U.S. Route 66 in Illinois
|Will Rogers Highway|
|Maintained by IDOT|
|Length:||301 mi (484 km)|
|Existed:||1926 – 1979|
|West end:||US 66 at the Mississippi River towards St. Louis, MO|
| I-64 / IL 3 in East St. Louis
I-70 / I-270 in Troy
I-80 in Joliet
I-90 / I-94 in Chicago
|East end:||US 41 in Chicago|
U.S. Route 66 (US 66, Route 66) connected St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois. The highway had previously been Illinois Route 4 and the road has now been largely replaced with Interstate 55 (I-55). Parts of the road still carry traffic and six separate portions of the roadbed have been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
- 1 History
- 2 Route
- 3 Major intersections
- 4 Structures
- 5 Significance
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Construction on the U.S. Route 66, known as the "Mother Road", began in 1926 and eventually the 2,448 mile highway would cross through eight states on its way from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. In Illinois, and the Midwest in general, the construction of U.S. Route 66 was important to the economies of small, rural towns, which saw a burst of activity when the road finally passed through. The earliest known Chicago–St. Louis road was named the Pontiac Trail in 1915. The route began in Chicago and traveled through several cities and towns on its way to St. Louis, some of those included, Joliet, Odell, Bloomington, Lincoln, Springfield, Edwardsville and East St. Louis.
In 1916 the Federal Aid Post Road Act, known as the Shackleford Bill, passed Congress and appropriated $75 million to be distributed to the states over the next five years. The funding was provided on an ongoing basis, over the period of five years, and the law made the federal government an active partner in road building for the first time. Five roads in Illinois were designated to receive federal money under the legislation, they were: National Old Trails Road (National Road, present-day U.S. Route 40), Lincoln Highway, Dixie Highway, the road from Chicago to Waukegan and the road from Chicago to East St. Louis, including portions of Illinois Route 4, which was the actual predecessor to U.S. 66 in Illinois.
Illinois Route 4 closely paralleled the Chicago and Alton Railroad tracks running from Chicago to East St. Louis. The roadbed for Route 4 was prepared in 1922 by teams of horses dragging equipment behind them. Laborers received 40 cents per hour for performing backbreaking labor on the roadbed. In 1923, in Bloomington-Normal, concrete was poured along the road's path along much the same route U.S. 66 would take on its original route through the area. By 1924, Illinois Route 4 was almost entirely paved between Chicago and St. Louis.
By the 1940s U.S. Route 66 extended from Chicago, through Springfield, to St. Louis and much of the original pavement was still in use. When World War II erupted the road, already the heaviest trafficked highway in Illinois, saw an increase in military traffic and importance to defense strategy. The aging road's deterioration was hastened by the increase in military truck traffic. The Defense Highway Act of 1941 provided Illinois with about $400,000 in funding and by 1942 plans were in place to make much needed road repairs.
St. Louis to Hamel
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2011)|
Entering Illinois from St. Louis, Missouri, the highway originally crossed the Mississippi River at the McKinley Bridge. This alignment passed through Venice and Madison, eventually becoming Illinois Route 203 in northeast Granite City. In 1930, the Chain of Rocks Bridge was opened on Bypass US 66, allowing travelers to bypass St. Louis. This route met the original Route 66 in Mitchell. The Luna Cafe, Bel-air Drive-In sign, and the Old Greenway motel can be found along this stretch of road as well as The Mustang Corral, a Ford Mustang shop, just before Route 157 on the right hand side traveling east. Route 66 joined Illinois Route 157 through Hamel via Edwardsville.
Congestion at McKinley bridge was reduced in 1951 with the construction of the Veterans' Memorial Bridge. Route 66 joined U.S. Route 40, traversing East St. Louis and Fairmont City. Shortly after Fairmont City, Route 66 passed Cahokia Mounds, later a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It joined Illinois Route 157 on the western end of Collinsville, later navigating to modern day Interstate 55 via Illinois Route 159. This stretch of Route 66 met the main route in Hamel.
Hamel to Springfield
Route 66 originally followed the already in-use Illinois State Route 4 north of Hamel. The route navigates through Staunton, Sawyerville, Benld, Gillespie, Carlinville, to Nilwood. Route 4/Route 66 from Nilwood to Girard was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 23, 2002. Route 66 continues along Route 4 north through Virden, Thayer, to Auburn. A section of Illinois Route 4 north of Auburn, and south of Springfield, which was also part of the original span of U.S. 66, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 6, 1998. This is the last brick alignment in Illinois. Route 66 passes through Chatham, and enters Springfield. Breaking off of Route 4, the route passes the Illinois State Capitol and the Old State Capitol.
