By Debby Woodin
GALENA, Kan. —
Galena’s once sleepy Main Street is awakening, and a new front door, of sorts, is being installed this week at one of the town’s busiest intersections.
A tile mural depicting this Southeast Kansas mining town’s historical sites and ties to Route 66 is going up on the southwest corner of Seventh and Main streets.
“This is all part of the renovation and revitalization of Galena,” said Paul Whitehill, owner of the Images in Tile business that made the mural. “It’s amazing. Route 66 is the greatest discovery here since lead and zinc.”
The mural, designed by Chris Auckerman and Jon White of Images in Tile, is composed of 416 15-inch tiles. A concrete block wall was built for the mural’s installation, and a mural park is being constructed around it where travelers and Route 66 enthusiasts can spend a few minutes taking photographs. It is being installed by RC Tile and Hardwoods of Joplin, Mo.
The project is funded by a local businessman, Brian Jordan, who operates several businesses, including Jordan Disposal. He has restored the historic Liberty Hall building on Main Street, south of the mural site.
“I think it’s going to be one of the top photo spots on Route 66,” said Mayor Dale Oglesby. “I think it’s extremely positive any time we can do anything involving our heritage, and the more private-funded projects the better.”
Block by block, old buildings in Galena are being repaired and new businesses are moving in as the Route 66 fever spreads. “Various business owners are pitching in up and down the street” to polish up historical and tourist sites along the highway, Oglesby said. “It’s really been a tremendous stimulus for tourism. It’s attracted worldwide attention.”
From the rusty old tow truck that spent many idle years sitting alongside Main Street until it gained Hollywood fame as the inspiration for the character Tow Mater in the movie “Cars,” south past Pappy Litch Park, the town’s Route 66 legacy is being shined up.
“It’s a phenomenon that has really taken root,” Oglesby said, fueled by tourists from Europe and Asia. “People want to know what America was like in that day and time, so the best thing we can do is showcase our past and showcase our future.
“There are various photo spots from Pappy Litch Park, to the old jail, the Cars on the Route, and the haunted bordello mansion. All of this is tying in.”
The mural, which is expected to be finished Friday, depicts a 1957 Chevrolet pulling onto Main Street between the bordello and Cars on the Route. It leaves skid marks on the pavement that spell out “Michael Wallis,” the voice of the sheriff of Radiator Springs in the “Cars” movie and the author of “Route 66: The Mother Road.”
Wallis has been rebuilding interest in preserving the route and sites along it. He is part of the Route 66 Alliance, which will bring the Route 66 International Festival to the Joplin and Galena area Aug. 1-3. The festival is set around an annual meeting of eight state associations and the National Park Service to work on strategy for preserving and promoting the historic highway.
“That’s why this festival is important,” Wallis said June 11 during a visit to Joplin to work on arrangements for the event. “Two words: economic development.
“Galena has come back to life. For the Route 66 Alliance, that’s why we’ve chosen the town of Galena as our template, as our example city, of small town Route 66 rebuilding using local resources, government funding” and city leadership to help reinvigorate its economic base through tourism.
Whitehill said Galena’s Main Street is becoming a living museum.
“Route 66 is so vital to the community — the heritage, the nostalgia,” he said. “They really get it here.”
PAUL WHITEHILL’S BUSINESS also is creating two murals for Joplin that are to be installed on the south side of Pearl Brothers True Value Hardware, 617 S. Main St. A plaza there will be rebuilt as Route 66 Mural Park. The City Council has agreed to pay $160,000 for construction of the park and to make a $10,000 donation to the murals. They are to be installed in time for the Route 66 International Festival set for Aug. 1-3.