The story of the American love of the open road will be forever tied to the culture surrounding the landscape of Route 66. The need for a highway to connect the people and towns across America was fulfilled with the christening of “The Mother Road,” Route 66, in November 1926. Route 66 used a common name to bind together a network of mostly established roads into our first US Numbered Highway System. It stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, and symbolized America’s desire to head west and fill in the continent.
Route 66 has witnessed numerous migrations to the West, none documented as well as the westward movement of displaced farmers during the Depression and DustBowl years in the 1930s. Route 66 was a young highway at that time, but rapidly grew into an American icon and still remains so today even after its official decommission and removal from the US Numbered Highway System in June of 1985. With the move from the US Numbered Highway System to the US Interstate System many parts of historic Route 66 have become neglected and in need of restoration before they disappear from our American landscape. In many places the old historic roadbed of Route 66 has already disappeared and in other places it shares the roadbed with Interstates 55, 44, or 40. With the change from the US Numbered Highway System to the US Interstate System the old iconic buildings and attractions that we found along the roadside no longer attract our attention, many times being torn down or burned down without anyone noticing. In 2011 and 2012 alone we lost two Route 66 icons in southern Illinois alone. The two icons lost in southern Illinois were the Coliseum Ballroom in Benld and an old service station in Staunton. The loss of these two icons is one of the events that has inspired me to document the cultural landscape surrounding Route 66.
The Coliseum Ballroom in Benld was a very popular destination in south central Illinois. It served as an entertainment site for many years. But, over the last few decades, as the interstates became more popular and the number of travelers on Route 66 declined the ballroom served as an antique mall. It was a beautiful building with an enormous amount of history contained within its walls. It was a sad day when the Coliseum Ballroom was destroyed by fire in 2011. You can read about it here: Link. Below is a picture I took of the Coliseum Ballroom in 2011 shortly before it was destroyed by fire.
In October 2013 I took a photo of what the site looks like today.
The casual traveler today has no idea the historic significance of the site because there is no hint of the Coliseum Ballroom left on the landscape.
About 10 miles south of the Coliseum Ballroom, in Staunton, Illinois, was an old service station. In 2011 I took the below photograph.
The old service station was in sad shape in 2011, but I believed it would be a great restoration project. Someone must have had the same thoughts I did because when I went back to photograph the old service station here is a photo of what I saw:
Similar to the situation with the Coliseum Ballroom, travelers that pass by this site on historic Route 66 today have no idea of the historic significance of this site. I believe the current owners did a fantastic job remodeling the Old Service Station, and kept the same lines in the renovation. But, what concerns me is that we have lost another historic building along Route 66 with no trace of the significance of the site.
One of my favorite locations along Route 66 is Henry’s Ra66it Ranch, in Staunton, Illinios. You can check out Rich Henry’s webpage at: http://www.henrysroute66.com/. The Ra66it Ranch is as unique as Route 66 itself. It is a cultural treasure that future generations should know about. We need to ensure the heritage provided by these unique locations along Route 66 is preserved.
On this webpage we will attempt to document the current state of US Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica and save it as a digital archive. We may not be able to physically save all the Route 66 artifacts on the American landscape, but we should try to document as many of them as possible, taking a first step to showing their cultural value across America.
If you know of any Route 66 icons we have missed please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.