*Field Checked and Verified*
Today, State Highway 18 ends in Shawnee, but before 1965, it continued south all the way to Dickson, just east of Ardmore. In 1965, US 177 took over the route south of Shawnee and SH 18 was truncated to its current terminus, but there remains a large segment of the now bypassed original state route just south of Shawnee. This segment of bypassed SH 18 dates to the early 1930s, and is one of the longest driveable "time capsule" segments of old highway in Oklahoma. The route winds around, following the contours of the land, giving a spectacular insight to the way highways were originally laid out. We hope you enjoy this look at one of the original numbered state highway routes.
Our chosen starting point for this segment of old route is within Shawnee, at the intersection where Route 18 turned south to leave town during the classic highway period. Before long, we cross the North Canadian River; the southbound lanes of the widened four lane utilize a late 1930s era stringer bridge with decorative steel "deco" style guardrails, while the northbound lanes travel over a much more recent and boring structure. As we continue south, we are presented with a choice; we can continue along the highlighted route on the map, which we believe to be the first paved alignment, or we can jog over to the section line just west of it. We believe this north-south section line road was the original unpaved route of SH 18, as well as probably a "good road" before the numbered highway system was created. Evidence of this status comes in the form of the bridge over Squirrel Creek, the last remaining Marsh Arch bridge in the state. Both roads are paved now, so the choice is truly a matter of personal preference. The first paved alignment retains its original pavement under many asphalt overlays; the formerly unpaved route is somewhat rougher and narrower, but by no means impassable.
Eventually, the routes converge and we are presented with yet another choice; we can continue due south, along the last route of State Highway 18, or we can take the highlighted route which curves west, then curves back east. The curving route is highly recommended, as not only does it contain original unmolested Bates standard pavement, it also passes through the remains of a railroad underpass. As we travel south, the reason for the curve makes itself apparent as the road dips down and passes between the concrete abutments of a no longer existent underpass for the old Santa Fe line that once existed through this area. Eventually, we rejoin the last alignment of SH 18, cross under the modern limited access bypass for US 177, then continue south into Tecumseh.
After passing through the business district, we turn west away from the US 177 connector road (built when the original route was bypassed) and instead find the old route itself. As we head west, we find ourselves on original Bates standard pavement, travel around a banked curve, and head south to begin our winding journey toward the Little River. For a few miles, the original pavement has been overlaid with asphalt, but we soon find ourselves back on bare Bates pavement with occasional asphalt patching. The pavement is overall in quite good condition, allowing for a very enjoyable drive as the road snakes along the rolling terrain.
As we approach the Little River, we are compelled to leave the old pavement and join with modern US 177 in preparation for the river crossing. The old Route 18 pavement that would have led to the old bridge is visible just east of the modern highway, and part of it may be driven if you wish, but we must take the modern bridge across the river. Happily, very soon after crossing the river, we can turn off to the east and rejoin old Route 18's original pavement; there will be only one more very minor interruption in the original pavement between this point and Asher. The road continues its sinuous route following the terrain as it makes its way south; the pavement here is somewhat rougher and more patched than the segment between Tecumseh and the Little River, but it is still quite driveable at a reasonable speed.
As we continue south, we pass the former site of a town called Romulus. When it was originally founded, a town called Remus was also founded approximately five miles to the east-northeast. These were one of a few examples of paired town names in Oklahoma; sadly, in all the cases we are aware of, at least one and usually both of the towns no longer exist. A few miles past Romulus, we come to a classic two-span truss bridge over Salt Creek. If you wish to get a good look at the bridge, plan your journey for winter, as the foliage during the growing season makes the bridge almost disappear into the brush. When we cross modern State Highway 59, we must negotiate a small break in the original route, but it is easily dealt with and we are then free to continue unimpeded toward Asher.
The highway makes its way south to Asher, still Bates standard pavement with asphalt patching until just before entering town, where it has been paved over completely with asphalt. The bare Bates pavement ranges in quality from nearly pristine to somewhat roughly patched until it disappears under the asphalt in Asher, but it is all eminently driveable. After making our way through town, it is possible to continue slightly farther south on the old route, but one eventually comes to a dead end before the road turns west to cross a bridge over Cat Creek that has been removed. Thus, we have chosen Asher as the end point for this segment of old route.
This segment of old highway, with its long uninterrupted stretches of snaking, terrain-following original pavement, is truly a remarkable piece of history. It is one of the best surviving examples in Oklahoma of a first generation paved highway route, and offers great insight into the thought process behind the layout of the original routes. The road makes best use of the terrain, creating an engaging driving experience while still getting the traveler to their destination. We assume the experience is a happy accident due to the relative difficulty at the time of cut-and-fill work, but the route still moved vehicles efficiently at a high speed. Stretches of road such as this show us just how much we are missing due to the straightened, cut-and-fill alignments of modern highways. We hope you enjoyed this time capsule from the highway system's infancy. Thanks for reading.
Additional Information on old State Route 18
If you wish to continue south to the historic terminus of State Route 18, all that is necessary is to cross the modern US 177 bridge over the Canadian River, noting the old alignment for the old bridge alongside, then to follow what is now US 177 south to the junction with modern State Highway 199 at Dickson, east of Ardmore. With very few exceptions, US 177 between the Canadian River and Dickson utilizes the original pavement of State Route 18 overlaid with several layers of asphalt.
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Base Map Data Copyright DeLorme USA, http://www.delorme.com
State Highway Shields created by Ken Parker of Oklahoma Bridge & Highways Group.