Chelsea Historical Society wins $325,500 Route 66 grant

May 4—Chelsea Area Historical Society is one of 11 Route 66 projects recently funded through the Oklahoma Department of Commerce Oklahoma Route 66 Grant Program.

The Historical Society has been awarded $325,500 for the restoration and conversion of the 1896 Chelsea Bank building into a local museum of history for the community.

The goal is to create a new Route 66 roadside museum which provides an "innovative, immersive, and unforgettable experience," grant writers said.

"Our project will be a major Route 66 roadside attraction, celebrating the living history of Native Americans, settlers, historical figures, area celebrities, and the road that brought them all together," the CHS grant document stated.

In December, Commerce announced the application process had opened to allow communities to apply for funding available to municipalities, nonprofits and government entities located on Route 66.

Over $6.3 million in grant awards were distributed in the first round, Thomas Tillerson, chairman of the Route 66 Commission said.

Heading up the Chelsea Bank project will be David Anderson, president of the Chelsea Area Historical Society. He brings to his new position 14 years as the former director of Ed Galloway's Totem Pole Park, visited by thousands every year.

"He understands what tourists driving down Route 66 are interested in seeing and experiencing, and he's putting that knowledge to work for the new museum," the grant application stated.

"[Anderson] He knows, for instance, that both American and foreign travelers are fascinated by Native American culture, so the CAHS plans to offer an extensive retelling of the lives of the area's indigenous population as well as the settlers who arrived later, including accounts of how their lives intertwined. Eventually, Route 66 came along to connect them all and transport them in and out of their homeland; the famed highway is a part of the story that remains as alive and vibrant as the people themselves, a fact that will be reflected by its prominence in the museum."

Also, consulting on the project will be Oklahoma and specifically Rogers County history authorities author John Wooley, a member of the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame known especially for his books on the state's history and popular culture, and Andy Couch, current executive director, and curator of the Firehouse Art Center. Dr. Bob Blackburn, a Rogers County native and renown historian with the Oklahoma Historical Society will be asked for input and assistance.

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said, "With the centennial celebration quickly approaching, there has never been a better time to invest in the Mother Road. Tourism is the front door to economic development, and this grant will be a catalyst for development across Oklahoma."

A second application phase for communities to submit projects is currently open and will close July 19, at 5 p.m. To be eligible, projects must support historic preservation or promote economic development on Route 66. Projects may be used for capital investments and/or a very limited number of promotional purposes.

The Chelsea grant application provided insight into the significance of the Chelsea Bank in Oklahoma history as well as Indian Territory days:

"No place in Oklahoma reflects the restless, indomitable spirit of its people better than the Chelsea area, which has been home to, among others, a Chief of the Cherokee Nation, a heroic World War II admiral, the winner of a legendary 3,400-mile cross-country foot race down Highway 66, a nationally known politician and hall of fame rodeo announcer, and the only major-league pitcher in history to have been on the mound for the end of two World Series game sevens. It's also the place where Will Rogers, visiting one of his many relatives in the area, heard a young telegrapher at the Chelsea depot singing and playing guitar during the midnight shift. When Will told him he ought to give show business a try, the novice entertainer, a man named Gene Autry, took his advice.

"These people and their stories — and many more people and stories — will be celebrated inside a historic Route 66 roadside landmark, the building that housed the original Bank of Chelsea, one of the very first banks to open in Indian Territory. Now, the two-story edifice will become a repository for riveting tales from the past, both epic and personal, a must-see attraction for travelers on the Mother Road.

Other projects receiving awards were: City of Chandler, City of El Reno, City of Eric, City of Sapulpa, City of Weatherford, Freedom Ranch Inc. dba Wings of Freedom (Tulsa, Okla.), Miami Main Street, The Route 66 Alliance (Tulsa, Okla.), Threatt Filling Station Foundation (Luther, Okla.) and the Town of Luther

Examples of possible projects still to be funded in the second round of grants could be placemaking, facility enhancement, preservation efforts, new construction, planning, research, signage, etc.