*Field Checked and Verified*
US Route 64 was one of the first federal highways designated through Oklahoma in 1925, and great portions of it still follow very closely along the original paved alignment, with significant segments of driveable bypassed route available for exploration as well. This particular segment of US 64, between Fort Smith and Muskogee, exhibits these characteristics perfectly, making for a fascinating drive as one spots the old alignments, historic infrastructure, and remnants of older routings. In this portion of Oklahoma, US 64 was designated to follow original Oklahoma Route 1, and large portions of the current highway were actually part of the original state route, which makes the segment of even more interest. The wealth of historically relevant infrastructure makes for a highly enjoyable drive as one travels through the rolling hills between the two major cities.
Start: Fort Smith, AR
We begin our journey just outside Oklahoma, in the heart of Fort Smith's business district; before long, we cross the Arkansas River and enter Oklahoma, quickly leaving the modern highway behind in favor of the old route. Just south of the overpass for the modern highway, a remnant of the old curve taking travelers from the bridge toward Moffett can be glimpsed to the east of the current roadway. After passing several businesses traveling through Moffett, the old road aligns onto a section line and begins passing through farmland as it travels west. All of this bypassed highway was part of Oklahoma Route 1 before the coming of US 64, and all of it is asphalt overlaid Bates standard pavement. As the road approaches Shady Grove, we leave the old river bottom farmland behind and enter the typical rolling hills of eastern Oklahoma.
The old highway continues along the section line for a few miles before curving north toward Muldrow; along the way, we cross under I-40, but the interstate was constructed in a considerate manner, leaving the old road entirely intact to pass under the later freeway rather than interrupting the old pavement with an overpass. As we enter Muldrow, some care must be taken at the intersection with modern US 64; the junction has been heavily reconstructed, making continuing along the old pavement rather difficult. As one approaches the intersection, the continuation of the old alignment across the modern road is evident, but the old pavement is interrupted and forced to a tee junction with modern US 64; we must make a left turn onto the modern highway and then a quick right to rejoin the old road. After negotiating this interruption, we rejoin the overlaid Bates pavement to curve gently through Muldrow and continue further west. After a few more miles, the segment of bypassed old alignment comes to a close as modern US 64 rejoins its original route.
As we continue west on US 64, which has finally rejoined its classic alignment, we find ourselves on pavement which has the earmarks of complete reconstruction in the 1960s, but we are still tracing the original routing of the highway quite closely. The road snakes gently back and forth as it begins tracing around the hills toward Sallisaw, all on the 1960s era pavement, which still retains much of the flavor of the original 1930s alignment.
As we pass under I-40 again, the roadway becomes completely reconstructed four lane pavement as we enter Sallisaw, but we are still almost exactly following the original alignment of the highway. As we reach the center of town, where US 59 joins the road from the north, we encounter a short stretch of bare four lane Bates style concrete pavement that travels through the heart of the business district. While the roadway has been striped to be only two lanes and wide shoulders at this point, this gives an example of the early way that highways would have been widened through town centers. After crossing under the Kansas City Southern rail line utilizing a large riveted plate girder underpass, we reach the junction where US 59 splits off from US 64 to find a short loop of bypassed road just north of the modern highway which is apparently now used as a parking area. We continue west on the reconstructed four lane highway, following along the former Missouri Pacific tracks before realigning onto a section line after a few miles. Shortly after the roadway narrows back to the classic two lane, we reach Sallisaw Creek and cross a classic multiple pony truss bridge, but this is not the only interesting historic infrastructure at this location. To the north of the current 1934 alignment, curving through Sallisaw's city park, the old alignment of the highway for the creek crossing remains largely intact, including the old bridge, which of course crosses the creek at right angles for the shortest span possible. The placement of this old alignment in the city park creates a prime opportunity for study of the old roadway and both bridges at the traveler's leisure.
The highway continues west along its original alignment, staying on the section line for a few miles before curving north again, crossing the old Missouri Pacific line utilizing an overpass and an extended, but still quite interesting, S curve. After we pass through Vian, an inaccessible segment of bypassed roadway is visible to the south of the current alignment just before the highway crosses Graveyard Branch Creek; this alignment, which led to two bypassed and no longer existing bridges, rejoins the current alignment after we cross Vian Creek as the highway resolves onto the section line once again.
As US 64 continues west following the section line on the 1960s era pavement, portions of the bypassed original pavement become visible just south of the current roadway. This bypassed pavement actually dates from approximately 1948, as this segment of roadway was not paved during the classic 1925-39 era; while the 1948 pavement can be seen (and driven) curving south toward Carlisle, the 1960s pavement of the modern highway is actually on the path the original classic era highway took, continuing due west along the section line. Before long, the highway curves north and begins following along the former Missouri Pacific tracks toward Gore; classic era highway alignments frequently followed the railroads closely, as the railroad surveyors and engineers were quite skilled at finding and laying out efficient, terrain utilizing rights-of-way. As the highway prepares to cross the Illinois River, yet another bypassed and inaccessible stretch of pavement is visible north of the current roadway; like so many others along this highway segment, it led to a bridge that unfortunately no longer exists. Fortunately, there is a rather large consolation prize, as the massive two span railroad truss bridge crossing the Illinois remains, still in use today by the Union Pacific, which absorbed the Missouri Pacific. Just before reaching Gore, the highway would have turned hard left toward Webbers Falls to cross the old bridge, which was destroyed when the Kerr-McLellan navigation channel was built in the 1970s. Interestingly, this original alignment bypassed Gore and passed through the center of Webbers Falls, while the post-channel alignment does the exact opposite.