Eastern alternate route
An alternate route north from Hamel was opened in 1930. It followed Route 4 for 3-mile (4.8 km) miles, then branched off to the east, bypassing Staunton. The road moves northeast through Mount Olive past the Soulsby Service Station. The alignment from Litchfield to Mount Olive, Illinois was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 29, 2001. The segment of road is a 9.35-mile (15.05 km) stretch that begins northwest of Mount Olive, Illinois in southeastern Macoupin County and ends about one mile (1.6 km) north of the intersection of U.S. Route 66 and Illinois Route 16 in Litchfield. The road passes through North Litchfield, South Litchfield, Cahokia and Mount Olive Townships. The terrain through the area is mostly flat and this is continued in the terrain the roadway passes through. Unlike other sections of Route 66 in Illinois that are listed on the National Register, the segment from Litchfield to Mount Olive does not include any contributing structures such as bridges or culverts. The Ariston Cafe in Litchfield is the longest-operating restaurant along former U.S. 66. and the Belvidere Café, Motel, and Gas Station provided services for travelers. The route continued north past Waggoner, Farmersville, Divernon, Glenarm and joins the other route in Springfield near the Old Capitol.
The extreme demands put on the road by World War II and the increased military traffic along U.S. 66 caused parts of the road to be replaced along this stretch in the 1940s. This stretch of U.S. 66 became a four lane road with two lanes in each direction; the new lanes became the southbound lanes. For 2.15 miles (3.46 km), south of Litchfield, the southbound lanes still carry two-way traffic. A new section of Route 66 headed northeast of Hamel through Livingston. This new route bypassed Mount Olive to the northeast, later running to the west of the old route through Litchfield before joining the original route. Sections of the older alternate route were destroyed in the 1930s when Lake Springfield was created; the fragments of the old route that remain were added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 12, 2009.
Springfield to Gardner
From Springfield to Gardner, Historic 66 is now frontage road for I-55 (except for business loops for Lincoln and Bloomington-Normal). U.S. Route 66 continued north through Springfield past the Illinois State Fairgrounds Racetrack and the Lazy A Motel. The route again joins Illinois Route 4 and continues alongside Carpenter Park; a small section of this route is listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 9, 2002. U.S. 66 traversed Sherman and Broadwell, entering Lincoln. From there, the route continued northeast through Lawndale, Atlanta, McLean, Funk's Grove, and Shirley. In Funks Grove, Illinois, settled by the Funk family in 1891, pure "maple sirup" is made. McLean, Illinois is home to the famous Dixie Travel Plaza, a truck stop that was established as the Dixie Truckers Home in 1928. The road entered Bloomington, passing the Central Business District and the McLean County Square. As Bloomington became Normal, the route passed Illinois State Normal University. From Normal, Route 66 continues northeast through Towanda, where there is a trail along the abandoned highway that highlights all eight states Route 66 travels through. There are also "Burma Shave" signs displayed along the trail.
The route continues through Lexington and Chenoa to Pontiac. Passing the Illinois State Police Office, the route continues north through Cayuga and Odell to Dwight. A restored Standard Oil gas station still stands in Odell, as does a Texaco station in Dwight. The 18.2-mile (29.3 km) stretch of road from Cayuga to Chenoa, Illinois was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on July 23, 2007. This section of U.S. 66 was commissioned in 1926. The road segment travels from the northeast to the southwest and begins in the southeast corner of Odell Township in Livingston County and ends in the northwest corner of Chenoa Township in McLean County. U.S. Route 66 passes through Odell, Esmen, Pontiac, Eppards Point, and Pike Townships, on its stretch from Cayuga to Chenoa. The road is paralleled on its east by the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and on its west by Interstate 55. Portions of the northbound and southbound lanes still carry traffic; in spots where one of the sections is still in use the other section is abandoned but extant.
