Illinois is where Route 66 begins its trail west. I have heard it said that 50% of all the great things to see on Route 66 are found in Illinois. The state has a very good mixture of iconic Route 66 sites and access to large cities.
You can view my map of Illinois Route 66 sites below or select “View Larger Map” to go to our ESRI ArcGIS Online hosted web map.
My love for Route 66 started in Illinois, and this is the state where I have visited more of Route 66 than any other.
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.
October 23, 2014
The Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project has put together a wonderful Illinois Route 66 brochure that has some great maps and tons of information on where to go and what to see along Route 66 in Illinois. I am very impressed. You can get to the brochure here:
They also have a wonderful website located at:
October 30, 2014
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
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 many times parallels Interstate 55.
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.
The Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center is a brand new effort to celebrate the history of Route 66 and the local area.
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.
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.
September 20, 2015
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:
The front of the Route 66 Museum was very nice, but most of the great happenings are in the back
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.
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.
There is a nice plaque commemorating and explaining the Road Yacht exhibit
This is the back side of the Bob Waldmire Road Yacht
Beautiful Route 66 mural and some really nice restored Pontiac GTOs.
The restored Pontiacs were parked all the way around the County Courthouse square. There were lots of beautiful cars in Pontiac this weekend
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is a wonderful map of Illinois Route 66 painted on the wall inside the museum
There are some very nice murals painted on the outside of the buildings around Pontiac
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.
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.
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.
The other attraction is the Two-Cell Jail located on the same property as the Horse-Drawn Streetcar DIner.
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.
Wilmington is another of my favorite places on Illinois Route 66. The beautiful Marr Theater is located in downtown.
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.
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.
Joliet has a very nice Union Station located in downtown.
There is a nice Route 66 Diner in Joliet
Joliet has a wonderful Route 66 Museum with lots of souvenirs inside
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.
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.
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.
The Wolf’s Head Restaurant in Indian Head is another place to stop and enjoy the food.
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.
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.
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.
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 second is the historic Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Ave. It is beautiful and seems to stick out against the modern Chicago skyline.
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.
It was a fun trip. We plan to finish the south half of Illinois route 66 later this summer.