Historic Route 66 in Illinois

Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois
Above: Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago, Illinois.

Illinois held the first completely paved section of Route 66. Likewise, it will also be the first state to decommission Route 66 to be replaced by the Interstate highway.

Chicago, Illinois, is both the beginning and the end of Route 66. We traditionally set its starting point here, on the shores of Lake Michigan and its oceanic airs.

Route 66 Begin sign in Chicago, IL
Above: Route 66 Begin sign in Chicago, Illinois.

Illinois is the state of the "Muffler Men", these gentle giants bordering the road ahead of tourist shops, service stations, garages or restaurants. Today, although very common in the heyday of Route 66, only a few of them survive, including three in Illinois (the fourth one is in Arizona). The most iconic one, "Tall Paul", holding a huge giant hotdog, is located in Atlanta, Illinois. It was moved (it originally stood in Cicero, Illinois) and beautifully restored by the Route 66 Association in Illinois.

Illinois Route 66 license plate
Above: Personalized license plate of a member of the Route 66 Association in Illinois parked in front of the Route 66 Museum. Joliet, Illinois.

Illinois main attractions along Route 66

Chicago is a city of skyscrapers. The "Willis Tower" (formerly "Sears Tower") has long been the tallest building in the world, while its "Magnificent Mile", a shopping paradise, is considered the cradle of contemporary architecture.

Chicago in Illinois
Above: Chicago, Illinois, and its iconic skyscrapers on the banks of the Chicago River. The legendary skyline of the city is dominated by some of the tallest skyscrapers in the continent, including the Sears Tower, Trump Tower and the John Hancock Center. It is also a cultural capital of international reputation.

Pizzeria Uno in Chicago invented the Deep-dish pizza, which became an American cuisine classic. Baked in a pie, the dough is pre-cooked and generously topped to the ends of the mold. The perfect opportunity to taste some Italian-American meat specialties.

Deep-dish pizza in Chicago
Above: Deep-dish pizza. Pizzeria Uno, Chicago.

Lou Mitchell's Restaurant is located at the beginning of Route 66 in Chicago. Historically, it welcomes travelers with solid breakfasts and some Greek-inspired American cuisine.

Lou Mitchell's in Chicago
Above: Lou Mitchell's Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois.

Route 66 Museum in Joliet is a good starting point to discover the main attractions along the route in the company of the enthusiasts of the Route 66 Association of Illinois.

Joliet prison in Illinois
Above: The Old Joliet prison, featured in The Blues Brothers movie and Prison Break tv show.

The Gemini Giant Muffler Man of the Launching Pad Restaurant in Wilmington is a true symbol of Route 66. This giant astronaut, dressed entirely in green, announces the restaurant nearby, now closed.

The Gemini Giant, Wilmington IL
Above: One of the three "gentle giants" of Illinois, the Gemini Giant in Wilmington.

The Historic Street car of Gardner was a typical road restaurant on Route 66. Located on the edge of the road itself, the large trailer of Bob Kraft and his "Restaurant Riviera" welcomed travelers until the establishment burned down in the 2000s. The Street car has been restored but the restaurant is no longer operational.

Gardner Streetcar Diner
Above: Streetcar Diner in Gardner, Illinois.

The Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac exhibits the portraits of all those who contributed to the construction of the legendary road through eight states; restaurateurs, owners of motel, museums, and various tourist attractions are all induced into the "Corridor of Glory" of Route 66, a real honor for the winners. Pontiac is a city of murals (Mural City) and befittingly shows a giant mural in honor of the Mother Road on the fa├žade of the museum.

Route 66 Hall of Fame, Pontiac IL
Above: Route 66 Hall of Fame in Pontiac, Illinois.

A geographical journey in Towanda offers a nice pedestrian walk on an old alignment of Route 66, lined by numerous information posts on each of the eight states on its path. Various attractions, now gone, are indicated along this ancient route. It is precisely here that we discover the "Dead Man's Curve" (see: "Route 66, a deadly road").

