don’t remember it. But I will always remember being given the awesome responsibility of “lookout” from the back seat of our yellow Buick Roadmaster convertible to “scan the horizon steadfastly” with my brand new pink plastic binoculars, to alert my parents of any run-away stage coaches, bands of Indians or stampeding herds of bison that might impede our progress west on Steinbeck’s “Mother Road” – Historic Route 66.

Photo Credit - Felicia Fairchild

Our Buick Roadmaster

These nostalgic memories, associated fondly with my parents, now long since deceased, were suddenly rekindled at a Michigan’s Beachtowns Association meeting when the group decided to undertake the task of certifying Michigan’s Route 31 as a Heritage Route.  This highway also known as the West Michigan Pike was built between 1911 and 1922.  It was the first continuous improved road between Chicago and Mackinaw City and opened West Michigan to automobile tourism. The history and culture associated with the Pike played an important role in the development of tourism along the West Michigan lakeshore. “Eureka” I exclaimed, “I get it – Michigan’s Route 66!” Surely there were lots of folks like me who would connect with this idea and rekindle fond memories of their youth and the West Michigan Pike!

I am happy Beachtowns is undertaking this project. I want other people to relive the magic of the historic West Michigan Pike the way I have relived my trip on Route 66.  The association was formed in 2001 to promote nine southwest Michigan communities as a linear tourist destination. The group has been working on this project for approximately three years with an official launch planned in 2012. The route will extend from the Indiana border to Ludington along the Lake Michigan shoreline. This project will certainly stimulate “nostalgia” travel and give us an opportunity to expand our historic and cultural promotional opportunities.

As for me, I’m excited about planning this new road trip.  I particularly like the idea of being asked to be the “lookout” again even though I’ve long since lost my pink plastic binoculars. This time I’ll just slip on my magnifier reading glasses and log on to www.beachtowns.org and “scan the web steadfastly” searching for hints of West Michigan’s past that might rekindle or create indelible memories for multiple generations who travel the West Michigan Pike.

Felicia FairchildFelicia Fairchild is the Executive Director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau.

  • http://www.ZuDfunck.com ZuDfunck

    When I saw the tweet from @PureMichigan I was hoping it US27 as to me and my childhood was the road “up north” from Detroit. I can recall traveling the road and seeing them construct Interstate 75 which eventually replaced most of it. But there is still a lot of it left. Once you’re done with Route 31 can you do US27?

  • Jane Carr

    For me the route to remember is US 2 in the UP. My uncle had a cabin in Minnesota, and while my peers went south in the summer to visit grandparents in Florida, my family went north and took US 2 from St. Ignace practically to the cabin’s front door. All through my youth and early adulthood, the pilgrimage to MN once a year was always the time to see how things had changed, and how they had stayed the same. Roadside motels, diners, parks, tourist attractions and yes, larger-than-life fiberglass creatures were all a part of that trip. Along with the large expanses of public beach you could just pull off on the shoulder and explore, with the whole expanse of lake Michigan before you. I guess everyone has a route in MI they remember fondly. I think they should all be remembered for the future…we have such a special state.

  • Scot Richards

    I too think US27 is worthy of remembering. It’s winding journey through towns like Ithaca, Alma, Forest Hill, Shepherd, Mt. Pleasant, Rosebush, Clare, Harrison, Houghton Lake and finally Higgins Lake where my family vacationed was filled with excitement and anticipation. Where might we stop for ice cream? Which road side stand would we stop at for fresh vegetables? I never really felt “up north” until the car started the steep hill climb north of Clare.
    I remember watching “new 27″ being constructed. The first time we used the new road we were almost a little sad, reaching our destination much sooner but not seeing some of our favorite sights. When time permits I still travel the older sections to slow down life’s pace.

  • http://midwestliving.com Barbara Morrow

    Some wonderful memories that all of us boomers can relate to! Can’t wait to travel the West Michigan Pike with this in mind. And love the photo of the Buick! Thanks, Felicia

  • Donna Low

    Last two weeks of August were always spent at Lake Avalon near Pinconning – plus the good cheese we also ate.

  • julea

    hi.just movin here a few short years ago i love the drive from wisconsin.its a long drive but awesome.we moved in the winter/spring.while snow covered the trees.highways were slippery and mostly cleared but i hated wisconsin and chicago mess we drove threw.if i had to drive i would of never made it.thankgod for daughters that drive like new york city cab drivers and moving semi vans.altho i left halfmy stuff behind..i easily replaced with better stuff once here.slowly but surely.the long ride we took here twice is long traveled.lotsa travelers out there.even johnny depps semi.we were moving when he was shooting a film in baraboo.wi.too cool huh.but the roads were long and distraught….until we got outta wisconsin .chicago.there indiana..michigan rolled on like a movie field meadow.clean.fresh.pure.amazing.movie like.i was floored living in wisconsin i never got out much last 20/30 years…but here it awakened my eyes my senses.michigan she is beautiful id never leave here i finally found home.my son and i relocated.but my older kids remained in wi.come visit often.altho we will never return to wisconsin i now understand why people love michigan.we do too.