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Route 66 Through New Mexico

New Mexico High School Basketball Tournament (Quemado Over San Jon)

Route 66 Tucumcari New Mexico

Tucumcari-Quay County Chamber of Commerce

Train along Route 66 near New Kirk


Route 66 Tucumcari New Mexico part 1


Route 66 Tucumcari New Mexico part 2

On the Road

The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari still operates on Route 66. Open since the 1940's the motel has kept much of its Route 66 flair. Originally the motel also included a motor court and nearby cafe.

One of the unique features about the motel is that car garages sit between many of the rooms.

The people who really made this motel famous weren't the original owners, Ted Jones and his wife. It was Lillian Redman and her husband.

Since the 1950's, this couple really put the customer first. If a weary traveler didn't have enough money for a room, the couple would accept personal belongings in trade or allow the traveler to stay for free.

The swallow has always had symbolic meaning to sailers. These birds were typically the first sign that land was near.

 

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Miles Traveled: 73 miles

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Route 66

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Day 22: San Jon to New Kirk via Tucumcari


Old Route 66 Garage, San Jon, New Mexico in New Mexico

San Jon is another railroad town built on the line of the Choctaw railroad. old building By April 9, 1908 San Jon was already in place and waiting for the extension of the railroad from Amarillo with the railroad soon to follow. In that same year an automobile company organized by WF Buchanan, JA Street, CC Carpenter, JR Dougherty, CL Barber and other stockolders was formed to run a road from Tucumcari to Amarillo through San Jon, Endee, Vega, and Goodman's ranch. Within 20 years that road would later become Route 66. Prior to this direct route, automobiles driving between Amarillo and Tucumcari were required to take a round about way through Dalhart, Texas over 75 miles to the north of San Jon. (Santa Fe New Mexican, 1908)

Automobile Line through Dalhart before direct link between Tucumcari and Amarillo

The settlers of San Jon have always had that entreprenerial spirit that caused for the rise of Route 66.

The July 21, 1908 edition of the Sante Fe New Mexican had this to say about the early population of San Jon.

"...the settlers in San Jon and vicinity are nearly all newcomers and that the community and its surroundings have not had much chance for upbuilding. However the public lands in the vicinity of San Jon are being rapidly taken up and in another few months every available acre of public land will be in the possession of some homestead. The settlers ... are evidently "up to snuff" intelligent and very anxious to obtain statehood so that they might live under a government of their own."

La Cruces News Sept 25 1966 They needed this same fighting spirit to keep Route 66 within reach as the path of the new Interstate highway system was being planned.

The Route 66 era treated San Jon well. Businesses were booming including the San Jon Theater.

sAN jON pOPULATION HISTORYSan Jon's population grew from 541 in 1930 to a peak of 797 in 1940. By 1950, San Jon's population began to decline and has continued that decline except for a slight increase in the 1960's.

San Jon's Plight

San Jon nearly lost its economical lifeline in 1967 as the Federal government was planning on a bypass proposal for the new interstate highway. This new route would take the Route 66 traffic nearly four miles north of San Jon. The shorter route was estimated to be about 1.75 miles shorter than the route that dipped into San Jon.

Proposed 1967 bypass of San Jon

Money was the issue as the federal road agency estimated that over two million in expenses would be saved by building the highway on the most direct route. San Jon citizens and the New Mexico Highway agency both disapproved of this money saving idea. Their argument was not just about saving San Jon's economy but for protecting weary travelers passing along this barren stretch of highway.

1967 Sante Fe New MexicanAfter years of debating, New Mexico's Higway Commission chairman John Sudderth finally played his last card. For a brief time during the development of the interstate highway system, there was an antibypass law that prohibited the new interstate from being located away from towns. It was later repealed. Fortunately for San Jon, the city had already made an agreement that allowed the governement to build the new interstate system as long as it didn't bypass the city. (Shamrock, Texas was the first town to get this agreement set in stone.)

Interstate 40 has dipped 1.8 miles from the most direct route ever since.

Getting to San Jon from Glenrio on old Route 66 is possible most of the way. The unusual thing is that this old alignment of Route 66 still has stretches of dirt and gravel road.

This stretch of Route 66 from Glenrio to San Jon is locally maintained. It is also a landmark in itself having kept up many of the qualities from years' past.

It also was a town hit hard with the declassification of Route 66. San Jon was one of the last towns to feel the affects of the new Interstate as Route 66 was still being heavily used through 1981. Today San Jon's population is under 390.

Old bridge supports can still be seen where the oldest alignment of Route 66 once existed.Today only one motel still exists in San Jon.

The San Jon Motel is a true Route 66 classic. Opened in 1946 in the heyday of Route 66, the hotel still caters to travelers who need a tow off the highway or a good mechanic. Source: Yelp Numerous old buildings still exist along Route 66 throughout San Jon.

Even with the interstate system running on the north end of town, nearly 17% of the population in San Jon lives below the poverty line. Over one-fourth of all children in San Jon also live in homes below that line.

Tucumcari

Continuing on down Route 66, the next town is Tucumcari. Tucumcari is the county seat of Quay County. It is also the largest town in the area. Settled first as a construction camp for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad; it eventually became an incorporated town in 1908. Because of its rugged terrain, numerous cowboy shows including Rawhide and a Few Dollars More were shot here.

Wednesday, February 22, 1978, Farmington, New MexicoTucumcari was hit hard by the 1980's closing of Route 66. While many saw the need for a four-lane highway, few local residents wanted to lose the traffic flow through town from the now famous Route 66. Just as it was with San Jon, it took nearly 20 years of negotitions and legal battles before construction began on the Tucumcari bypass in 1978.

Farmington Daily Times May 8, 1981By May of 1981 the bypass around Tucumcari was opened with the bypass around San Jon expected to be completed a month later.

As feared, the town saw a decline in population of over 12 percent between 1990 and 2000. Nearly that same percentage of decline has also occurred since the year 2000. This means that nearly one out of every four people living in Tucumcari in 1990 have left town for parts unknown. Nearly 25% of the families still living in Tucumcari live below the poverty line.

Newkirk

Thirty-three miles west of Tucumcari is the ghost town of Newkirk. Originally named Conant, the citizens of Newkirk switched the name of the town to its present name when the railroad came through. Even when Route 66 was going strong, Newkirk barely had 250 people living in the area. It is a remote but beautiful part of New Mexico. With the passing of Route 66, eventually the four gas stations, two restaurants, and trading post all closed.

Today the population base of the entire zip code containing Newkirk is 47.

The most unusual thing about Newkirk is that while it actually has off-ramps in both directions from the interstate. Today the gas station at Newkirk also serves as the post office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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