Depew, Oklahoma

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Depew is tiny.  It’s old.  And from the looks of things, it just barely still exists.  But the tiny community has one thing going for it: it’s on Route 66, and that may very well be what saves it.

It’s hard to understand exactly why Route 66 runs through Depew.  Truth be told, the old Route only passed through downtown between 1926 and 1928.  Even then, the routing didn’t make sense.  Instead of simply going straight for about five blocks, the road turned up a hill, through town, and back down again, forming three sides of a square.  By 1928, federal road officials figured out that a straight line is preferable to a left, right, right, and left.  The Mother road bypassed the downtown strip, that was only 2/10 of a mile away.

But it wouldn’t be any fun for us to bypass Depew.

Cross the railroad tracks at Flynn Avenue, and pass Papa’s Ceramics–which of course, is not in business.  Head up the hill and make a right…

… and you’re in downtown Depew.  There’s a good chance you’ll be the only one there.

Things aren’t quite as they seem in Depew.  For instance, this beautiful stained glass window is actually plywood, covering what’s most likely a broken window.  A lot of windows and doors are boarded here.  Those that aren’t covered expose Depew’s other secret: many of the buildings are hollow inside, with no roof–just an outer shell of brick walls.

I don’t want to give the impression that Depew is completely abandoned.  A few hundred people still live here, and there are a handful of businesses still open on the main drag.  Depew also has a high school (the Hornets, as the water tower attests).

A beautiful old gas station stands at one end of main street.  After a little historical scrounging, I’ve learned that this was a Sinclair Gas Station, owned by the Gimmel family.  It begs for restoration, and according to EZ-66, it could eventually happen.  The guidebook reports that someone from California is buying up property in town, with hopes of developing an artist’s colony.  I don’t know the status of that project, and I didn’t see any evidence of it during my visit.

As you make the turn down Ladd Avenue, for the drive back down to the main road, be sure to notice this repainted ghost sign, on the side of one of those empty buildings.

West of Depew, the next town is Stroud, home of the famous Rock Cafe.  If you’re hungry, you should definitely plan a stop.  The Rock Cafe was built with rocks dug up during Route 66 construction.  Dawn Welch, the cafe’s current owner, served as inspiration for Sally the Porsche in the Disney/Pixar movie, CarsThe Oklahoma Route 66 Association has a great article on Dawn and how she ended up at the Rock Cafe.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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