Chicago Stories and Tips

Chicago to Pontiac on Route 66

We decided to drive the section of this famous road from Chicago to Springfield and then back again a few days later. This meant that the excitements we missed on the way to Springfield we tried to call in and see on the way back up towards Chicago. I will review these in geographical order from Chicago to Springfield as it will be more logical.

CHICAGO
This is the start of this famous road and it is said to begin at BUCKINGHAM FOUNTAIN. This rather beautiful fountain is in Grant Park in 1927 and is said to be modelled on a Versailles Palace fountain. According to information received in Chicago this is one of the largest fountains in the world. This fountain was built just one year after Route 66 opened and is considered by all to be both the nostalgic and symbolic starting point of Route 66.

The next place in Chicago that we visited is also considered to be the start of Route 66 and that is LOU MITCHELL'S RESTAURANT which was opened in 1923 and has become a real part of Route 66 legend and history. It was inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2002 and even today they carry on with traditions of giving all ladies a packet of milk duds and as you wait to be taken to your table you are offered fresh warm donut holes to whet your appetite. The food is good and we enjoyed a very hearty breakfast in the diner style restaurant.

Other sites in Chicago need a separate review as there are so many but these two are a very real part of Route 66 history.


WILMINGTON
AUNCHING PAD DRIVE IN and GEMINI GIANT statue
American and indeed Australians seem to like these giant strange statues and some of these roadside ‘attractions’ have been restored back to their hey day beauty when route 66 was THE only road that went from Chicago to Los Angeles.

This cafe called the Launching Pad opened in 1960 and initially at first sold only hot dogs and ice cream, but now has a full service menu. Outside this rather basic looking cafe is the rather odd looking ‘Gemini Giant’ which is made of fibreglass. He is a garage mechanic wearing a space helmet and holding a rocket. No idea what it means but we saw it and took photos.

We didn’t eat in the Launching Pad as we had just stopped at the Polka Dot diner in Braidwood on our way back from Springwood to Chicago.

BRAIDWOOD

POLKA DOT DRIVE IN is actually an old fashioned diner on N Front Street, Braidwood . Way back in 1956, Chester "Chet" Fife began serving fast food from an school bus painted in rainbow Polk-a-Dots. In 1962 he opened the present restaurant. Outside are models of 50/60s icons such as Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, James Dean, and the Blues Brothers . Inside There are so many wonderfully quirky photos and adverts as well as models again that you spend all the time looking around while seated on old fashioned plastic diner type seats. I ordered a coke float while my husband had a coffee. The toilets were brilliant. Indie the men’s my husband informs me are photos of Marilyn Monroe and he thought he’d gone in the wrong one. The ladies had Elvis posters with a life size one of the back of the door watching you while you perform! Outside was model of Elvis sitting playing his guitar.

It was really fun and somewhere different to stop for a bite to eat. It is open daily 11am - 8 pm, Memorial Day - Labor Day 11am - 9 pm.

Braidwood Historic Service Station is a 1939 Art Deco service station but is now a car repair shop. It wasn’t that exciting so don’t worry if you miss it

DWIGHT
The town was founded in 1854. During the heyday of Route 66, Dwight had the honour of having the first traffic light on the road after Chicago.

FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF DWIGHT: We wanted to find this as we were on a mission to seek out all the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings we could along our trip . This bank was indeed designed by FLW and built in 1905 however it has been re modelled since but they did use his original designs so it looks pretty much as it did and certainly has some of his signature features. This is one of only three banks designed by FLW so is pretty rare as an example of his work.

While you are admiring the bank you walked passed the old 1891 railway station and this as well as the Gas station are is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ambler-Becker Texaco Gas Station is a little out of the centre of town but worth a quick detour as this 1933 gas station is supposed to be the longest operating gas station along Route 66. It dispensed fuel for 66 continuous years until 1999. It has been renovated and today it is a Route 66 visitor center and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

You can see it from outside any time but the actual building does have restricted opening times if you want to go inside. We didn’t go inside as we were pushed for time.

ODELL
ODELL GAS STATION
This gas station is also on the National Register of Historic Places. This one was built in 1932 and sold gas until 1975. It was restored with the help of the Illinois Route 66 Association's Preservation Committee when Route 66 was made a historic byway and you can visit this daily from 11 am to 3 pm. It is a typical small town looking old fashioned gas station.

PONTIAC

ROUTE 66 HALL OF FAME and Museum was the main reason was called into Pontiac. It isn’t a huge museum but covers several floors. The bottom floor has lots of artefacts and mementos as well as special people’s memories , those who have been inducted into the Route66 Hall of Fame all in display cases
Upstairs has lots of amazing Route 66 photos taken by Michael Campanelli that capture much of the true spirit of Route 66. It is free but donations are welcomed Times of openeing: April - October: Monday - Friday 9 am - 5 pm, Saturday - Sun 10 am to 4 pm. November - March: Monday - Friday 11 am - 3 pm, Saturday - Sunday 10 am - 4pm

Just outside and around the museum are the shops and the old bus home belonging to an old Route 66 character. It was very cosy and full of memorabilia but I felt it was intrusive to go in even though we were told we could.

All around the town were beautiful murals most relating to Route 66 but often they were other subjects. One looked just like a shop front and we almost went towards it to go in!

Livingston County Courthouse in Pontiac is a lovely old historic building from 1875 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Beside this building is a statue of Abraham Lincoln as a reminder of the many visits Lincoln made to Pontiac between 1810 and 1860.

PONTIAC SWINGING BRIDGES.
I thought these would be the kind of bridges that swung around to let boats pass along the river but in fact they were bridges that sort of swung as you walked on them. Pontiac is famous for being the only city in Central Illinois with three swinging bridges. The bridges span the Vermilion River and were originally built so residents could get to work. An bridge built in 1828 of iron connects Riverview Drive and Play Park., today this bridge is wooden.. the second bridge built in 1926 connects Play Park and Chautaqua Park while the third built in 1978 connects the south side of the city with Humiston-Riverside Park.

We parked beside the park and walked across to the bridges but we had an extra bonus as there was a huge vintage car rally/show; the sort where they park their shiny beasts with sparkling engines and then sit beside them for you to admire.

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