RIVERTON, Kan. — A Mother Road destination in Southeast Kansas was the only one in the area to receive a final cost-share grant from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, which is due to sunset this fall.
That program, administered by the National Park Service, offers matching grants, guidance and information for Route 66 preservation. Congress created the program in 1999, and since 2001 it has awarded $2.27 million for 152 projects.
Nelson’s Old Riverton Store was selected to receive a $2,500 matching grant to upgrade the brick exterior. The store turns 94 this year. The building opened in 1925 — one year before U.S. 66 was designated, passing through Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs in Kansas. The store was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Owner Scott Nelson said work will begin in the coming months.
“What they do is grind out the mortar on the bricks and re-mortar the bricks, so they call it tuck-pointing,” Nelson said. “It hasn’t been done since it was built. I think in the 1960s they did something to the front years ago, but it really wasn’t what was needed.”
Nelson said he was pleased to learn about the grant. Since the store is a designated landmark, he said, he has to maintain its historic integrity and must abide by certain guidelines.
“If you look at the mortar on the building, it’s lighter,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of a white shade. The mortar they use today is more of a darker color, and they want to make sure that we replace it with the same mortar used in 1925. It’s actually more expensive, but it has to be original. It’s not used very often anymore.”
This will be the third corridor preservation grant awarded to the store. In 2005, it received a $4,694 park service grant to repair the roof and upgrade the electrical system. Nelson was also awarded a $6,356 cost-share grant to repair the floor in 2016.
Originally intended to last 10 years, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was extended for another decade in 2009 because of increased public interest. But under the current administration, it is set to expire in October.
Officials believe the program has a slim chance of renewal, unless additional legislation is passed. Mother Road advocates and organizations such as the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership have been hard at work for over a year to create a bill that would protect the roadway as a National Historic Trail.
Bill Thomas, chairman of the Road Ahead board of directors, said the goal remains the same — to ensure the passage of federal legislation to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail and to make sure the National Park Service is the government agency that oversees the trail.
“This would allow us to continue that relationship with our colleagues in the National Park Service,” Thomas said. “The National Historic Trail bill, we actually have folks in the Senate who are ready to introduce it, but we’re working with them to finalize the language for it.”
Route 66 has been celebrated in the song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," in a television series that aired from 1960 to 1964 and in literature, including John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939.