Travelers have always played a big role in the life of Elk City. 

First came the Texas cattlemen in the late 1800s, who drove their herds through the future town up into Kansas. Then the Choctaw Railroad extended its line out to the budding settlement six years before Oklahoma statehood. A few years later came the glory days of U.S. Highway 66, America’s “Mother Road,” which brought hordes of travelers through the city on their journeys between the West Coast and America’s midsection.

Elk City also attracted at least one quite famous “traveler” in the late 1970s – the nation’s 39th president, Jimmy Carter, who conducted a town hall meeting with the city’s residents.

Today, Elk City, located along the Interstate 40 thoroughfare, remains an attraction for tourists, lured into the city not only by museums dedicated to Route 66 nostalgia, but by a vibrant community that offers top-notch accommodations, festivals, dining, shopping and recreation.

But Elk City is not a one-day stopover by any means. On Oklahoma’s western edge, 16 miles from the Texas state line, the Beckham County city not only caters to the motoring public but offers a good life for its approximately 11,500 residents.

“We have over 40 annual events each year, along with a few new ones added every year,” says Susie Cupp, the executive director of the Elk City Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There is always something to do and enjoy.”

Cupp says that with more than 30,000 vehicles a day traveling through the city along the I-40 corridor, plus its advantageous location equidistant from the West Coast and Chicago, Elk City boasts an appeal not only to those just passing through, but also as an intriguing opportunity for businesses looking to relocate or expand.

A major attraction is the City of Elk City’s five-museum complex, highlighted by the Route 66 Museum dedicated to Mother Road nostalgia, and the Transportation Museum that provides a glimpse into how the motoring public traveled.

There, Cupp says, visitors can take a stroll through the eight states that Route 66 traversed, highlighted by realistic murals and vignettes depicting the eras of the Mother Road. 

Elk City:

Elk City Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitors Bureau
Elk City National Route 66 Museum Complex
, take Interstate 40 Exit 32 and travel 5 miles along Old Highway 66. Westbound, take Exit 41 and travel 4.8 miles on Old Highway 66.

Maxine Jackson, the museum’s office manager, says visitors can also enjoy other museums in the complex, including the Farm and Ranch Museum, along with the Old Town and Blacksmith museums, all depicting various aspects of western Oklahoma plains life.

Jackson says two larger-than-life kachina dolls, once landmark attractions at the former Queenan Trading Post on the old Route 66, have been given new roles in greeting museum visitors.

Elsewhere in the city, Cupp says, the city’s Ackley Park West offers five-field baseball and softball complexes, and a 50,000-square-foot activity center is under construction.

Now, about that presidential visit: According to later newspaper accounts, a personal invitation to visit Elk City was given by Mayor Larry Wade, who also was chairman of Carter’s Oklahoma campaign. Carter accepted Wade’s invitation, coming in March 1979 and holding a Saturday night town hall meeting that drew about 3,000 people. Carter spent that night at Wade’s home and attended the Sunday worship service at First Baptist Church before boarding Air Force One at the nearby Burns Flat airstrip. 

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