Cruising Route 66 in Northern Illinois

July 8-11, 2016 we headed upstate to explore Route 66 in northern Illinois.  We decided to drive Route 66 from Funks Grove north to the beginning of the Route in Chicago. Funks Grove is known as the mid point for the drive of Route 66 in Illinois.

Funks Grove Illinois Route 66 MidPoint Sign

Funks Grove Illinois Route 66 MidPoint Sign

 

Our first stop was at the Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup store.  We have heard a lot of great things about the Sirup store and it lived up to its reputation.   We made a great purchase at the store.  We bought a book titled, “101 Sights and Attractions on Illinois Route 66,” by David Alan Badger.  David’s book is a great travel guide filled with his wonderful drawings of the icons along Route 66 in Illinois.  As I mentioned, we drove north out of Funks Grove up to Chicago, so I will share our experience starting with Funks Grove and moving north.

Funks Grove Maple Sirup Sign

Funks Grove Maple Sirup Sign

 

Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup Store

Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup Store

In Funks Grove there are several places to visit.   Funks Grove is a wonderful place to start your Route 66 trek.  The Funks Grove Maple Sirup store is a great starting point because it is located right along Route 66 and is the mid point for the route as it crosses through Illinois.  The store has bottles of home made Maple Sirup for sale as well as lots of Route 66 souvenirs and memorabilia.

One of the gems we found in Funks Grove is the Sugar Grove Nature Center.  Thanks to David Alan Badger’s guide we discovered this wonderful place.  I am a lover of prairie restoration projects and the Sugar Grove Nature Center does a great job of bringing the natural splendor of the native Tallgrass prairie to the Route 66 traveler.  Hummingbirds, native prairie plants and beautiful viewing barns are all worth the visit along with a wonderful visitor’s center.

Enjoying the Sugar Grove Nature Center

Enjoying the Sugar Grove Nature Center

A Wonderful Prairie Viewing Barn

A Wonderful Prairie Viewing Barn

 

Viewing the Sugar Grove Nature Center Prairie from the Viewing Barn

Viewing the Sugar Grove Nature Center Prairie from the Viewing Barn

 

The next stop as we headed north was the Old Shirley Train Depot in Funks Grove.  It is hard to believe today that at one time this was a well-used train depot.

Old Shirley Train Depot in Funks Grove

Old Shirley Train Depot in Funks Grove

 

Route 66 runs right through the twin cities of Bloomington and Normal, Illinois.  There are lots of beautiful old homes and buildings and a few newer businesses associated with the Mother Road.  The Vrooman Mansion has been turned into a Bed and Breakfast destination and is an incredibly beautiful, and stately home.

The Vrooman Mansion

The Vrooman Mansion

 

We stopped by Gene’s Dairy Delight on Main Street in Bloomington and ate one of the best ice cream sundae’s I have ever had.  The ice cream was more creamy than any I have tasted before.  It is a wonderful place to stop at the end of a long day.

Gene's Dairy Delight

Gene’s Dairy Delight

 

We sere driving through downtown Normal, Illinois while an art show was in full swing on our route.  We visited the beautiful Normal Theater, which was surrounded by people and art exhibits.  I think you can tell from the photo below that it is a grand old theater that has been painstakenly restored..

The Normal Theater

The Normal Theater

 

In Lexington they have done a great job of creating a 2.2 mile walking trail that commemorates Route 66.  In fact, the trail is on an old portion of original Route 66.

Route 66 Trail

Route 66 Trail

 

Lesington also has a couple of other Route 66 landmarks.  There are lots of old signs like the original Burma Shave signs that dot the town.  One of them is the Route 66 vintage Lexington Arrow sign.

Vintage Lexington Sign

Vintage Lexington Sign

 

The other is a very unique original section of Route 66 that visitors can walk on called “Memory Lane.”  It is a fantastic place to stop and stretch your legs and absorb some of the history that Route 66 brought to this part of Illinois.

Memorty Lane

Memorty Lane

 

Roadside Attraction

Roadside Attraction

 

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

 

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

 

Memory Lane Marker

Memory Lane Marker

 

The next stop on the route north was the town of Pontiac, Illinois.  I have written about Pontiac before.  I believe it is the best kept secret along Route 66.  The Illinois Route 66 Museum is located in Pontiac and lots of time and energy has gone into decorating the town with Murals and historic memorabilia.  It is worth a long stay to see all there is in Pontiac.  We visited the Illinois Route 66 Museum to see the Land Yacht bus and the Volkswagen Van that Bob Waldemire lived in for many years.  Bob was a resident artist on Route 66 and earned a Steinbeck award for his writing about the route.

