June 16, 2018
We headed toward home today, but there was plenty to see on Route 66 along the way. We had picked up a free guidebook – Illinois Route 66 Visitors Guide – the previous evening.
First stop was Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which we had visited the previous evening (see my previous Getting Our Kicks post). For those traveling the route in this direction, you may wish to stop at a nearby site in Granite City, the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site Interpretive Center at 1 Lewis and Clark Trail in Granite City (618-251-5811). This state-of-the-art interpretative center is located at the winter camp area of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. There is a 55 ft. full-scale replica of the expedition’s keel boat, and this site is the starting point for the National Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail.
Back on East Chain of Rocks Road, you can see the Luna Café in Mitchell at 201 East Chain of Rocks Road (618-931-3152), which was built in 1924, two years before Route 66 was established. Supposedly this café was frequented by gangsters like Al Capone.
If you’re in the mood to exercise and appreciate nature, Horseshoe Lake State Park at 3321 Highway 111, Pontoon Beach, IL has a 4-mile self-guided nature trail on Walker Island in Horseshoe Lake and is ideal for bird-watching.
Collinsville has a number of attractions, but the most interesting one, in my opinion, as well as the most extensive is Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site & Interpretive Center. We didn’t go there on this trip but had been there in 2013. Archaeological digs are still taking place at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they make use of volunteers during the summer.
This is the largest historic Native American settlement north of Mexico. Monks Mound is the largest prehistoric man-made earthwork in the Americas.
Cahokia in its heyday had a population of over 30,000 – bigger than Paris at that time! It may have been a ceremonial center, attracting pilgrims from all over North America.
The interpretive center is worth exploring before you roam the hiking trails that take you to several earthen structures. There are about 80 mounds in the park covering 2,200 acres, but the city was originally quite a bit larger.
There is also a “wood henge” – a circle of wooden posts aligned with the solstices and equinoxes, which are marked with white stripes.
This video shows the entire wood henge.
Also in Collinsville is the world’s largest catsup bottle! The Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower at 800 South Morrison Ave. stands next to Route 159 and is 170 ft. tall. It was built in 1949 to advertise Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup. Talk about kitsch – how could we have missed this? We must have been anxious to get home!
While you’re there, take a little time to explore Historic Downtown Collinsville. This well preserved historic district has quaint shops and beautiful architecture. Pick up a self-guided tour to see the highlights.
Up the road, you can stop at 201 East Market St. in Troy, IL (the Chicago Tribune newspaper building) to check out the Transportation Mural.
Edwardsville, Illinois’ 3rd oldest city, on the 1930-1940 spur of Route 66, has several historic districts, including downtown, the St. Louis historic district, built in the late 1800s has homes that represent different architectural styles, and the Leclaire Village historic district just south of town which also includes the Edwardsville Children’s Museum and factory buildings which now house Lewis and Clark Community College. The Wildey Theater downtown was built in 1909 and has recently been renovated. The 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House at 409 Buchanan Street is the oldest brick building in Madison County. There are tours given by costumed docents who represent the Stephenson family. Our brochure said that Cleveland-Heath, a restaurant at 106 North Main Street, offers one of the best dining experiences you could ever have.
Continue up the road to Mt. Olive, home of the Mother Jones Museum (215 East Main Street) and the Union Miners Cemetery and Mother Jones Monument at 700 North Lake St. Mary (Mother) Jones was a labor union activist, born in 1830 in Ireland. Her family emigrated during the potato famine. She founded the Social Democratic Party and helped establish the Industrial Workers of the World. Known as the miner’s angel, she died in 1930 and was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery alongside her “boys” – fellow members of the United Miners Workers.
Eight miles further up the 66 is the town of Litchfield, IL, which has several attractions, including the Ariston Café (413 North Historic Route 66)…
…and Jubelt’s Bakery, at 303 North Historic Route 66, a third generation family owned business which has been in Litchfield since 1952 and on Route 66 since 1982. If you hungry for more than pastries, Jubelt’s has a full menu of soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, dinners and fresh bakery items.
The fastest way north to Springfield from there is I-55 (the 1930-77 realignment of Route 66), which bypasses the meandering historic route. Get off the I-55 at Auburn, take Route 66/State Hwy 4 to Curran and Snell Rds. Here you find a 1.5 mile segment of the original route, constructed of hand-lain brick and completed in 1931. We drove on this Historic Brick Road which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
We bypassed Springfield, because we’d been there a few years before, where we visited the classic Cozy Dog Drive-In at 2935 S. 6th St. (Business 55/Historic 66).
The last weekend of September, Springfield hosts the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival in the downtown area, which attracts thousands of Route 66 aficionados from all over the world.
Of course, there are many worthwhile sights in Springfield, including the state capitol, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln’s Tomb and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. We had visited all these places several years before.
In McLean, IL (I-55 Exit 145) you will find the McLean Depot Train Shop/A Home on the Road Interpretive Statue at 200 East Dixie Road, which is a full line train hobby shop; the statue pays tribute to the Dixie Truck stop across the street.
We didn’t stop at the train shop, but instead continued 4.5 miles further to Funks Grove, home of Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup, at 5257 Historic U.S. 66. This shop sells various maple syrup products, including maple candy and syrup flavored with bourbon, which we bought a bottle of! Debbie and Mike Funk continue this family business of four generations, since the town was founded in 1824. Sirup is correctly spelled this way to distinguish it from sugar-based syrup.
Our purchases loaded into the backseat of my Prius, we continued up the 66 to Lexington and Pontiac, which are the subject of another post!