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Route 66 in Chelsea, Oklahoma

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Chelsea is a town on Route 66 in northeastern Oklahoma. The first oil well in Oklahoma was drilled here.

It has two classic Route 66 landmarks that are listed in the National Registry of Historic Places: Pryor Creek Bridge and the the Chelsea Motel.

Visit its other attractions and US 66 sights:

Stop and visit Chelsea OK during your Route 66 road trip.

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"Where Oil was first found in Oklahoma"

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About Chelsea, Oklahoma

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation: 705 ft. (215 m). Population: 1,964 (2010 census).
Time zone: Central (CST): UTC minus 6 hours. Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5).

Chelsea, is located in the northeastern corner of Rogers County, Oklahoma, on the historic Route 66.

Pine and W 6th Streets, Chelsea in the 1900s

black and white postcard, red-brick buildings, dirt street, cart, horse and men
1900s postcard, downtown Chelsea Oklahoma. Credits

Same spot, nowadays...

color photo of red-brick buildings, paved street, cars and men
Downtown Chelsea Oklahoma nowadays. Click for Street view

Chelsea's History

Northeastern Oklahoma has been populated for more than 10,000 years. Native Americans hunted buffalo on the plains when the first Europeans explored the area. The current population of Cherokee and Shawnee were relocated to the Indian Territories in the mid 1800s.

The US government took the Indian lands in the east and gave them new territory beyond the Mississippi River. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 resulted in a massive migration ("Trail of Tears") of the Cherokee Nation.

They owned their land and set up a government in the Indian Territories, and gave permits for railroads to cross their land and also for mining and oil exploration.

The Atlantic and Pacific Line (A&P) built a railroad that began in Saint Louis and crossed the country with a diagonal course. It would eventually reach California in 1885, after being acquierd by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880.

The A&P built a stop there in 1881, and a post office was established on Nov. 21, 1882. It was named "Chelsea".

The Name: Chelsea

The town's post office received the name of "Chelsea" from an A&P railroad official, Charles Peach, after his home back in England.

The Old English meaning of the word is "Chalk landing place", derived from "cealc hyo", the place name in England of a port where chalk shipments were disembarked.

A town sprung up around the station and it was incorporated under the tribal laws of the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, in 1889.

It was a ranching and farming community, producing oats, corn and wheat. Cattle and hay were also shipped out by train.

The first state bank in Indian Territory opened in Chelsea in 1896: "The Bank of Chelsea". The town was surveyed and platted in 1902.

However in 1897, Congress nullified tribal law and dissolved the reservations and its government. The state of Oklahoma (1907) was admitted into the U.S. and it soon established Rogers County.

Chelsea Trivia

Will Roger's sister, Allie McSpadden lived in Chelsea.

Gene Autry (1907 - 1998) lived in the town when he worked for the railroad. He was a performer who became famous on the radio, TV and movies as a singing cowboy during his career which began in the 1930s and spanned 30 years.

In 1926, Route 66 was created and it passed through the town of Chelsea, two Historic sites in the town (Chelsea Motel and Pryor Creek Bridge) are related to Historic Route U.S. 66.

In 1926, Chelsea had at least one oil refinery and a booming commercial district. Route 66 shifted the center of the town from the old railroad depot to the east, along the new highway.

Soon many stores opened along Route 66 (Walnut Ave.). But by the mid 1950s the road was congested and unsafe. The Interstate system would soon replace it: the construction of the Turner and Will Rogers turnpikes in 1957, left Chelsea in a backwater, bypassed by progress. advertisement

Where to Stay, find a hotel

There are several hotels in towns close to Chelsea along Route 66.

> > Book your Hotel in Vinita or Claremore

Lodging Nearby

Heading East

Heading West

>> There is an RV campground in Chelsea.

Chelsea’s Weather

Route 66: Chelsea, Oklahoma location map

Location of Chelsea on Route 66

Average annual rainfal is 44.7 inches (1.135 mm) and it rains on average 85 days per year, mostly during spring and summer. There are 231 Sunny days yearly.

The average high temperature in July is 93°F (33.9°C) and in January the average low is 23.6°F (-4.7°C).

It snows in Chelsea during winter and about 5 inches (13 cm) can be expected between Nov. and March.


Chelsea's Tornado Risk: The town is within the "Tornado Alley and experiences about 8 Tornado watches every year.

The largest tornado in this area was an F4 in 1991 that injured 22 people.
Read more about: Tornadoes on Route66.

