Historic Route 66 goes by many names: Will Rogers Highway, Main Street of America, or the Mother Road. It was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway became one of the most famous roads in the United States and originally ran from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California covering a total of 2,448 miles. It’s recognized in popular culture by both the hit song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” and I saw my fair share of magnets, shirts, cups, and postcards alerting my friends and family that I indeed got my kicks.
Route 66 served as a primary route for those who traveled west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System, which
Sometime in the last year, I decided that I wanted to travel the entire route with family in tow, but several circumstances prevented my immediate family from being able to go. Then I was supposed to trek across the nation with my dad and three littles like we did for North Dakota. That didn’t happen either. Shomari’s job had him on lockdown for the last quarter of the year (make that money honey) and Nate happened to be in his very first semester of undergrad. I knew I didn’t want to do it
Where We Stopped
Given that I live in Chicago, it wasn’t really on the docket to explore. I mean, I’ll update this post with photos as I take them, but I’ve been to most of the spots on Route 66 in my beloved city. Including Lou Mitchell’s to celebrate the Masters degree that my friend Jessica obtained when we were in our early 20’s. I’ve hit the Art Institute where the “official” start sign is, and driven down Ogden Avenue for countless church functions. We always seem to celebrate big milestones in banquet halls off of Ogden Avenue.
Illinois however, holds the record for several of the Route’s largest statues including the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, the Bunyon Giant in Atlanta, and the Lauterbach Giant in Springfield.
If you remember though, we started our “unofficial” tour of the Route when I went down to Pontiac, Illinois for a Lipton Iced Tea event. We visited quite a bit around the town and got photos of the kids on the classic Cadillac cars that were sprinkled around the square. We visited the car museum and even got a chance to see how gold gilding works. It was a great day, and full of whimsy that would only be matched by doing the entire route. Pontiac is also known for having the most murals on the Route in Illinois, and they are all great to stop and get a photo in front of.
Altanta, Il holds quite a few hidden gems if you take the time to head off the road. Fun fact, back when I took a trip down to Branson, MO – we ran out of gas at exit 140 and I had to walk up the ramp with Nathaniel to find a way to get our car some fuel to make it to Bloomington-Normal. The entire city measures a quaint 1.3 square miles, but you could easily spend a couple of hours exploring the area. We did.
The Bunyon Giant picture above is one of three Muffler Man statues that has been customized along the route. It stands 19 feet talk and was relocated from Bunyon’s in Cicero, Illinois.
A couple of the places we toured or just stopped for a photo op are:
J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum. Open only on Sundays, and only during the months of June, July & August. It’s the only wooden grain elevator in the state of Illinois and was built in 1904 with a complete restoration in 1993.
The Atlanta Route 66 Park is a great little spot to stretch your legs or rest after visiting the Atlanta Museum or The Palms Grill Cafe. After eating and stretching our legs, we stopped by the local gift shops and purchased a couple of souvenirs, including a yard of Route 66 fabric I can’t wait to make something from! Those stores are Route 66 Memories and
We didn’t get to explore Springfield in the manner that it deserved, but we did make sure to find the last of the Muffler Man giants in the city. The Lauterbach Giant which is normally holding a tire. Fun fact, his head was ripped off by a tornado back in the day, found down the street, and was reattached because, why not?
Where to Eat
565 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60661
If you’re starting in Chicago, Lou Mitchell’s is the place for breakfast. They open at 5:30 in the morning during the week and at 7 am on weekends. A Chicago staple since 1923, they were here BEFORE Route 66 came to be. While waiting in line, you’ll be offered milk duds while standing in line, and the
Dell Rhea Chicken Basket
645 Joliet Rd, Willowbrook, IL 60527
Open in its current form, in Willowbrook, IL since the summer of 1946, the chicken basket has been the perfect lunch stop coming from or going to Chicago. It’s stated to have the
123 North Mill St. – Pontiac, IL 61764
Speaking of fried chicken, I don’t think that I’ve ever tried fried chicken
Where to stay
While we couldn’t stay in any of the kitschy hotels or motels along the route this time around, because of the number of people and medical needs that we had, we did stay comfortably. I’m a member of IHG and used rewards points for a large majority of our sleeping arrangements. We stayed in O’Fallon, IL coming home and St. Louis, MO going west, and both spaces were great!
Remember, our trip doesn’t even scratch the surface of all there is to do in Illinois on Route 66. If you take a bit of time to research – and there’s a LOT to research – you can find more hidden gems, and share them with us when you go!