Along the stretch of highway there are 14 structures and buildings; for the purposes of the National Register and historic preservation eight of those are considered contributing structures to the listing and six are considered non-contributing. There are also 12 highway bridges found along the segment and a box culvert; six of the bridges are contributing to the National Register listing, as is the box culvert. Six of the bridges have been replaced since the historic period, and all of the bridges are constructed from concrete. The bridges have various lengths and support structure. The box culvert along the segment of road measures 15 feet by six inches wide and was built as part of the road's foundation. This particular box culvert, like many, usually went unnoticed by travelers along the road. The section of pavement from Cayuga, south to Pontiac was part of a larger section of the roadway that began north of Cayuga in Gardner. The entire section was built in 1943 after large parts of Route 66 became badly deteriorated during the mid-1940s. The portion of the roadway that extended 27 miles (43 km) south of Pontiac to the newly constructed bypass at Bloomington-Normal was constructed during the early 1940s.
Gardner to Welco Corners
1926 Route through Joliet
The original eastern route, most of which is the current Illinois Route 53, served Gardner, Braceville, Godley, and Braidwood before entering Wilmington. The section of U.S. 66 from Wilmington to Joliet was added to the National Register of Historic Places on 5 May 2006, and travels through mostly agricultural land, although the area does contain the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. This stretch of U.S. 66 spans 15.9 miles (25.6 km) through Joliet, Jackson, Wilmington and Florence Townships in Will County. It begins in Wilmington and ends short of the Interstate 80 interchange in Joliet, Illinois. In addition, several structures along the segment of road are included in the listing on the National Register. Contributing structures to the listing include one bridge, one overpass and four concrete box culverts. The three-span, continuous steel multibeam bridge, in the northbound lanes, dates to 1950 and features concrete balusters and top rails. The box culverts were built as part of the 1926 road's foundation and range in width from five to nine feet. There are also four non-historic bridges, constructed in the 1970s and 1980s, located along this stretch of U.S. Route 66. Modern IL 53 follows the route of US 66 through Joliet. North of Joliet, the road was 4 lanes wide by 1936. It passed the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, one of Illinois' larger prisons. After IL 53 splits to the north in Romeoville, the road is today signed only as "Historic US 66". Since the 1920s, travelers on this section of the road have stopped for fried chicken at White Fence Farm. The newer alignments rejoined this original route at the community of Welco Corners, in present-day Bolingbrook, which developed at this major highway junction with a truck stop and other traveler services.
When this route was bypassed by mainline US 66 in 1940, it became Alternate US Route 66. Sherb Noble opened the first Dairy Queen on June 22, 1940 at 501 N. Chicago Street in Joliet. While the last soft serve ice cream at this original location was served in the early 1950s, the IL 53 building (now a church) has been a designated Joliet local landmark since November 2010.
1940 Route through Plainfield
Its main purpose was to bypass Joliet. This route also served Braceville, Godley, and Braidwood, but then curved north to Channahon, Shorewood, and Plainfield, rejoining the other route at Welco Corners. After this road was opened, the original route was designated as Alternate Route 66. Between Gardner and Braceville a magnificent through-arch bridge carried this alignment of Route 66 over railroad tracks; unfortunately it deteriorated beyond repair and was demolished. Beyond Braidwood, you can follow this 1940 alignment on IL 129, I-55, IL 59, IL 126, and I-55 again.
1957 Freeway Route
In 1957 a new freeway, which is today's Interstate 55, was opened as US 66 from Gardner to Welco Corners, bypassing both Braidwood and Plainfield. Most portions of the 1940 western alignment which were not incorporated into the new freeway reverted to their previous state routes, except for the section from Gardner through Braidwood which became Illinois Route 129. This freeway was originally designated only as US 66, and was then also designated Interstate 55 in 1960, becoming the first complete section of I-55 in Illinois. It served as mainline US 66 for 19 years, from 1957 to 1976, longer than either of the two previous alignments.
Between 2007 and 2008, the section of I-55 from I-80 to Welco Corners, originally built as US 66 in 1957, was rebuilt and widened to three lanes in each direction to accommodate modern traffic loads. However between Gardner and I-80, I-55 remains today mostly as it did as US 66 in 1957. This heritage is evident, with fully mature trees in interchange medians, several 1957-era motels and gas stations still operating today, and several original bridges still in use, such as the Smith Bridge over the Des Plaines River and the nearby Blodgett Road overpass.