Map of Route 66 through Chelsea Oklahoma

Route 66 on a 1950 map of Chelsea

1950 map of Chelsea
Click on map to enlarge

The thumbnail shows a Oklahoma DOT map from 1950. It shows Route 66 across the town. There were three separate alignments of US 66 through Chelsea:

Route 66 Alignment in Chelsea

Visit our pages with old maps and plenty of information of the old US 66 roadway.

Route 66 landmarks & attractions

Sights in Chelsea

In his "Guidebook to US Highway 66" published in 1946, Jack Rittenhouse mentioned Chelsea and that its commercial district was "off US 66", he added that the first oil well in the state was drilled here in 1889.

CHELSEA... courts: Hester and others; garages: Null, Home; cafes: Pig - in Pen and Log Cabin; several gas stations; few stores Rittenhouse (1946)

None of Rittenhouse's garages, cafes or motels have survived, but others have. We will begin our tour one mile to the east of Chelsea, and head west.

Site of Shady Grove motel (Gone)

As its postcard informs, it had a garage ans service station, café and cottages for lodging. Torn down but you can see it in the ODOT Map further up, as three black triangles to the left of the town. The number 4 above the symbol tells us it had four units.

black and white postcard Shady Grove motel
Shady Grove motel, Chelsea, credits. Click for Street view

Chelsea Garage

Head west, and after crossing the new bridge over Pryor Creek, to your left, on the SW corner of Oak St. and Route 66 is an old garage (maybe one of those mentioned by Rittenhouse), it has two service bays facing both streets, a gable roof and the remains of a sign on the corner.

vacant old gable roof garage on a corner
Old abandoned garage on Route 66, Chelsea. Click for Street view

To your right on Route 66 is the Chelsea Motor Inn, a modern motel that opened in 2006. Drive west and follow the highway as it curves into Chelsea proper.

At 1st St., take a left and visit the historic Motel.

Chelsea Motel

1950s fading flaking motel neon sign next to Route 66

Original 1950s Chelsea motel neon sign.Credits. Click for St. view

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

On the NE corner of Route 66 (Walnut Ave.) and E 1st. St., Chelsea, OK.

This motel opened sometime between 1936 and 1939.
It was a mom-and-pop motel which changed hands ocasionally during its 30 year lifespan. It has a simple rectangular building 75 feet long and 16 ft. wide, with six units, built with wood.

The first owner, Palen sold the land along to Nellie Bly Parker in 1939. After WWII, she sold it to Ted and Mildred Noland.
They added the neon sign in 1947 and sold the property in 1952. Its lastg owner was Billy J. Owen.

It closed for good in 1976.
Below is a "Then and Now" sequence that shows the ravages of time.

Chelsea Motel in a 1950s black and white postcard
Chelsea Motel in the 1950s, US 66 Chelsea, credits
Chelsea Motel gable roof building, lawn and neon sign. Trees behind
Chelsea Motel, US 66 Chelsea, click image for street view

Drive along East First St. and head west. This was the original 1926-32 alignment of Route 66 into Chelsea. Just 0.7 miles ahead (see map) is the historic bridge.

Historic Pryor Creek Bridge

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

On S 2460 Rd, Chelsea, OK.

This bridge is was built in 1926, and spans the Pryor Creek carrying Historic Route 66 across it. It has one single span, a modified Pratt Through Truss bridge (a bridge that has beams bracing it above the roadway). It is 123 ft. long and 19 feet wide.

It was on the original Route 66 alignment (1926) and carried traffic until the route took its current course futher north, in 1932. There is a marker with its story 50 yards east of the bridge.

Historic Pryor Creek Bridge, Chelsea, Oklahoma

steel bridge on narrow road among trees
Pryor Creek Bridge, Chelsea, Oklahoma, . Click for St. view

Return to Route 66. As we said, nothing remains of the old gas stations and cafes that lined the highway. For instance, Casey's on Route 66 between 4th and 5th St. replaced Floyd's welding shop (later an antiques store) and Rosie's Drive In (then, and now views of the spot).

Underpass and Mural

Ahead you will reach 6th St., this was the 1929-32 alignment of Route 66, coming from the east along 6th, and turning west (left) here.

The Railway Depot was located on Walnut (Route 66) on the SW corner with 6th St, "Pig - in Pen" mentioned by Rittenhouse was located diagonally across the highway, on the NE corner of the intersection.

There is a pedestrian underpass at this once busy intersection imagine thousands of cars and trucks driving by every day and the difficulties for the local pedestrians trying to cross the highway!

This is one of the few surviving pedestrian underpasses along Route 66; there are others at Madison IL, Sayre OK, and Odell IL.

