The historic Cotton Ball Motel sign in Canute, Oklahoma, is on the list of revitalization efforts of the restoration group the community started ahead of the Route 66 100th birthday. (Photo by Larry Myhre / Flickr)

A small town situated along Route 66 in western Oklahoma has big plans for the highway’s upcoming Centennial in 2026 and hopes to capitalize on the many tourists who traverse the famed road. 

Canute, Oklahoma, has a population of about 525 people. Recently, its members have come together to form a preservation group to help revitalize aspects of the community, Kathy Schones said in an interview with the Daily Yonder. 

Oklahoma has more stretch of Route 66 than the other states it passes through. The “Mother Road,” as it is also known, goes from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, and is known for its roadside attractions. Route 66 will celebrate its centennial in 2026, and some states, including Oklahoma, have already started planning events leading up to the anniversary. 

Canute, in western Oklahoma, has about 500 residents. (Wikipedia, public domain)

AAA is hosting a Road Fest in June this year in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. But many of the small towns alongside the route, like Canute, have quirky attractions as well. 

Among the revitalization efforts is the restoration of the historic Cotton Boll Motel sign, which is currently privately owned. It’s a big draw for the community among Route 66 tourists, Kathy Schones said. 

“We would like to get something done to that sign because it’s still a big attraction for our town,” she said, adding that even painting would help spruce it up. The Cotton Boll Hotel opened in 1960 and closed a few decades later after Interstate 40 bypassed the town.

The group also hopes to move an old jail to a park and fix some traffic lights that line the street. Painting murals on buildings is another idea. About ten to 12 people regularly attend the preservation meetings, she said. The group has about $12,000 from donations and a GoFundMe drive, but hope to raise more. 

On June 4, the community will come together for a Route 66 Day, which will include a parade and town-wide garage sale, among other events, said Doug Schones. 

Canute’s post office was established in 1899, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The town is reportedly named for King Canute of Denmark. Its peak population was in 1980, with 676 people. It was located along historic Route 66 but traffic through the town waned when the interstate went in. 

Rhys Martin, president of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, said in an interview that he was surprised to hear about Canute’s efforts when he first learned about them but is very pleased the community is looking to capitalize and preserve its history. 

“Route 66 is custom made for building your own trip,” he said. “So whether you just want to spend a day,  whether you want to spend a week or whatever you want to do, there’s always something to see along the road.”

Martin speaks to a lot of groups along the route and they often talk about the struggle to get people to visit their towns. But this, Martin added, is the wrong way to look at it. 

“That’s not the struggle,” he said. “They’re already here. You just got to get them to stop.”

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