Welco Corners to Chicago
From Welco Corners in Bolingbrook to Indian Head Park, I-55 is on top of old US 66. Here, it passed through Woodridge, Darien, Willowbrook, and Burr Ridge. This section of mainline I-55 is signed as "Historic US 66", though a section of the original highway which serves as the north-side service road veers away from I-55 in Darien and retains the old Route 66 feel. Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook is still a popular stop for motorists before reaching Chicago. From Indian Head Park, I-55 separates to follow a more southerly route as the Stevenson Expressway, while Old US 66 continued as present-day Joliet Road, traversing Countryside and McCook, where it intersected the US 12 / US 20 / US 45 multiplex at LaGrange Road. A brief stretch of Route 66 in McCook has been permanently damaged by local quarries and is closed. A well-marked detour returns you to Joliet Road. The route jogged north briefly on Harlem Avenue in Berwyn where it met US Route 34 at Ogden Avenue. From Berwyn it continued northeastward on Ogden Avenue passing through Lyons and Cicero before entering Chicago. Turning due east from Ogden Avenue, US 66 entered the Chicago Loop via Jackson Boulevard, and after 1955 as the pair of one-way streets, Jackson Boulevard (eastbound) and Adams Street (westbound). Route 66 always ended at US Route 41. Originally it ended at Michigan Avenue which was U.S. Route 41 and a changing list of other US routes at the time, but when Lake Shore Drive was designated as US 41 in 1938, US 66 was extended two blocks farther east on Jackson Drive through Grant Park to end there, at the shore of Lake Michigan. This last two-block section of Jackson is two-way, so when Jackson and Adams were made a pair of one-way streets in 1955, westbound US 66 made a 1-block long jog northbound on Michigan Avenue before continuing west on Adams. The current "End Historic US 66" markers are located on Jackson (eastbound) and Adams (westbound) at Michigan Avenue, in the Chicago Landmark Historic Michigan Boulevard District, in recognition of this earlier terminus point at Michigan Avenue.
||East Saint Louis||0||0||US 66 west – St. Louis, Missouri|
||Bloomington||156||251||US 51 / US 150|
||Pontiac||193||311||IL 23 / IL 116|
|Dwight||213||343||IL 17 / IL 47|
||Braidwood||229||369||IL 53 / IL 113 / IL 129|
||Countryside||275||443||US 12 / US 20 / US 45|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi
Filling stations were essential to the success of a trans-national road such as Route 66. Stations evolved their own unique design types and filling station architecture varied by period, at one time or another all major design types were represented along U.S. Route 66 in Illinois. The existence of Route 66, and its alignment which ran parallel to much of the Chicago–St. Louis Chicago and Alton Railroad, itself made gasoline distribution simpler. The earliest gas stations were curbside but these were quickly rendered obsolete because of their tendency to back up traffic when a customer used the roadside pumps. The curbside filling station was the first type of business to use the actual term "filling station." Other types of gas stations evolved such as the house or cottage type, the house and canopy, the house and bays, and the oblong box type. Examples of extant filling stations along Route 66 in Illinois can be found in varying states of disrepair, and a few have been fully restored.
In the early years of Route 66 many motorists brought their own food along with them and cooked it on the road. Constrained by tight finances and a mistrust of the unknown quality of road food, many people were reluctant to eat out. By the 1930s this attitude had eased somewhat and more motorists were eating out along the road. This was aided, in part, by entrepreneurs such as Howard Johnson, who provided predictable, simple dishes. The first roadside cafes were part of motor camp complexes but others, such as Johnson's started explicitly as cafes and evolved further from there. Large companies, such as Johnson's, or the Steak 'n Shake chain which began in Normal, Illinois and was based on the pioneering idea of curbside service at your car, enjoyed success alongside what were mostly "mom and pop" eateries dotting the Mother Road.
Some locations along Route 66 in Illinois became known for their cuisine, one example is the state capital, Springfield. Springfield has long had an affiliation with food. The corn dog on a stick was invented in the city under the name "Cozy Dog," although there is some debate to the actual origin of the popular snack. The Cozy Dog Drive In has been a Springfield Route 66 staple since 1950. One of the first U.S. drive-thru window is still in operation in Springfield, along Route 66, at the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop . The longest-running restaurant along the entire stretch of U.S. Route 66, nationwide, is the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield. The Ariston is an excellent example of the type of mom and pop operation that flourished along 66 in Illinois.
Camps, motor courts, and motels
Motorists along Route 66 during the 1920s carried the essentials with them, and often simply set up camp on a rural roadside. Eventually tourist camps began to spring up along the highway. At first the campsites and cabins, offered for $.25 and $.50, were unfurnished and the tourist camps offered few amenities. As amentities, such as communal toilets began to appear, travelers began to demand them.
