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Art deco denomination

In northeastern Oklahoma, some of the most interesting places to see lie just off the beaten path.


It’s been decades since the federal government decommissioned Route 66, but portions of the legendary east-west highway still exist in some states. In Oklahoma, visitors can spend hours driving along the Mother Road and seeing some of its iconic sights.

“You can go from state line to state line in Oklahoma on Route 66,” said Todd Stallbaumer, consumer and trade marketing manager for Oklahoma Tourism. “It’s 350 continuous miles alongside the interstate.”

For road trippers, there’s plenty to see in the communities along the legendary route, from historic attractions to new modern favorites. Make sure on your next trip through Oklahoma to visit some of these locations:

• The Castle — In Muskogee, a former Elk’s Lodge has been converted into a fanciful medieval castle, where a family of owners run a number of seasonal events each year. In May, the castle and its accompanying re-created village are home to a large Renaissance fair; during the summer, it becomes a giant fireworks stand.

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, the company hosts Christmas Kingdom, an event featuring thousands of large inflatable Christmas figures that has been chosen as a 2009 Top 100 event by the American Bus Association.

• Rock Cafe — In the small town of Stroud, the Rock Cafe is a Route 66 legend. For decades, travelers have been stopping to sample items off the cafe’s eclectic menu, and the restaurant has been featured on television programs such as Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The cafe is owned and operated by Dawn Welch, who was the inspiration for an animated character in the Pixar movie Cars.

• Pops — From the outside it looks like an ordinary gas station and diner, but Pops in Arcadia is extraordinary. This year-old business was founded by a man who loved collecting soda bottles, and the store is stocked with more than 500 kinds of soda from around the country.

Visitors can try one of 40 varieties of root beer, as well as regional specialties like Mexico’s Jarritos fruit sodas or Kentucky’s Ale 8-1 ginger ale — all in nostalgic glass bottles.

The Rock Cafe in the small town of Stroud has been a favorite stop for travelers along Route 66 for decades.

Tulsa and neighboring Bartlesville have their share of big-ticket attractions, such as art museums and architectural marvels. But if your group has seen the sights before, or if you’re just looking for some interesting stops to make along the way, consider a visit to one of these intriguing places.

Boston Avenue Church

One of Tulsa’s most fascinating architectural landmarks is Boston Avenue Church. Home to a United Methodist congregation of 8,000 members, this building resembles an art-deco skyscraper more than it does a typical house of worship.
“The congregation began in 1893,” said Shari Goodwin, the church’s communications director.

The Boston Avenue Church features symbolic artwork throughout its interior.

“In 1927, they started looking at a new building. It was the height of the oil boom in Tulsa.”

The building was designed by a local architect, who was also a devout Quaker. Because of his beliefs, he created artwork throughout the church that was full of symbolism but contained no images of people.

Today, groups can get a guided tour of the building, which features a 14-story tower, a round sanctuary and many geometric art-deco touches. Beautiful rose-red tile mosaics in the corridors contain Christian imagery and symbols; guides also point out design elements on the exterior of the building that are meant to direct visitors’ thoughts toward heaven.

With some advance planning, the church staff can arrange for a private concert for groups on the sanctuary’s impressive pipe organ.

Sherwin-Miller Museum

About 40 years ago, members of a synagogue in Tulsa began collecting art that reflects their Jewish faith and history, and opened a small museum in their building. In 2003, the Sherwin-Miller Museum of Jewish Art opened in its current location with an interesting collection of historic and modern items.

One of the museum’s primary galleries deals with the Holocaust. Artifacts on display include propaganda pieces from the Nazi party in Germany, as well as some items used in concentration camps. The gallery also has a video of testimonials from Holocaust survivors living in Tulsa.

A large gallery on the museum’s second floor has a collection of archaeological treasures from the Holy Land, as well as a collection of Judaica, ceremonial items used in the historic and modern practice of Judaism. These items include menorahs and Torah scrolls that were transcribed centuries ago.

“They were handwritten by trained scribes with kosher ink and paper,” said development director Melissa Schnur. “They couldn’t make a mistake or the entire scroll would have to be redone.”

Frank Phillips Home

Bartlesville brothers Frank and L.E. Phillips became some of the richest men in Oklahoma when they founded the Phillips Petroleum Co. Today, visitors can see some of the remnants of the family’s wealth at the Frank Phillips Home.

The 26-room neoclassical mansion was completed in 1909, and Frank Phillips lived there until his death in 1950. Today, the building reflects a 1930s style.

The neoclassical Frank Phillips Home in Bartlesville diplays examples of the oilman’s wealth.

“When you go inside, you’re going to see everything almost exactly as it was in 1930,” said Jim Goss, the home’s director. “Frank did a half-million-dollar renovation on the house in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression. It was a business-minded move, to attract press attention.”

About 95 percent of the home’s decor and furnishings are original to the 1930 renovation. Highlights include silk wall coverings, mahogany trim and Waterford crystal chandeliers.

Groups that tour the home can see interesting areas such as Frank Phillips’ private bathroom, which was outfitted with a refrigerator and a barber’s chair for daily shaves. The estate’s garage is full of memorabilia from the Phillips 66 stations around the country.

Prairie Song

Just outside of Bartlesville, Prairie Song is the fascinating private vision of a local couple. This re-created Old West town is located on the Tate Ranch and was hand built from the ground up by Kenneth Tate and his wife.

“It’s been about 26 years,” Tate said. “I built all this stuff out here, and I built it three bricks thick. Every building is stocked just like it would be in a real town.”

Buildings at Prairie Song include a bank, a jail, a doctor’s office and a barber shop. The re-created hardware store is stocked full of real merchandise from a 100-year-old hardware store in the area that went out of business.

One of the highlights is Naughty Nelle’s, a re-created saloon. Groups can have drinks or catered meals in the saloon, which is decorated with Old West memorabilia. The second floor of the building is set up to replicate an old-fashioned casino and Naughty Nelle’s private boudoir.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.