Downtown Pontiac Billboard

Downtown Pontiac Billboard

Front of the Route 66 Museum and Visitor's Center

Front of the Route 66 Museum and Visitor’s Center

Rear of the Route 66 Museum

Rear of the Route 66 Museum

 

The Land Yacht

The Land Yacht

 

There is a wonderful map of Illinois Route 66 painted on the wall inside the museum

Illinois Route 66 Map

Illinois Route 66 Map

There are some very nice murals painted on the outside of the buildings around Pontiac

Roszells Mural

Roszells Mural

 

Daniels Oil Co Mural

Daniels Oil Co Mural

 

US Tires Mural

US Tires Mural

 

Wonderful Route 66 Mural and GTOs in Pontiac

Wonderful Route 66 Mural and GTOs in Pontiac

 

CocaCola Mural

CocaCola Mural

 

Moving on north the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell is a beautiful Route 66 artifact.  It is full of Route 66 souvenirs and also has a very nice restored glass gasoline pump.

Standard Oil Gas Station

Standard Oil Gas Station

 

Standard Oil Gas Station

Standard Oil Gas Station

 

Glass Gasoline Pump

Glass Gasoline Pump

 

Heading north the town of Dwight has several icons worth exploring.  The old windmill behind the Oughton Carriage House is beautiful, and the restored Ambler-Becker Texaco Station is incredible.  Both are well worth the look.

Dwight, Illinois

Dwight, Illinois

The Windmill

The Windmill

Ambler-Becker Texaco Station

Ambler-Becker Texaco Station

 

Gardner, Illinois has two of the more unusual attractions along Illinois Route 66.  The first on is the Horse-Drawn Streetcar Diner, which arrived in Gardner in 1932.

Horse-Drawn Streetcar Diner

Horse-Drawn Streetcar Diner

 

The other attraction is the Two-Cell Jail located on the same property as the Horse-Drawn Streetcar DIner.

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Two-Cell Jail

Two-Cell Jail

 

On the north edge of Gardner is the Polka Dot Diner, which looks like a great Drive In Diner to grab a bit to eat.

Polka Dot Diner

Polka Dot Diner

 

Wilmington is another of my favorite places on Illinois Route 66.  The beautiful Marr Theater is located in downtown.

Marr Theater

Marr Theater

 

The historic Launching Pad Restaurant and the Gemini Giant are close to the Marr Theater

The Launching Pad

The Launching Pad

 

The Gemini Giant

The Gemini Giant

 

Wilmington has lots of Route 66 material culture icons on the highway, but it also has a wonderful prairie restoration project nearby. I mentioned that I love prairies and Wilmington has one of the best restored Tallgrass prairies I have seen.  The MIdewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a wonderful place to explore nature.  The Department of Defense used to man a bomb arsenal here during World War II.  They built and stored bombs on site.   After the DoD was finished with the site it was transferred to the US Forest Service and in 1996 Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was established by Congress.  Please top in at the visitor’s center.  It is a magical place.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

That brings us to the Chicagoland area with the first stop in Joliet.  There is a lot to see in Joliet.  The Rialto Square Theater is an incredible theater.

Rialto Square Theater

Rialto Square Theater

 

Rialto Square Theater

Rialto Square Theater

 

Joliet has a very nice Union Station located in downtown.

Joliet Union Station

Joliet Union Station

 

There is a nice Route 66 Diner in Joliet

Route 66 Diner

Route 66 Diner

 

Joliet has a wonderful Route 66 Museum with lots of souvenirs inside

Joliet Historical Museum

Joliet Historical Museum

 

As you cross over the Des Plaines River there is a small Route 66 Park and the Rich and Creamy Ice Cream Shop both along Route 66.  The park has an exhibit telling you where you can see the historic gas pumps around Joliet.

Route 66 Park

Route 66 Park

 

Gas Pump in Illinois Route 66 Park

Gas Pump in Illinois Route 66 Park

 

Rich and Creamy Ice Cream

Rich and Creamy Ice Cream

 

Heading north into Romeoville is the White Fence Farm Restaurant.  It looks like a great place to take the family to enjoy a fantastic meal.

White Fence Farm Restaurant

White Fence Farm Restaurant

 

One of the big icons along Illinois Route 66 is a bit north in Willowbrook.  Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket began in the 1930s as an old gas station lunch counter.  Their fried chicken is legendary.

Del Rhea's Chicken Basket Restaurant

Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket Restaurant

 

The Wolf’s Head Restaurant in Indian Head is another place to stop and enjoy the food.

Wolf's Head Restaurant

Wolf’s Head Restaurant

 

The town of Berwyn hosts a great Route 66 attraction.  Henry’s Restaurant is an iconic stop on Route 66 with its big hot dog sign out front.  It is located right on Route 66 (Ogden Blvd) in Berwyn.

Henry's Drive In

Henry’s Drive In

 

One of the big disappointments for me along Route 66 was the Castle Car Wash in Cicero.  What was once a proud and iconic Route 66 attraction has now fallen into disrepair.  This attraction could use some TLC.  Hopefully, someone will come along and take care of it.

Castle Car Wash

Castle Car Wash

 

Nearing the end of the drive north we stopped at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant in downtown Chicago.  This restaurant is an iconic diner.  Stop and enjoy the food and the service.

Lou Mitchell's Restaurant

Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant

 

Downtown Chicago has the last three items on our Route 66 icon list.  The first is the Route 66 Begins here sign located at the intersection of Adam St and South Michigan Ave.