Nearly all bridges along Old Route 66 in Illinois are constructed from concrete, this is the case with very few exceptions. They are simple, lack ornamentation and all of their major components, abutments, piers, floor beams, decks, stringers, and railings were constructed from concrete. The only ornamentation is found in the railings, which sometimes contained balusters. A notable exception to this was the now-demolished, magnificent steel bowstring arch bridge at Braceville, pictured above. Between 1926–1940 most of the Route 66 bridges in Illinois were built as two lane bridges. Later incarnations of bridges, built after 1940 were paired with two lanes going in each direction.
Museums and attractions
Illinois is home of various museums devoted to the history of U.S. Route 66, such as the Berwyn Route 66 Museum in Berwyn, Illinois and the Illinois Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, Illinois. Vehicles used by late Route 66 travelling artist Bob Waldmire, including a Volkswagen Type 2 minibus which inspired Pixar animated character Fillmore (Cars), are part of the museum collection in Pontiac.
U.S. Route 66 has come to stand for the collective, American tourist experience and holds a special place in American popular culture. There is a certain nostalgic appeal to Route 66 that is associated with the thrill of the open road which has contributed to its popularity. Looking at the historic roadway through Illinois from a different perspective it reveals a unique history which tells the story of movement across the prairie and road building across the same terrain. Study of the highway in Illinois also reveals the evolution of the interstate highway system and the growing popularity of automobiles.
Aside from the six sections of the route in Illinois that have been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places the entire stretch of 66 through Illinois has been declared a National Scenic Byway. The 436-mile (702 km) stretch of road was declared a scenic byway on September 22, 2005 by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- Seratt and Ryburn-Lamont, "Historical and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," pp. 3–20.
- Newton, David and Seratt, Dorothy R.L. "Route 66, Cayuga to Chenoa," (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, January 2003, HAARGIS Database, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Retrieved 30 September 2007.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- Newton, David. "Route 66, Litchfield to Mount Olive," (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, November 1998 (revised 7 August 2001), HAARGIS Database, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- "Illinois Route 66 Corridor Itinerary," Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project, Inc., retrieved 2008-09-17.
- Thomason, Phillip and Douglass, Teresa. "Alternate Route 66, Wilmington to Joliet," (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 9 November 2005, HAARGIS Database, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- 1936 Illinois Road Map 
- "From Queen of Dairies to King of Kings". Chicago Tribune. 2010-11-21. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
- 1939-1940 Illinois Road Map 
- 1940 Illinois Road Map 
- 1957 Illinois Official Highway Map 
- 1960 Illinois Official Highway Map 
- Official press release announcing completion of I-55 project at Joliet 
- Smith Bridge at bridgehunter.com 
- 1955 Illinois Official Highway Map 
- 1936 Illinois Road Map 
- "Historic US highway endpoints in Chicago". Usends.com. 2012-06-21. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
- Seratt, and Ryburn-Lamont, "Historic and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," pp. 45–49
- Seratt and Ryburn-Lamont, "Historical and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," pp. 53–55.
- Clark, Marian. The Route 66 Cookbook: Comfort Food from the Mother Road, (Google Books), Council Oak Books: 2000, p. 14, (ISBN 1571781285). Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Oral History Collections. Interview with Edwin Waldmire, Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) , Brookens Library, University of Illinois-Springfield. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
- Storch, Charles. Birthplace (maybe) of the corn dog, Chicago Tribune, 16 August 2006, Newspaper Source, (EBSCO). Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Kaszynski, William. Route 66: Images of America's Main Street, (Google Books), McFarland & Company: 2003, p. 20, (ISBN 0786415533). Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Pearson, Rick. A Guide for the National Press, Chicago Tribune, 9 February 2007. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Hoekstra, David. "Dining With the Locals on Illinois 66," Chicago Sun-Times, 13 July 2006, via Route 66 University. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Seratt and Ryburn-Lamont, "Historical and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," pp. 49–52.
- Seratt and Ryburn-Lamont, "Historical and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," pp. 57–59.
- Seratt and Ryburn-Lamont, "Historical and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," pp. 3–5.
- "Historic Route 66 — Illinois," National Scenic Byways Program, official site. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Ambrose, David. "Illinois Historic Route 66 Earns National Scenic Byway Designation," South County News (Gillespie, Illinois), 29 September 2005. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
- Seratt, Dorothy R.L. and Ryburn-Lamont, Terri. "Historic and Architectural Resources of Route 66 Through Illinois," (PDF), Multiple Property Documentation Form, August 1997, National Register Information System, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service. Retrieved 30 September 2007.
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