Sunday, October 17, 2010

One Illinois Trail to Another -- Route 66 to the Great River Road

Gardner, Illinois downtown
We're off from Dwight, Illinois early and heading north once again, with our first stop at Gardner for a few pics of its quaint downtown area, the 1906 two-cell jail, and a search for the historic Streetcar Diner, that was slated to be moved next to the old jail. Alas, it wasn't there and I read tonight that it is being restored somewhere. Where, no clue.

Burned out Riviera Restaurant
We move on to the site of the old Riviera Restaurant which burned to the ground in June. The site is still littered with the remains of the old building.

Polk-a-Dot Drive In, Braidville
We then toodle through Braceville and Godley to Braidwood, for a look around town and a visit at the Polk-a-Dot Drive In. Same as earlier trips, we are there too early to try their tasty fare. This vintage Route 66 stop got its start in a school bus painted with rainbow colored polk-a-dots in 1956. Obviously, it did well, as it became a full fledged restaurant. For years, the restaurant has featured bigger than life statues of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and the Blues Brothers, along with great food. However, on our visit, we notice that Marilyn is no longer there. Anyone know the story?

Old Eagle Hotel, Wilmington, Illinois
Off to Wilmington, we're on a search for the historic Eagle Hotel, which was originally built as a stage stop in 1836. Over the years, it served as a warehouse, tavern, bank, and storefront. This old building may be one of the oldest commercial structures on Illinois Route 66. A bit further down the road, we spy the historic Mar Theater, which was built in 1937, and continues to operate today.

Gemini giant at the Launching Pad
Restaurant, Wilmington, Illinois
Must now find Wilmington's most famous resident -- the Gemini Giant at his home at the Launching Pad Restaurant. Just so ya know, I looked straight into his steely eyes and I was NOT intimidated! So, there! Again, we arrive too early to have a bite at this great place that has been serving it up to Route 66 travelers since 1960.

Abraham Lincoln National Cemetary

To the north of Wilmington is tiny Elwood, which features the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetary. Though the cemetery is not historic, having been founded in 1999, it deserves a stop, as it honors nearly 1,000 veterans. Also here, is a monument to ammunition workers killed in an explosion at the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant just south of the cemetery. In June, 1942, a large explosion on the assembly line at the Elwood facility resulted in 48 dead or missing and was felt as far as Waukegan, Illinois over 60 miles to the north. This tragedy deserves recognition and you can plan on seeing it on Legends soon.

Rialto Theatre, Joliet
Romeo and Juliet, here we come. Ok, Joliet and Romeoville. In Joliet, we see the downtown area including Union Station and the famous, and allegedly haunted Rialto Theatre. And, as we are touring downtown, we are impressed with numerous old gas pumps dotting the area.

Moving on, we run into the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site, and have to check it out. Joliet is known as the City of Steel and Stone. The city thrived in its early years when the quarrying and iron works industries boomed in the years after the Civil War. For over 60 years, the Joliet Iron Works would employ thousands of iron workers. The historic site preserves the remains of the Joliet Iron Works, which were dismantled in the 1930’s. Across the way, visitors can still see the abandoned buildings of numerous other steelworks.

White Fence Farm, Romeoville
Back to Route 66, we take an opportunity to capture photos of the Rich & Creamy in Route 66 Park, complete with the Blues Brothers dancing on the roof. Moving on to Romeoville, we have to make a stop at the White Fence Farm, a restarant that dates back to the 1920's and touts itself as serving the "World's Greatest Chicken" family style.

We now change our focus to another era -- almost a century before, as we dash across Illinois on I-80 to the Great River Road. Yes, this is a very LONG day.

Ghost farm southwest of Andalusai, IL

Starting out at Andalusia, we travel through rich farmland and homes that are so close to the water, we can't believe they are still there. Guess that flood control business of the Corps of Engineers is working. Beautiful country, dotted with old barns and homesteads, we run into an entire "ghost farm," complete with several barns, out buildings, two homes, a garage, and windmill. These places alway make me want to know about the story -- why was it left abandoned? Who lived here? How long did they live there? What is there personal stories?

Henderson County Covered Bridge
Down the road, we come to New Boston, a Missippi River city founded in 1834 and Keithsburg, founded in 1837, also on the river. Both are filled with historic buildings and you will hear more of their history and see photos of these mid-centry 1800's towns soon on Legends. On down the road, we run into the Henderson County covered bridge -- a surprise, as it didn't show up on our maps. Beautiful, I snap lots of photos.

At a certain point in the day, time and duties catch up with me and I announce "I'm DONE." Beyond the bridge, I find I'm there, so we cross the Missippi River to Burlington, Iowa for the night.

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