Dead man's Curve in Towanda IL
Above: Dead Man's Curve in Towanda, Illinois.

Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup in Funks Grove stretches its broad stand-filled farm along Route 66. Since the beginning of the transcontinental route, the small production store sells its tasty, lightly smoked maple syrup. It has always been and remains a must-see attraction near Route 66. These beautiful bottles - come in several formats - whose design dates back to the early 20th century, are a great gift idea.

Funks Grove Maple Sirup
Above: The small shop of the farm "Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup" and its legendary maple syrup; slightly behind, the Ghost town of Funks Grove.

Tall Paul, the Muffler man in Atlanta, holding the enormous hot dog in his hands, is without doubt the most popular Route 66 giant. This advertising icon once announced a hot dog stand (of course ...) in Cicero, in the suburbs of Chicago. Since then, it has been restored and moved to Atlanta ... where no longer announces any establishments.

Tall Paul in Atlanta, Illinois
Above: Tall Paul Muffler Man in Atlanta, Illinois.

Route 66 Chapel of Lincoln is a tiny chapel standing near Route 66, set back in a creepy setting of abandoned or downright crumbling constructions. As always, the chapel remains open to all travelers passing through.

Route 66 Chapel in Lincoln IL
Above: Route 66 Chapel in Lincoln, Illinois.

The house and law office of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States and architect of the abolition of slavery, who lived in Springfield, the state capital. It is here that Obama demonstrated his political stature and announced his candidacy for President of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln's Springfield Home
Above: Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois.

The Maid Rite Sandwich Shop in Springfield claims to have invented the drive-thru concept. Today, the establishment shelters in its tiny booth, handing food to passing customers through its only window. It claims to be the fastest drive-thru worldwide!

Maid Rite drive-thru in Springfield, IL
Above: Maid-Rite Drive-Thru in Springfield, Illinois.

The Shea's Gas Station Museum in Springfield, once a service station on Route 66, has been transformed by its owner, the legendary Bill Shea, into a small museum to honor the rise of automobiles on the Mother Road. This cheerful bric-a-brac presents a hodgepodge of family memories, old items relating to Route 66, pictures, press articles, etc. Bill Shea Passes Away in 2013 and the museum is now closed.

Shea's Gas Station in Springfield IL
Above: The old service station of Bill Shea turned into a small museum on Route 66 in Springfield.

The Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield is housed in an inconspicuous, easy to overlook construction if not for the oversized panel, topped by two embracing giant hotdogs, on the edge of Route 66. It is precisely here that the famous Cozy dog was invented. Simply put, it consists in a sausage hot dog dipped in some sort of batter, fried, and stuck on a wooden stick.

Cozy Dog Drive In, Springfield
Above: Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois.

The Red Brick Road in Auburn is truly exceptional. Indeed, Route 66's original surfacing is seldom seen anywhere. Here, it is decorated with large red bricks on a long stretch running between Auburn and Farmersville. This amazing road - use caution if driving on it - is still used by some locals.

Route 66 Brick Road in Auburn, IL
Above: The original Route 66 Brick Road in Auburn, Illinois.

Henry's Rabbit Ranch near Staunton is rather difficult to define. While it has a little bit of art gallery and outdoors museum, visitor center, souvenir shop, old station and mini zoo containing only rabbits, it is above all to exchange a few words with the owner that we stop here. He calls himself simply "Rich", and his passion for rabbits led him to present one of them for President of the United States!

Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois
Above: One of the amazing art installations of Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton. Old VW Golfs replace Cadillacs, drawing inspiration from the Cadillac Ranch of Stanley Marsh 3, set nearly a thousand miles away in Amarillo, Texas.

The Chain of Rock Bridge in Madison spans the Mississippi River over to Missouri and Greater St. Louis. Past its glory Route 66 days, it is now closed to traffic and welcomes walkers and cyclists. Interestingly enough, the metal construction makes a slight turn halfway across the river.

The Chain of Rocks Bridge
Above: The Chain of Rocks Bridge, between Madison (Illinois) and St. Louis (Missouri).