Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Great River Road and Home

Though we've made many a trip longer than this one, we are absolutely exhausted. Normally, we will take a day in the middle of a trip, where we can spend two nights in the same hotel, and have an "easy" day just exploring locally. But, not this trip -- a different bunk every night, travel and multiple stops each day. But, we're on our way home today, working along the Great River Road in Iowa and Illinois, before crossing the Mississippi River, finding I-70, which I appreciate for a change, and getting back to our own bed.

The first stop is Fort Madison, Iowa, a very historic city located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Before it became a town, the military post of Fort Madison was established in 1808, but, was destroyed during the War of 1812. It has been reconstructed today. Unfortunately, it is open seasonally, so we can only photograph it's exterior.

Some two decades later, the town of Fort Madison was settled in 1833. By that time, only the partly open cellars of some of the buildings marked the site of the original fort. The city soon became the site of the Iowa State Penitentiary in 1839, which served as a territorial prison before Iowa was a state. It is one of the oldest correctional facilities west of the Mississippi River and today houses about 1,000 inmates.

With its location right on the Mississippi River, the city also grew as a manufacturing c enter. Today, its downtown district displays a collection of well-preserved historic storefronts from the late 19th century.

We then cross the 1927 Santa Fe Bridge, the worlds largest double-decker, swing span bridge back into Illinois. Measuring 525 feet, the top level accommodates automobile traffic while the lower level provides two tracks for railroad traffic. The bridge rotates to allow river traffic to pass safely.

Continuing along the Great River Road, we stop at historic Navuoo, Illinois, which was established in 1832 and first called Venus. Two years later the name was changed to Commerce and in 1839, when the Mormons bought the entire town site, it was renamed Navuoo. Having been expelled from Missouri by the state govenor, they made the site their chief city and began to build a great temple in 1841. During their residence the town's population reached 15,000. But, after years of friction with those that opposed them, they were expelled in 1846 and made their way to Utah. You can bet you will be hearing more about this historic city soon.

Heading south, our next stop is Warsaw, Illinois, a very interesting little town situated right on the Mississippi River. We first stop at the old Warsaw Brewery, which today services as a bar, restaurant and convention center. Continuing on into town, we find an array of old and new, shabby and chic, and restored and crumbling buildings. Like other river cities, Warsaw appears to have suffered after the loss of its river trade.

The Hill-Dodge Bank, established in 1864, is still open for business, but down the street, the Farmers Bank is long closed. A few restaurants and bars continue to welcome visitors, as well as a few small businesses, but, overwhelmingly, the fading peeling doors of this once prosperous city have been shuttered for years. Though paint is falling to the ground, windows are broken, and a couple of the buildings have fallen in on themselves, the town is filled with beautiful homes that are well maintained. Warsaw is still populated by about 1,800 people and has several thriving churches; but it appears for shopping, they probably go elsewhere. We visit the site of old Fort Edwards overlooking the Mississippi River, before moving on down the road.

Crossing the river once again, our last stop of the day is Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Mark Twain. Li ving here from the ages of 4 until he was 18, Hannibal served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The "Unsinkable Molly Brown," of Titantic fame, was also from Hannibal.

Hannibal was founded in 1819 but grew slowly during its first several decades. However, when the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was organized in 1846, it became Missouri's third largest city. Today, this historic town supports about 17,000 people and is filled with buildings listed on the National Historic Registers and touist destinations. Here, we see the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties, which feature the Twain Home, a museum, the Huckleberry Finn house, Becky Thatcher house, and more.

Here also, the tourist part of our trip official ends as it is early afternoon and we are homesick. Taking the fastest route, we travel the next 200 miles back 'lil ole Warsaw, Missouri.

Hope you enjoyed the ride and stay tuned as we write up these many places and people onLegends of America.

You can also see more pictures and information on the places we visited on our Facebook Fanpage HERE.

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.