Just west of Webbers Falls, we reach an intersection that has been rather annoyingly reprofiled to favor traffic bound for I-40, forcing US 64 travelers to remain alert and make a hard right to continue along the classic federal route. Happily, after making said turn, we find ourselves back on overlaid Bates pavement as we sweep west, then southwest. As we cross under the Muskogee Turnpike, the Bates pavement disappears and we find ourselves on recently reconstructed pavement, but the roadway becomes the old Bates again after crossing a series of new concrete bridges. The classic pavement remains under our wheels as the road continues west.
US 64 stays on its original route (and overlaid original pavement) all the way to Warner, where the situation suddenly gets very interesting. Travelers have a choice between following the route we have highlighted above along 8th St and Culwell, which we believe to be the original unpaved alignment, or following the modern curved alignment, which is the first paved alignment on overlaid Bates pavement. If one chooses to follow the original alignment, which is now paved, they will pass through the center of Warner and the original intersection with US 266/SH 2 at 3rd Ave, eventually rejoining the first paved alignment at the north end of town. On the other hand, if we follow the modern alignment, which is the first paved alignment, we will pass the second iteration of the intersection with US 266/SH 2, which occurs at a modified wye interchange with a roadside park in the center, as was common. When US 64 was paved through the area, it was rerouted onto this curving path, bypassing the center of town and leaving only US 266 and SH 2 to actually pass through the business district. As an aside, US 266 and SH 2 were eventually rerouted to bypass town as well, as can be seen on the above map; if one follows the marked old alignment of those highways, they will find an old railroad underpass with its characteristic curved approach at the south end of the bypassed segment. As the current alignment of US 64 leaves Warner, signs are posted directing travelers to turn left and join the rerouted US 266/SH 2, but if we continue straight at that point, we will find ourselves on unmolested bare Bates concrete pavement. We can follow this classic pavement for about half a mile, with the original unpaved alignment joining us after a few hundred feet, until the modern alignment meanders back onto its original path and we rejoin the current pavement to continue north.
From this point into Muskogee, the roadway has been completely reconstructed into a four lane highway, but it is still reasonably close to the original alignment. Though the curves have been eased and the grade leveled, there is still just enough rolling and curving to make the experience somewhat pleasant, if a bit sanitized. Just south of Dirty Creek, a short loop of bypassed alignment can be seen to the west of the modern highway, taking a more natural path along the top of a hill rather than cutting through it as the modern roadway does. Just north of Keefeton, the highway aligns with the old right of way for the Midland Valley railroad tracks to follow the path of the tracks north toward Muskogee. The modern four lane highway remains nearly on the original paved alignment as we continue north.
As we travel along the modern four lane roadway, a sharp eye will note bare Bates concrete arrowing north away from the modern highway just north of 103rd St; the original paved alignment of US 64 angled back away from the Midland Valley tracks here and began following section lines again. Unfortunately, we cannot follow the classic alignment without backtracking, as the construction of Davis Field has cut the old highway in two; if the airport did not exist, we could simply follow the Bates pavement due north to the banked section corner curve that is now north of the field, where the old highway would turn west before rejoining the current alignment at a banked curve that has been obliterated, leaving only a curved fenceline as evidence of its existence. As it is, we must follow the later alignment along the old tracks to travel past the area, but one can still examine the cutoff segments of old highway if desired.
After a few miles, the modern version of US 64 begins curving west, while the old alignment continues north along the section line. The transition here is somewhat difficult, as one must make a right and then an immediate left at a signalized intersection near a gas station to travel the entire length of the old route. If the transition appears too difficult, an exit ramp from the modern highway just north of the intersection will also take a traveler to the old route, bypassing approximately half a mile of the old highway. The roadway along the old path here is once again asphalt overlaid Bates concrete, and we shortly cross a culvert with single rail "fence" guardrails, giving another clue to the highway history of this road. After crossing modern SH 165, we follow the curving road to a slightly skewed and quite narrow railroad underpass for the old Midland Valley tracks, then realign onto the section line to cross an old stringer bridge which has the "deco" detail on the posts of its "fence" style guardrails. After curving one block east at the fairgrounds as we enter Muskogee proper, we cross the old Frisco tracks, then meet old US 62 and US 69 as we turn west to cross the former MKT tracks and reach our chosen endpoint for this highway segment in downtown Muskogee. Though we have reached the end of this segment of old highway, we would like to mention another interesting piece of old infrastructure, the Callahan/Court St overpass, which was built in 1905 and restored in 2003. The overpass is well worth a visit while one relaxes at the end of this fascinating stretch of US 64.
US 64 from Ft Smith to Muskogee contains almost everything one could ask for in a highway segment; long driveable bypassed stretches, copious amounts of old infrastructure including truss bridges, multiple old realignments for study, and vast stretches of the modern highway still utilizing the original alignment and/or original pavement. The fact that this part of US 64 was designated to follow original State Route 1 makes it of special interest as well, as the majority of the old alignment described above was also part of Route 1 when it existed in its full glory. With its historic and quite interesting nature, this segment of highway is a truly great alternative to the interstate and turnpike that have usurped its role, and while the unknowing masses dully whiz past at high speed, the discerning traveler will take the opportunity to savor this great old highway. Thanks for reading.
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