Traveling west on Route 66, near the northern boundary line of Washita County, the Oklahoma landscape changes. Hitherto moderately treed and rolling pastures, just before you reach the town of Canute the landscape takes on the Martian quality of blowing dust, red sandy hues and flat openness that is the earmark of west Oklahoma. It is beautiful, if you are inclined like I to enjoy such a landscape. And like a dusty curio corner of an antiquated museum, Canute sits reserved just off the interstate directly on old 66, these days bypassed and quiet.
Decades ago Canute was bustling, a popular stop on sixty six and home to various businesses catering to the passing tourists and their automobiles. But the oil boom busted, the mother road was decommissioned and with the closure of the Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base shortly after the rerouting of sixty six, Canute slowly turned out its neons. The town cannot, however, be described as dead. The people are wonderful and friendly and happy to point out the various sights left to see, of which there are a handful from both the heyday of sixty six as well as further back in Oklahoma history.
While many of the sixty six buildings are not used for their original purposes, only one of those we saw seemed mostly unused and falling apart. The rest are still maintained in varied degrees of deterioration occupied by modern small businesses or residences. One of the deco gas stations I was particularly enamored with is a private residence and I was more than a tad admiring of the idea. I’ve seen thirties and forties gas stations renovated into homes before and always thought it was quite cool, but an original 66 gas station as your home? Too many coolness points to count.
A building certainly not used for its original purpose is the 1918 jailhouse located just south of Route 66, currently used as storage for the houses around it. I cannot make that up, really. With lawnmowers and plastic storage tubs packed inside the old cell and the houses and trailers directly surrounding it, the best I could do for sharing it here were close ups of the window and door details.
Also well maintained and perfect if you are riding as the heat is rising, to the east of town on 66 is an original WPA park, the first Oklahoma State Park built on Route 66, with plenty of shade and a nearby gas station convenience store. We stopped there to rehydrate before visiting the town cemetery. My appreciation for cemeteries as historical markers and overall works of art knows no bounds and while Canute Cemetery is a great example of both, most impressive is its unique grotto. The area was originally part of the Great Western Cattle Trail, a slightly less famous albeit longer cattle drive trail than the Chisolm, as well as home to the main parish church of the area’s western Catholic mission and became open to settlement after the taking of the Cheyenne-Arapaho territory and subsequent land run. As homage to those first settlers of the harsh drought, Blue Norther, and tornado prone area, in 1928 the parishioners of Holy Family Church of Canute built the lovely monument with stones hauled from the Red River and native granite from the town of Granite.
In front of the cemetery on 66, large markers stand detailing the history of the town and surrounding area. One is a centennial marker, documenting major events of Canute’s first hundred years. The following are a few of those highlights:
Town Chartered July 2, 1902 – Canute established, Oklahoma Territory
Canute City lots sold by lottery for $10.00 per lot
1907 – November 16, Oklahoma becomes a state
1917 – First Oil and Gas well drilled in area
1924 – Electrification comes to Town
1925 – First Phone lines in Town
1925-28 – Holy Family Catholic Church, school, rectory and convent Built
1928 – Grotto/Crucifixion Built
1931 – US 66 opened through Canute to Texas line
1936 – City Park 1st Oklahoma State Park built on Route 66
Apr. 7, 1938 – Snowstorm of the century filled in Old 66 RR underpass west of Town. Stopped Rt 66 traffic for 10 days.
1955-58 – Serious dry spell and drought for farmers
1962 – Canute public water and sewer system installed
1967 – I-40 bypasses town
1994 – Heritage Center purchase/renovation (Old Holy Family Church)
1997 – Internet access first available
2002 – Major Ice Storm shuts down electricity for 5 days