If you were to travel on Route 66 in the early 1900s, you probably passed the Threatt Filling Station, a family-owned gas station for Black travelers traversing the famous route from Chicago to Southern California.
But after closing in the 1970s, the station eventually fell into disrepair. Now the Threatt family is looking to revitalize and preserve it.
The Threatt Filling Station, located near Luther, Oklahoma, was a place where Black travelers could fill up their tanks and grab something to eat. The property, which was originally 160 acres, eventually expanded to also include a farm, a field for Negro League baseball games, an outdoor stage, and a bar for those wanting to dance the jitterbug. Allen Threatt Sr. built the station around 1915, and it continued to operate until it closed in the 1970s, according to Ed Threatt, one of Allen’s grandsons. Ed Threatt and other relatives are now working to restore the historic property.
“It’s a part of Black history within the state of Oklahoma,” Ed Threatt said. “For him to acquire 160 acres of land in the Jim Crow era, that’s no small feat.”
Oklahoma was home to a number of sundown towns, according to Lynda Ozan, deputy state historic preservation officer in Oklahoma. These were communities where Black people weren’t welcome after sunset—so if they were traveling through, they’d have to keep driving at night. Places like the Threatt Filling Station offered respite for Black travelers along Route 66.
“In a state that was racially segregated, had many sundown towns, had neighborhoods that were deeded with restrictions on racial ownership, the Threatt family had a successful farm and business through the 20th century,” she said. “As a location for Black travelers, the Threatt Filling Station was critical.”
The Threatt family homesteaded in the area when land was opened in 1889 and land allotments had been established. They raised crops on the farm, sold sandstone from the quarry, and then opened and operated the filling station and its associated businesses. But according to Ozan, the property’s importance reverberated far beyond Oklahoma.
“From the Negro baseball teams playing games on their field to famous musicians and actors stopping at this facility on their way to and from California, the national significance of this location cannot be emphasized enough,” Ozan said.
Jennifer Sandy, field director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, agreed. She noted that a 1939 newspaper clipping indicates the Threatt Filling Station may have been the only “Negro station” in the U.S. at the time, and it was likely the only Black-owned filling station on Route 66.
“[The] impressive variety of services demonstrates a creative entrepreneurial spirit to succeed at a time when being Black and operating a successful business on Route 66 was not common,” Sandy said in an email.
In 2021, the Threatt Filling Station made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Historic Places list. Ozan said it’s a big step in getting the property national recognition. According to the National Trust, in its 34-year history more than 300 places have been listed; in that time, fewer than 5% of listed sites have been lost.
“The complex represents the power of Black entrepreneurship and family stewardship through generations. It helps illuminate important but underrepresented stories of life along iconic Route 66,” Sandy said. Since the first list was issued in 1988, it has helped to save a diverse range of places that tell the American story, including Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay, Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, the soaring TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport, and cultural landscapes like Bears Ears in Utah.
Because the Threatt Filling Station was family-owned, it didn’t have to answer to a parent company when it came to design, Ozan said. That makes it even more distinctive from other gas stations in the state, particularly as it used native stone quarried from a nearby farm. “The use of locally sourced stone and its specific patterning . . . make this an unusual design [and] type across Oklahoma,” she said.
But even with its architectural and historical significance, money is a large hurdle for restoration and preservation. The Threatt family raised funds for a historic structure report, which estimated that refurbishing the facility would cost around $200,000, not including things like electrical and plumbing. This was before COVID-19 increased the costs of materials and labor, Ed Threatt noted.
Though the Threatt Family is still raising funds, they hope to start restoration work this year, ultimately turning the property into an interpretive center for visitors to see and experience history firsthand, buy souvenirs, and learn about an important part of Route 66 and Oklahoma history.
“It’s not just about us,” said Ed Threatt, who still lives in the area. “It’s about Black people in general. It’s about the white people who also support and agree that this is something that’s important.”