The construction of railroad lines through rural Texas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led to establishment of many of the small towns that dot today’s landscape. McLean is one of those towns, its railroad stop initially serving the ranching industry in the area. As the town grew, it became a center for oil, livestock, and agriculture processing and shipping. The development of U.S. Route 66 through McLean in 1927 helped to boost the economy by bringing a new population to town – automobile tourists traveling the Mother Road. Businesses such as gas stations, motels, and cafes sprang up along the route to attract and serve passing motorists.
Like a number of Texas panhandle communities during World War II, McLean was home to a prisoner of war camp, this one housing German prisoners until 1945. After the war McLean’s population began a slow decline with the emergence of Amarillo as the region’s commercial center, and the construction of Interstate 40, which displaced Route 66 as the primary thoroughfare in 1985.
Today, the approximately 750 residents of McLean proudly celebrate their Route 66, ranching, and agricultural heritage in two museums and along the Commercial Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.