66'n In Illinois - Springfield to Dwight

Illinois Capitol Bulding
We're off again from Springfield, toodling along Illinois Route 66. The capitol of the Land of Lincoln, Springfield is not only filled with peeks of Route 66, but also a history that goes back to the early 1800's. The most famous of its past residents was Abraham Lincoln, who lived in here from 1837 until he went to the White House in 1861. With a number of tourist attractions, we see both a bit of the Mother Road, as well as as historical sites that predate Route 66. Still, we start with photos of the Cozy Dog Drive-In. Alas, it is too early in the morning to partake of a cozy dog, so we move down the road, snapping some shots of the vintage Bel-Aire Manor, which is still in business, but, looked just a bit "scary" to us. Probably wouldn't recommend a stay. Then past the old Sunrise Donuts Coffee Bar and downtown for photos of the capitol, the governor's mansion, the Lincoln Depot, and more.
Shea's Gas Station Museum
Now, we're headed north, but not before making a stop at Shea's Gas Station Museum. A favorite photo stop for Route 66 travelers from around the world, Shea’s is a charming and eclectic collection of over half a century of gas station memorabilia.
But, time is short so, we fly through Sherman, Williamsville, Elkhart, and Broadwell, where we stop to pay our respects for the lost Pig-Hop Restaurant Museum which died a firey death in 2007. Yes, there's more information and photos coming to Legends and our Facebook page.
Railsplitter Covered Wagon in Lincoln
In Lincoln, we gotta see the Railsplitter Covered Wagon, which is recognized by the guiness Book of World Records as the "World's largest Covered Wagon." We also check out the old Mill Restaurant, opened in 1929, but closed in 1996. It's now being restored. After making a few more stops, we're off again to Atlanta and McLean, where we stop for lunch at the Dixie Truck Stop. Sadly, the nostalgia, service and great food of this 1928 site, which was family owned and operated until 2003, has long past. Now, it feels like a truck-stop that could be found anywhere along any major highway.
Funk's Grove Antiques
Off again, we tour through tiny Funk's Grove before speeding through Bloomington and Normal to Towanda, where I am intrigued by a looming brick mansion sitting in the midst of a tilled up corn field. My love of ghost towns and old buildings kicks in hard and I must see this place close up. So, we put off Route 66 for a moment to check out this magnificent building just south of town and visible to the east from I-55 and old Route 66. I prowl the area, taking lots of photos and, at the time, can only wonder about the history of this great building.
Duncan's Manor in Towanda
Now, I know that its the Duncan Manor, built in about 1869 by William R. Duncan, a successful livestock dealer who moved to the Towanda area from Kentucky in late 1863, during the Civil War. But, no sooner was it built, it was filled with tragedy as Duncan's wife died and a few years later, he also lost his 15 year-old son. Duncan, himself died in 1876 at the age of 57. In the midst of restoration today, you can bet, there will be a follow-up story on this beautiful place.
Bob Waldmire's old bus
We then check out Towanda's small downtown area, before moving on to Lexington, Chenoa, and Pontiac, where we visit the Route 66 Museum and take photos of Bob Waldmire's old bus. Toodlin' through town, we snap a number of pics of the beautiful painted murals, the historic courthouse, and more. Farther down the road is an old Meramec Barn at Cayuga, a restored Standard Oil Gas Station at Odell, and we're off to Dwight for the night.
For more photos and information on our trip, visit our Facebook Fan Page. (You don't have to be a Facebook member.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

66'n in Illinois - Day 1

Luna Cafe in Mitchell, Illinois
We're off to travel Route 66 through Illinois, starting at Mitchell, about 20 miles north of East St. Louis. Here, we start at Mitchell's most famous icon -- the Luna Café. Built in 1924, the café once allegedly hosted a gambling operation, provided "ladies of ill-repute,” and was a favorite hangout of Al Capone and other mobsters.

We pass several old motels and the old Bel-Air Drive-In sign before getting side tracked by a historic site sign to nearby Glen Carbon, and just have to see. The city today has a population of over 10,000 people, but still provides peeks at its rich coal mining history.

Henry's Ra66it Ranch in Staunton
Headed back west over I-55, we make our way through Edwardsville and Hamel, to Staunton and Henry's Ra66it Ranch. It was great meeting Rich Henry and his rabbits and taking a look at his all of his memorabelia, including Bob Waldmire's old car that he owned in the 1970's. As a special bonus, we also met Jerry Law of the Illinois Route 66 Association, as well as his "brand new" vintage Ford Fairlane.

On down the historic path, we take pics of Soulsby Shell Station in Mt. Olive and check out Mother Jones Memorial and grave. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was a labor organizer who championed the cause of social justice and devoted herself to the struggle against the poors' hours, pay and working conditions of railroad, textile and mine workers.

Ariston Cafe in Litchfield
We then move North for one of the highlights of our day -- lunch at the historic Ariston Cafe in Litchfield. First established in nearby Carlinville, it was moved to Litchfield when Route 66 was rerouted. Family owned and operated for more than 80 years, it still serves up the same wonderful food and great service that it has for generations. It is the longest-operating restaurant along the entire stretch of Route 66.
Carllinville's Million Dollar Courthouse
We head back west to take the very old alignment of the Mother Road through Carlinville, where we check out the Macoupin County "Million Dollar" Courthouse and the old County Jail, which was open from 1869 to 1988.
Then, we just gotta see this original piece of pavement on our way to Nilwood that features turkey tracks that were imprinted in the 1920's when the original concrete was poured. While interesting, me thinks this is going on our Quirky Illinois page.

Deck's Pharmacy Museum in Girard
At Girard, we visit Doc's Soda Fountain/Deck's Pharmacy Museum. A great stop, the pharmacy museum features items dating back to 1884, while still serving up icecream and old fashioned treats. However, we were still so full from lunch, we didn't partake, but did have a great visit with some of the locals.

Becky's Barn north of Auburn, Illinois
After traveling through Virden and Auburn, we make a stop at Becky's Barn, which is filled with antiques, Route 66 memorabelia, the "Cool Bus," which serves as their guestbook, and a reconstructed old-fashioned diner. Becky, and her husband Rick, are great folks who love welcoming Route 66 travelers. They are located just off the historic brick road, which runs 1.4 miles. Why is this the only piece of Route 66 that is bricked? Legend has it that a high level politician owned a brick plant -- so... the brick road. Some things never change.

Sugar Creek Bridge near Glenarm, IL
It's getting late -- gotta find a hotel room, but, just can't resist when we see a historical sign for a historic covered bridge near Glenarm. The Sugar Creek Bridge, built in 1880, was a great stop. This last stop, no doubt, caused us a few problems in finding a hotel in Springfield, but it was well worth it. What beautiful bridge.