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Route 66 Scenic Byway (Illinois, USA)

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Address: Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway 700 E Adams St Springfield IL 62701 / Chicago Illinois is where the famous road begins and we followed it as far as Springfield. Along the way are many old historic sites that were made famous when the road was regularly traveled.

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      15.10.2012 22:44
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      An interesting historical route to drive

      ROUTE 66 Scenic Byway Illinois

      We decided to drive the section of this famous road from Chicago to Springfield and then back again a few days later. This meant that the excitements we missed on the way to Springfield we tried to call in and see on the way back up towards Chicago. I will review these in geographical order from Chicago to Springfield as it will be more logical.

      CHICAGO
      This is the start of this famous road and it is said to begin at BUCKINGHAM FOUNTAIN. This rather beautiful fountain is in Grant Park in 1927 and is said to be modelled on a Versailles Palace fountain. According to information received in Chicago this is one of the largest fountains in the world. This fountain was built just one year after Route 66 opened and is considered by all to be both the nostalgic and symbolic starting point of Route 66.

      The next place in Chicago that we visited is also considered to be the start of Route 66 and that is LOU MITCHELL'S RESTAURANT which was opened in 1923 and has become a real part of Route 66 legend and history. It was inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2002 and even today they carry on with traditions of giving all ladies a packet of milk duds and as you wait to be taken to your table you are offered fresh warm donut holes to whet your appetite. The food is good and we enjoyed a very hearty breakfast in the diner style restaurant.

      Other sites in Chicago need a separate review as there are so many but these two are a very real part of Route 66 history.


      WILMINGTON

      LAUNCHING PAD DRIVE IN and GEMINI GIANT statue
      American and indeed Australians seem to like these giant strange statues and some of these roadside 'attractions' have been restored back to their hey day beauty when route 66 was THE only road that went from Chicago to Los Angeles.

      This cafe called the Launching Pad opened in 1960 and initially at first sold only hot dogs and ice cream, but now has a full service menu. Outside this rather basic looking cafe is the rather odd looking 'Gemini Giant' which is made of fibreglass. He is a garage mechanic wearing a space helmet and holding a rocket. No idea what it means but we saw it and took photos.
      We didn't eat in the Launching Pad as we had just stopped at the Polka Dot diner in Braidwood on our way back from Springwood to Chicago.

      BRAIDWOOD

      POLKA DOT DRIVE IN is actually an old fashioned diner on N Front Street, Braidwood . Way back in 1956, Chester "Chet" Fife began serving fast food from an school bus painted in rainbow Polk-a-Dots. In 1962 he opened the present restaurant. Outside are models of 50/60s icons such as Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, James Dean, and the Blues Brothers . Inside There are so many wonderfully quirky photos and adverts as well as models again that you spend all the time looking around while seated on old fashioned plastic diner type seats. I ordered a coke float while my husband had a coffee. The toilets were brilliant. Indie the men's my husband informs me are photos of Marilyn Monroe and he thought he'd gone in the wrong one. The ladies had Elvis posters with a life size one of the back of the door watching you while you perform! Outside was model of Elvis sitting playing his guitar.

      It was really fun and somewhere different to stop for a bite to eat. It is open daily 11am - 8 pm, Memorial Day - Labor Day 11am - 9 pm.

      Braidwood Historic Service Station is a 1939 Art Deco service station but is now a car repair shop. It wasn't that exciting so don't worry if you miss it

      DWIGHT
      The town was founded in 1854. During the heyday of Route 66, Dwight had the honour of having the first traffic light on the road after Chicago.

      FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF DWIGHT: We wanted to find this as we were on a mission to seek out all the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings we could along our trip . This bank was indeed designed by FLW and built in 1905 however it has been re modelled since but they did use his original designs so it looks pretty much as it did and certainly has some of his signature features. This is one of only three banks designed by FLW so is pretty rare as an example of his work.

      While you are admiring the bank you walked passed the old 1891 railway station and this as well as the Gas station are is on the National Register of Historic Places.

      The Ambler-Becker Texaco Gas Station is a little out of the centre of town but worth a quick detour as this 1933 gas station is supposed to be the longest operating gas station along Route 66. It dispensed fuel for 66 continuous years until 1999. It has been renovated and today it is a Route 66 visitor center and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

      You can see it from outside any time but the actual building does have restricted opening times if you want to go inside. We didn't go inside as we were pushed for time.

