“The first Phillips gas station in Texas!”
A map of the Texas Panhandle looks a little like a checkerboard with its grid of mostly straight roads, uncongested highway stretching through bare, undulating Texas terrain. The open road across expansive landscapes captures the Route 66 experience. That kind of driving was what took thousands of motorists to McLean, Texas during its heyday. The McLean Commercial Historic District is a remarkable time capsule on the Mother Road. Roll down Route 66 today, cross under I-40 at exit 146, and you’ll find streets that remain true to their mid-20th century appearance, a commercial district created and defined largely by the presence of Route 66.
In 1927, when Route 66 arrived in town, McLean was still shipping livestock and oil by rail. Running down Main Street, the new United States highway shifted the town’s focus from rail to road and ensured McLean’s prosperity for decades to come. During the golden age of Route 66, the little Panhandle town boasted 22 auto-related businesses, including repair shops and dealerships. Three quarters of those businesses were service stations. In McLean, gas stations literally drove the local economy.
In 1929, Phillips Petroleum chose McLean as the location for its first Texas station. The building’s quaint Tudor Revival design complete with shutters and an exterior brick chimney reflected the trend of building gas stations that looked like cottages. The station operated for five decades before closing in 1977. It has been restored and is well worth a visit. Look for the shield-shaped, yellow and black Phillips 66 sign at 218 West First Street.
At this station and numerous others, the classic cars of the 1940s and 50s rolled in for service and gas. With plumped out fenders that suggested childhood mumps, these cars sported toothy chrome grills and bumpers that looked as if they could shove around small houses. By the 1950s, McLean service stations welcomed sleeker model cars with unforgettable fins, white-walled tires, foot-wide tail lights, and long, low lines accentuated by chrome edges. If McLean had had two stop lights in the 50s, the Chevrolet Bel Air might have stretched from one of them clear back to the other.
McLean also offered motels, tourist cabins, cafés, and restaurants to travelers. The earliest tourist cabins are nearly all razed, but the Cactus Inn Motel--yes, the sign is shaped like a cactus--is still in business. The Avalon Theater adds ambiance to the district too, as do the Devil’s Rope (barbed wire) and Old Route 66 Museum at 100 Kingsley Street. The museum is housed in the building where another McLean enterprise once operated--a bra manufacturing company. Motorists arriving in McLean were once greeted by a colorful billboard announcing that they had entered “The Uplift Capital of the World.”
By the 1970s, the growth of nearby Amarillo had eclipsed McLean, and Interstate 40 was crossing the Panhandle. McLean business owners fought hard to keep the town alive, knowing that a bypass would draw away the tourist trade they needed to survive. In the end, McLean was the last Texas Route 66 town bypassed by Interstate 40. Businesses closed. Population declined. Today only about 800 people live in McLean.
This very lack of growth is why the town can be experienced as an authentic step back in time. McLean’s collection of early-20th century commercial buildings, especially its gas stations, provides a strong sense of time and place. The district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
We stopped here on our June 2021 road trip and I'm glad we took the time. It's a very cute little gas station, but it's right next to someone's house, so we didn't get out and poke around. The town of McLean was also very interesting to drive through; so desolate and it felt almost like a ghost town (see B&W pic). We literally didn't see one other vehicle on the road while we were there. Phillips 66 on the Route is definitely worth a quick stop for a photo.
Cute stop. Reminds us of Radiator Springs from the movie Cars. Was right off the highway and added very little time. Worth the photo op. Town was very quaint as well.
I Was born and raised in Mclean Texas great town back in the 70s and 80's my parents and grand parents all lived and died there my grandparents were smiths. I miss this little town sometimes when I left there were 1183 people
Right off the road. Gotta do a drive by
This gas station is great but the real treat is the entire town and its buildings. So many abandoned businesses and memorabilia for Rt 66. You feel like you're stepping back in time.
Gas station is pretty humble, but driving on Route 66 is very cool.
Looks nothing like the pics anymore, seems like it’s undergoing renovation
Cute, not what I expected though. It is next to someone’s home so keep that in mind when you stop. This little town reminds me of Radiator Springs on Cars.
Cute stop a block from the barbed wire museum.
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Phillips 66 on the Route
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