Leaving the city behind, we set off on the open road – the State of Illinois was beckoning and we were up for exploring.
Route 66 crosses Illinois over 300 miles – and we had 1 day to do it. We were meeting friends in St Louis at 8.30pm, so we were on a timetable. Trouble is, there is SO much to see on the Illinois stretch of 66. If we were to do it again (and we may well), we would take longer over this magnificent State with its historical links and Route 66 landmarks.
Not long after we set off, we reached the first roadside attraction – The Launching Pad and the Gemini Giant. Unfortunately, the Launching Pad has now closed down, but we pulled over to take a couple of snaps.
Originally made as an advertising tool, this has since become a Route 66 icon and has outlived the restaurant it sits outside. Hopefully he will remain on the Route for many years to come.
Along the initial stretch of road, there are so many derelict gas stations and old cars left behind to decay – but there is a strange beauty in these things – something that speaks of a bygone era – gone but not forgotten. The cars and buildings have lost their useful purpose, but stand as a testament to the history of the road.
There are also those stunning restored gas stations too – they are well worth a look. These have a different kind of beauty to them – their usefulness transformed into little shops and roadside stops like this Standard Oil gas station in Odell, IL – now a National Historic Site.
Other gas stations have been transformed in more inventive ways!
For large sections of the road in Illinois, the railroad is on your left and the Interstate is on your right. When the road curves away from the Interstate, you can see sections of the ‘Old old road’ that are now closed – with weeds and grasses growing up – so tempting to drive on it – but we refrained.
Then we came to the first larger town since Chicago – Pontiac. We parked up and walked into the centre. A chap came walking past us, stopped and introduced himself as Bob – Mayor of Pontiac. He was so friendly and obviously noticed that we were from out of town. He was so proud of Pontiac and told us the things to see and do – he guided us towards a coffee place called Lydia’s Cup, where we enjoyed a rest from the driving. We really liked Pontiac a lot – a lovely friendly place with lots to see.
We stopped at this old school bus, converted into a mobile home by a guy named Bob Waldmire whose whole life had been creating art up and down Route 66. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago – but he lives on through his art and his vehicles, which are both displayed in Pontiac.
Can you imagine living in that?!
They also have a great Pontiac museum where you can see Pontiacs from every era all shiny and well looked after.
Time was really getting on – and we still had a LONG way to drive to get to the restaurant. Before long, we met the halfway point of the route in Illinois – Funk’s Grove. The Funk family have been making Maple Sirup (yup, that’s how they spell it!) since 1824. That is a LOT of sirup. We stopped here for a few minutes, admired the shop and duly bought a little bottle of the sweet stuff to take home. All along the route we felt the compulsion to support the local businesses that rely on passing trade from those travelling the Mother Road. Although it’s only a small gesture – a few dollars – I want these places to be there for future visitors.
Not long after this, we got to Atlanta, IL and our 2nd giant of the day – this one holding a huge hotdog. Atlanta was another lovely little town – we were sad that we didn’t have time to stop there for longer. A quick snap of the giant and off we went again.
Next up was the State Capital, Springfield. Before we began our trip we had watched the movie ‘Lincoln’ so that we had a better idea of the history attached to this city. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and arrived too late to go inside Abraham Lincoln’s home – but we had a little walk around the historical district and tried to imagine what life would have been like when Lincoln lived here.
The roads were gravel and the pavements (or sidewalks if we want to be accurate about it) were made of wooden boards. It was amazing to think that one of the most famous American Presidents walked these streets and went about his daily business here before his life changed forever.
By now, it was 6pm and we still had 100 miles to drive before we arrived in St Louis to meet our friends. We had to get a wriggle on – and that meant that we had to miss out some of the proper route in favour of the Interstate. Gutted.
Before we hit the main road, there was one more thing I wanted to see. A red brick paved section of Route 66 on what is now numbered US Route 4. The section is just north of Auburn, IL and is a short loop of the old road only 1.5 miles long that was re-routed in the 1930s.
The sun was now beginning to set so we sped off and joined the Interstate (boo) so that we made it on time to meet our friends and then cross over the Mississippi River to our hotel in St Louis.
We had traversed Illinois in a day. I think you need to take longer in this beautiful state. There is so much to see on the road, and a stay in Springfield, IL is definitely recommended so that you can take in some American history. But we’d had a great day and Illinois had whet our appetite for the remainder of our journey. It was the end of a marvellous first day on the road. Next stop Missouri.