      ODELL

      ODELL GAS STATION
      This gas station is also on the National Register of Historic Places. This one was built in 1932 and sold gas until 1975. It was restored with the help of the Illinois Route 66 Association's Preservation Committee when Route 66 was made a historic byway and you can visit this daily from 11 am to 3 pm. It is a typical small town looking old fashioned gas station.

      PONTIAC
      ROUTE 66 HALL OF FAME and Museum was the main reason was called into Pontiac. It isn't a huge museum but covers several floors. The bottom floor has lots of artefacts and mementos as well as special people's memories , those who have been inducted into the Route66 Hall of Fame all in display cases

      Upstairs has lots of amazing Route 66 photos taken by Michael Campanelli that capture much of the true spirit of Route 66. It is free but donations are welcomed Times of openeing: April - October: Monday - Friday 9 am - 5 pm, Saturday - Sun 10 am to 4 pm. November - March: Monday - Friday 11 am - 3 pm, Saturday - Sunday 10 am - 4pm

      Just outside and around the museum are the shops and the old bus home belonging to an old Route 66 character. It was very cosy and full of memorabilia but I felt it was intrusive to go in even though we were told we could.

      All around the town were beautiful murals most relating to Route 66 but often they were other subjects. One looked just like a shop front and we almost went towards it to go in!

      Livingston County Courthouse in Pontiac is a lovely old historic building from 1875 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Beside this building is a statue of Abraham Lincoln as a reminder of the many visits Lincoln made to Pontiac between 1810 and 1860.

      PONTIAC SWINGING BRIDGES. I thought these would be the kind of bridges that swung around to let boats pass along the river but in fact they were bridges that sort of swung as you walked on them. Pontiac is famous for being the only city in Central Illinois with three swinging bridges. The bridges span the Vermilion River and were originally built so residents could get to work. An bridge built in 1828 of iron connects Riverview Drive and Play Park., today this bridge is wooden.. the second bridge built in 1926 connects Play Park and Chautaqua Park while the third built in 1978 connects the south side of the city with Humiston-Riverside Park.

      We parked beside the park and walked across to the bridges but we had an extra bonus as there was a huge vintage car rally/show; the sort where they park their shiny beasts with sparkling engines and then sit beside them for you to admire.

      FUNKS GROVE
      Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup. We tried to find this for about half an hour and gave up so i have no idea what is there but if you do want to visit then be prepared to hunt as neither our satnav nor the instructions on our Route 66 guide took us there. The Funk's Grove Maple Sirup business was established in 1891. Sirup is correctly spelled this way to distinguish it from sugar-based syrup. This was and continues to be a major stopping point along Route 66. Anyway we failed to get to this magical place!

      Funks Grove I-55 Rest Area; this we did manage to find and it was worth the stop because apart from the water fountains, drinks machines and toilets, which we made good use of, there were some unusual metal silhouette statues outside tell the story of travelling in automobiles, picnicking, and the beginnings of Route 66.

      Inside the building are some historical exhibits about Abraham Lincoln and Route 66., not a lot but enough to be of passing interest as you stop for the toilets.

      Mc LEAN
      Dixie Truck Stop; this was an original truck stop for Route 66 since the 1930s and originally had a restaurant, cabins and even cattle pens. No problems parking here as the parking lot is huge. The Dixie was owned and operated by the Geske family from 1928-2003 and was only closed one day after a fire in1965. The truck stop has now got new owners but still serves travellers along Route 66 for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The original Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame was here from 1990-2004, then it moved to Pontiac which we visited but there is still quite a lot of Route 66 memorabilia around the place and even a mini section specifically with Route 66 artefacts

      ATLANTA
      No not that one in Georgia but a small town in Illinois which seems to have a few places of interest to see. None of them is individually that exciting but it is certainly worth a slight detour to visit this town.
      Atlanta Public Library was built in 1908 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is an octagonal and has a domed rotunda. A Seth Thomas clock tower beside the library has to be hand cranked every 8 days.