It has been restored and Kenneth Hollingshead painted murals on its walls. And has a sign reading "Get your kicks under Route 66".

two views: outside and interior of the underpass and its murals

Pedestrian underpass & murals. Chelsea Credits. Click for St. view

colorful directions and distance arrows on a pole with US66 shield at its tip

Pedestrian underpass & murals. Chelsea Credits

Direction and Distance Arrows sign

On the eastern side of the underground. This sign is a great spot for a picture, with distance to Santa Monica and Chicago, and also other Route 66 landmarks (Catoosa whale, or Foyil Totem Poles).

Town Tour

If you take a right along W. 6th St. and cross the tracks you will reach the old business district. At 245 W 6th St. is the yellow-brick Chelsea Reporter building, built in 1896. It is the oldest business in Chelsea and one of the oldest newspapers in the state.

Head back to Route 66 and 6th. The large Pharmacy on the corner replaced an older garage and gas station (2007 view before it was razed).

Next to it was the old "Hester Motel" mentioned by Rittenhouse.

Site Hester Motel

We haven't been able to pinpoint its exact location, but the distance signs on the lower left part of the image below points towards Vinita (US66) and Nowata (OK-28), by the position of both arrows there is no doubt that it was on this block.

You can see it in this aerial photo taken in 1968, in the middle of the image, long courtyard and the units to the north.

Hester Courts motel in a 1950s black and white postcard
Hester Courts 1950s, US 66 Chelsea, credits

At 10th St. take a right and on the first street, to the left is a historic home (Map).

Historic Hogue Home

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

At 1001 South Olive, Chelsea. The Hogue House was built in 1912. It is a "mail order" building.
It is a two and one-half story home constructed with horizontal wooden boards on a concrete block foundation. It measures 35 ft. by 40 ft. and is topped by an intersecting gable roof.

Historic Hogue House, Chelsea, as it looks today

gable roof two story wood faced early 1900s building
Historic Hogue House, Chelsea, Oklahoma. Click for street view

It has interesting details like the ornamental Priscilla window in the attic story.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. began selling their catalog homes in 1909 and Joe Hogue saw one on display at a Sears store during a business trip to Chicago in 1911.
He bought it for $1,600 (roughly $47,113.45 nowadays, adjusted by cost of living). It was a "Sears Modern Home No. 146). Hogue had it shipped to Chelsea by train.

Check the Sears catalogue for 1912 online.

1912 Sears black and white catalogue image of home 146
1912 Sears Catalog with the No 146 Modern Home, credits advertisement

Henry's Gibble Gas (Gone)

old black and white photo gas station, neon sign, pumps and car

1950s advertisement Henry's Gibble Gas. Credits

Return to Route 66, and head west. At the junction of US66 and OK-28 to your left, is the site of "Gibble Gas", street view (2008) before it was torn down, now it is a convenience store.

It was owned by Lore and his wife Marie ran a Cafe that later became Longhorn Bar.

Your Chelsea city tour ends here, you can head west and continue your roadtrip visiting Bushyhead

Tours & Itineraries

The first oil well in Oklahoma

old wooden barrels, pump and sign in a field

Site of the First Oil Well in Oklahoma. Credits

Take a side trip from Henry's Gibble Gas, to visit the "First Oil Well in Oklahoma". It is a 10 mile round trip, see this map with directions.

In 1884 the Cherokee Nation had passed a law that authorized the creation of a company "for the purpose of finding petroleum, or rock oil, and thus increasing the revenue of the Cherokee Nation".

In 1889, Edward Byrd, a "wildcatter (a wildcatter is a person who drills "wildcat" wells: exploration oil wells drilled in areas not known to be oil fields) obtained a lease to search for oil from the Cherokee Nation. He was Cherokee by marriage, and leases were restricted to Cherokee citizens only. Byrd quickly formed the U.S. Oil and Gas Company and drilled his first well near Chelsea in 1890.

He was lucky and struck oil at a depth of only 36 feet (12 m). The well produced half a barrel a day.

This field, the Chelsea- Alluwe oil field would transform the economy of Chelsea and also, of Oklahoma.

Natural Attractions

Spencer Creek Cove Public Use Area

Located on the 30,000 acre Oologah Lake, just 10 miles west of Chelsea along county roads (E340 and E350), it is ideal for fishing, boating, camping and picknicking. There are facilities at the site. Read more at the official website.

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Banner image: Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Arizona by Perla Eichenblat
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.
Chelsea Motel, Historic Places form. NPS
Chelsea Area Historical Society
American Oil & Gas Historical Society First Oklahoma Oil Well.

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