June 16, 2018
Heading northeast toward Chicago, we passed up Towanda, which has a couple of sites worth mentioning; mainly “A Geographical Journey” Parkway with interpretive kiosks along the road, and Towanda Dead Man’s Curve, part of the original 66 before the 1940s and now on Old Route 4.
We intended to stop in Lexington for the Route 66 Memory Lane, a one-mile stretch of the original 66, which was restored back to the 1940s era with vintage billboards and Burma Shave signs. It would have been good to take a walk on it to stretch our legs, but we couldn’t find it!
We stopped for lunch at Kelly’s on Route 66 (905 West Main St., Lexington, IL), a sandwich place with lots of 66 memorabilia.
We asked at Kelly’s how to find Memory Lane but were given confusing directions, not helped by the fact that we didn’t write them down!
It is too bad I didn’t consult our Illinois Route 66 booklet, because we could have found the trail by going to Thrift Avenue, LLC at 1103 Main St. Besides being right on Route 66, this 3,000 square feet store is right next to the Memory Lane trail and another 66 landmark, the Lexington Neon Arrow is also on this property! Since I am generally not interested in shopping, I didn’t take note of it, but this thrift store is a worthwhile stop if you enjoy shopping. In a bright and friendly atmosphere, you can find bargains and gifts among Thrift Avenue’s new and almost-new merchandise.
Another interesting stop in Lexington is Castle Gardens, at 1280 P J Keller Hwy. It is located less than a mile off I-55 and Route 66 and is a unique estate. At Castle Gardens is the nationally known David Hyatt Van Dolah house, a MTC 36-passenger train, and a restored Allen Herschell 36-horse carousel. Visit the website via my link above to find out about home and garden tours and the summer Friday Night concerts on the lawn.
Our last major stop was in Pontiac, a Route 66 aficionado’s heaven! In fact, if you want to see everything that Pontiac has to offer, it’s best to check into a local hotel because it would take you more than a day to see everything.
Wayside Exhibits, such as the one in the left photo below, are located in several Illinois communities.
We concentrated on the downtown area, visiting the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum at 110 West Howard Street and Murals on Main Street Tour in downtown Pontiac. Parked behind the museum is the unusual-looking bus that belonged to late artist Bob Waldmire, who traveled the entire Route 66 and spent months living in his trailer in the Arizona desert. He took a basic motor home and, well…ADDED to it, as you will see from the photos below. Bob was a Route 66 enthusiast and specialized in painting scenes of the route. His paintings and murals can be found in various spots along Route 66 and there is a memorial to him on Santa Monica pier.
This mural tells of Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire’s journey from Illinois to California. It was designed by Bob from his sickbed shortly before his death in 2009. It was painted in his memory by members of the Waldmire family and about 500 of Bob’s friends along Route 66.
If you stand close to the mural, you will see 100s of handprints. These were made by the people who contributed to the mural and were touched by Bob’s art.
The murals are the most prominent feature of downtown Pontiac.
Photo op for my Prius stopped in front of the huge mural of Route 66 behind the museum.
There are also several miniature cars, each painted by a different artist, scattered around the downtown area.
We spent some time going through Bob Waldmire’s mobile “home.”
Waldmire made several “improvements” to the outside of the bus.
This is the entrance doorway.
The interior was very cluttered.
This converted school bus is where he spent his winter months in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. For the rest of the year, he was based in central Illinois, near his hometown of Springfield. In fact, his father, Ed Waldmire, established the Cozy Dog Drive-in, a Route 66 landmark in Springfield (see my post Getting Our Kicks On the Way Home, Day 9, Part 1).
Waldmire even built a shower/sauna inside the bus!
Refrigerator with Route 66 memorabilia
One can tour this bus on the grounds of the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. There is also a lot to see inside.
The sun was getting low in the sky as we entered the expressway system of metropolitan Chicago.
North of Pontiac is the small town of Odell (we didn’t stop), where there are two 66-related sites of note:
Standard Oil Gasoline Station, 400 South West St., Odell – this gas station, built in 1932 and serving travelers until 1975, has been restored and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Odell Subway Tunnel – across from St. Paul’s Church is an entrance to a 1937 pedestrian tunnel under Route 66, known as “the subway.” The entrance was sealed in the 1950s but the railing and first three steps have been preserved. The fact that traffic on Route 66 in 1937 was heavy enough to warrant an underground pedestrian tunnel is pretty remarkable.
In the small town of Gardner is a photo op for travels at The 2 Cell Jail and Christiansen Memorial. The two-cell jail was built in 1906. Adjacent to the jail is a memorial honoring Rev. Christian Christiansen for his contributions that helped prevent the Nazis from constructing atomic bombs. Afterward, visit the Historic Streetcar Diner, which is an historic streetcar moved from Kankakee to Garner in 1932 to serve as a diner along Route 66. In 1937, it became a cottage and playhouse. Since then, it has been restored and inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame.
Joliet, just south of metropolitan Chicago, has many sights to see. I am listing here some of those that I find most interesting and would like to visit on a future short road trip.
1. Rich & Creamy, 920 North Broadway St. – a retro ice cream store on which you can see Jake and Elwood, The Blues Brothers, dancing on top of the tower wrapped in neon lights. Next door is Route 66 Park, with an eclectic collection of public art works. There’s an overlook where you have a bird’s eye view of Collins Street Prison!
2. Joliet Kicks on 66 Tours – murals, sculptures, mosaics, and more 66-themed sites are found throughout Joliet’s New City Center. They and other downtown attractions are part of the Joliet Kicks of 66 driving and walking tours.
3. Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 is a new museum celebrating the musical contributions of Illinois to the world. It opened in the summer of 2018.
4. Joliet Union Station at 50 East Jefferson St. was built in 1912 and once catered to the glamorous rail travelers of the early 1900s. the Grand Ballroom has crystal chandeliers and 45 ft. ceilings. The station is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Arriving in Chicago, there are many sights to see. I mention only one here, which is the Begin/End Route Signs at East Adams Street/Jackson Blvd. (Begin sign – next to Panda Express) and on South Michigan Avenue (End sign – at Millennium Park Garage). I actually have never looked for these signs, but probably should to formally legitimize our Route 66 trip! Here are photos downloaded from Google Images.
We bypassed the last sites, including those in downtown Chicago, choosing instead to get back to our home in Des Plaines and collapse after a long, tiring but fun road trip!