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Family, preservationists work to rescue endangered "safe haven" along Route 66

Rescue in progress for historical landmark
Rescue in progress along Route 66 for an endangered historical landmark in Oklahoma 04:36

Route 66 was once known as the "Main Street of America." While the iconic road is no longer part of the U.S. highway system, much of it is still drivable and dotted with landmarks like the Cadillac Ranch in Texas. 

The Threatt Filling Station, located in Luther, OK, is one of those landmarks. It was once the only African-American owned gas stop along Route 66 and was one of the few places people of color could feel safe to stop and rest while driving. After decades of disuse, it was named one of America's Most Endangered Historic Places. 

"This was literally, literally a safe haven for people during the Jim Crow era," said Edward Threatt, whose grandfather owned the station. "My grandpa, he was a smart man, to be able to acquire 160 acres of land, because we had so much property they could stay out back." 

Threatt said that the site won't be a filling station again, but he hopes to turn the building into a respite from the road, as well as a place of history and learning. It's something he says he knows his grandfather would be proud of. 

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"He's proud of us. I mean, I know he is," Threatt said. "And he expects us, me, my cousins, who are now the elders of the family, to preserve this and pass it on and make sure it is never, ever outside the family." 

Preservationist Molly Baker and restoration expert David Gibney have been heavily involved in the efforts to save the building. Baker is a a manager for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's HOPE - or Hands-On Preservation Experience - Crew. Gibney teaches workers how to bring a building back to life and make it look like no damage ever occurred. 

"We want everything to look like (what) was originally there," said Gibney. "And that's the real task here." 

This type of restoration is a lost art, Gibney said, and "all has to be hand done." 

"A.I. can never replace it. Robots can never replace it," he said.

A Black community's history up for sale 08:52

The hopes of the field rest on trainees like Jeremiah Booker, who is working on the Threatt Filling Station project. 

"I feel like I'm contributing, and like playing a part in doing this work," Booker said. 

This isn't their first project. The HOPE Crew has also been involved in preserving important historical sites, like a St. Croix plantation hospital and the nation's first African-American cemetery. 

"Part of telling the full American story is making sure that everyone has their story told, and that there's representation for everybody," Baker said.

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