      Just across the road in Route 66 park is a lovely mural which celebrates the fact that Atlanta is approximately 150 miles from both Chicago and St. Louis.

      Palms Grill Cafe was closed when we passed through Atlanta so if you visit on a Sunday you will miss out too. The cafe is famous for its neon sign which could be switched on to tell the greyhound bus to stop there. There is another big mural across the road from here.

      Bunyon's Statue Giant was the most entertaining thing we found in Atlanta as the place was deserted. This fibreglass giant was made in the 1960s apparently about 150 of these giants were made and put into service to advertise auto service. They became known as "Muffler Men." In 1965, this ex-Muffler Man was bought and the muffler (silencer to us Brits) was replaced by a hotdog and the statue was placed in front of "Bunyon's" the restaurant on Route 66 in Cicero, Illinois. For 38 years, "Bunyon's Statue" was a Route 66 landmark. In January 2003, the restaurant closed and the staue was brought to be enjoyed in Atlanta, so that it could stay on historic Route 66.

      Smiley Water Tower can be seen from some way away and makes you smile as the bright yellow water tower has a smiley face painted on it .

      LINCOLN
      This is the only town named after Lincoln in his lifetime and you can visit the site where he christened the town with a watermelon! I was expecting something large but in fact the water melon is not a lot bigger than a real one and took some tracking down. This is called the Lincoln Christening Site and the event took place on August 27, 1853. There is a bit of an explanation panel next to the watermelon.

      Logan County Courthouse is another interesting historical building from 1905 and its claim to fame apart from the fact that Lincoln worked as a lawyer here, is that it is considered the second most architecturally spectacular historic courthouse in Illinois' 102 Counties (after Carlinville in Macoupin County, another Historic Route 66 town). It houses a statue of Lincoln, murals, plus historical display cases.

      The City Hall is a pretty ordinary solid looking building but what we found really strange was to see a telephone booth on the roof which was not just a practical joke which we originally thought, it was
      .
      Railsplitter Covered Wagon; we had to ask directions to this from someone in a charity shop which the only place we found open. This huge covered wagon being driven by an equally huge Lincoln is slightly out of town and near a hotel This has been officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the "World's Largest Covered Wagon." It has to be seen to appreciate the size of this and can be seen from some way off but apart from this there is nothing else around it so it os a case of parking the car having a walk around, taking photos and driving on.

      SPRINGFIELD
      This is the capital city of Illinois but is a very sleepy city. I have written a separate review of sights to see in Springfield but will mention a couple of specifically route 66 places to see. Springfield is of course the place to visit to find our out Lincoln as the museum, his home, his tomb and so much more are within this city.

      Yet another of the 'Muffler giants' is here , the Lauterbach Giant who used to hold a tyre, but now is more patriotic with a U.S. flag. In 2006, he lost his head during a twister, but it has been repaired.

      Shea' Gas station which is a private collection of gas station and Route 66 memorabilia of a lifetime local Texaco dealer Bill Shea who proudly overseas his museum. It was closed when we visited but to me it looked a bit like a junk shop but to those into Route 66 memorabilia and old signs, petrol pumps and the like might be interested in visiting and talking to Bill himself. It cost. $2 to visit and is open Wed-Fri & until Noon on Sat.

      The Cozy Dog drive in claims to be the place where the corn dog on a stick is claimed to have been invented and was called a "Cozy Dog." I am not sure that this would be something I would be proud of and when we went to see the 'Cozy Dog' we decided we didn't fancy it and drove on and not in!

      While on this holiday we drive two major famous roads in the area, the Great Mississippi River Road and this section of Route 66, we have driven other sections from LA on previous holidays so it was interesting to see how much had to renovated and re opened at this end. It was a fun drive and we didn't stop at every site only those i have mentioned. If you really wanted to look at everything closely then this section could take up to a week. We visited some places on our way to Springfield from Chicago, some while we were in Chicago and then others when we drove from Springfield back towards Chicago and then across to St Joseph in Michigan.

      There was no site that was unforgettable but they were many and varied and on the whole fun to see. There was a lot of social history as well as historical buildings to learn about on the way. I would certainly recommend this drive and it made our drive between Chicago to Springfield and back up very entertaining.

      Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
      ©Catsholiday

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