Historic Route 66—America’s Main Street—has 2,451 miles of stories to tell. From one of the last remaining “Muffler Men” in Wilmington, Illinois, to the End of the Trail in Santa Monica, the Mother Road runs through eight Midwest and western states, weaving a dreamy and transient roadside past.
One story of thousands is tucked up in a corner of Ottawa County, where Oklahoma meets Kansas and Missouri. A couple of tenacious old sections of the Sidewalk Highway, also known as the Ribbon Road, cut through quiet farmland with a nickname from its unusual proportions. While impeccably constructed, it’s only nine feet wide—just about the width of an average sidewalk.
The original Ribbon Road was laid out in 1921-22. It was 15 miles long, zig-zagging between Miami and Afton, with pin-straight stretches between six 90-degree turns. The story goes that Oklahoma, barely a state in the early 1920s (they entered the union in 1907), was short on cash, and highways are expensive. They needed a solid roadbed, so to cut costs they cut width. The result was one perfect lane, with a concrete base, Topeka asphalt top, and gleaming concrete curbs.
The old road predates the designation of Route 66 in Ottawa County, and in 1926 it was absorbed into the historic route to the West. It stayed on the job until 1937, when the route was realigned. Much is now hidden under OK-59, but there are two remaining nine-foot-wide pieces: one heading into Afton, and the other outside of Miami.
Tracing the Sidewalk Highway has become a draw for tourists and Route 66 aficionados, but there is concern that the nine-foot quirk is disappearing under road graders and tons of gravel. Some sections have even been paved over by private landowners. But with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and some preservation funds applied for, there is hope for the old Ribbon Road to stick around for another 95 years.