The Beginning of Route 66 at the intersection of Adams St and S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago

The Beginning of Route 66 at the intersection of Adams St and S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second is the historic Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Ave.  It is beautiful and seems to stick out against the modern Chicago skyline.

Chicago Water Tower at Night

Chicago Water Tower at Night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final icon and the mark of the beginning of Route 66 is Buckingham fountain in Mellinnium Park on Lake Michigan.  The beautiful fouintain is a great marker for starting your trip.

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

 

It was a fun trip.  We plan to finish the south half of Illinois route 66 later this summer.

Route 66 and All Pontiac Cruise and Show

On September 2oth Marilyn and I visited the All Pontiac Cruise and Show in Pontiac, Illinois. It was a beautiful day and the incredible Pontiacs were out. Pontiac, Illinois seems to be the perfect place for a historic car show and an All Pontiac show seemed to fit perfectly. We took a few photos of the great cars and the historic buildings in Pontiac and walked around the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac. It was a fantastic day. Here’s some of the photos:

Front of the Route 66 Museum and Visitor's Center

Front of the Route 66 Museum and Visitor’s Center

The front of the Route 66 Museum was very nice, but most of the great happenings are in the back

Rear of the Route 66 Museum

Rear of the Route 66 Museum

 

The back of the Museum contains a large wall mural and a place to park your car so that you can take some great photos.  It was fixed up very nice.

Bob Waldmire Road Yacht behind the Route 66 Museum

Bob Waldmire Road Yacht behind the Route 66 Museum

The back of the Museum is also where Bob Waldmire’s Road Yacht is parked.  Bob donated the Road Yacht to the Illinois Route 66 Association when he passed away.

Bob Waldmire Road Yacht Marker

Bob Waldmire Road Yacht Marker

There is a nice plaque commemorating and explaining the Road Yacht exhibit

Back of the Bob Waldmire Road Yacht

Back of the Bob Waldmire Road Yacht

This is the back side of the Bob Waldmire Road Yacht

Wonderful Route 66 Mural and GTOs in Pontiac

Wonderful Route 66 Mural and GTOs in Pontiac

Beautiful Route 66 mural and some really nice restored Pontiac GTOs.

Lots of Cherried Out Pontiacs in Pontiac

 

 

The restored Pontiacs were parked all the way around the County Courthouse square.  There were lots of beautiful cars in Pontiac this weekend.

Route 66 in Litchfield, Illinois

I had a great trip to Springfield, Illinois yesterday morning.  On the way back home I drove down historic Route 66 through Litchfield, Illinois.  Here’s a few photos of Litchfield I took with my phone.

Route 66 Banners line the historic highway as you drive through town.  Litchfield has embraced the Route 66 theme and is very proud of the transportation legacy that started with Route 66 and now continues with Interstate 55.

 

 

 

Route 66 is alive in Litchfield

 

SkyView Drive-In

There is a nice historical marker for the Sky View Drive In.  The Sky View still looks to be in good shape.

 

Historic Route 66 changed locations over the years.  Route 66 stretches from the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California.  It was not built as one new road from end to end, but was a collection of existing roads that were brought together as one.  As a result, the highway roadbed changed a few times over the years.  In Illinois it mostly parallels Interstate 55.

 

 

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Wolff Oil is across the street from the Sky View Drive In.  It has a nice Route 66 emblem and an antique gas pump on the side of the building commemorating the past.

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The Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center is a brand new effort to celebrate the history of Route 66 and the local area.

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Across the street from the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center is the Ariston Restaurant. This is one of the great examples of the Route 66 landscape. The owners have given the Ariston a lot of love and care over the years. It is beautiful.

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The sky View Drive In sign says it all. It is late October and the travel season along historic Route 66 is about over. See you next year! This is a wonderful way to leave town.

The Legend of “The Piasa, The Bird That Devours Men”

The legend of the Piasa. In 1673 French Explorer Jacques Marquette reported that he and fellow French explorer Louis Jolliet discovered a painting of what was probably two “Water Monsters” on the bluffs of the Mississippi River near present day Alton, Illinois. By 1700 those pictographic creatures were no longer visible. In 1836 the novelist John Russell described an image cut into the bluff of a legendary dragon-like creature with wings (See photo below). According to Russell the creature was called a “Piasa, the bird that devours men.” That version of the pictograph as well as myths about the Piasa have become prominent in local folklore.

The Piasa

The Piasa

Dan Berkenstock: The world is one big dataset. Now, how to photograph it …

Great TED video of Dan Berkenstock talking about the vision of SkyBox and what drives them. This is “game changing” technology that will force the mapping industry to evolve and produce more dynamic and increasingly important capabilities. I am very excited with what SkyBox and the other small satellite companies are doing.

Interactive Map of Illinois Route 66

We added an interactive map for Illinois Route 66 for The American Digital Backroads Project today. The interactive map contains the a red line depicting the route Highway 66 takes across Illinois and different colored dots representing the cultural icons found along Route 66 in Illinois. If you click on the icon dots you will get a pop-up that includes information and photos of many of the historic locations found alongside historic Route 66. Here is the interactive web-map:


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