Louise Speaks: Day 5: July 31, 2015. Well today the plan is to finish the state of Illinois. We are going to stay at tonight’s camp site for 2 nights so that we can go into St Louis, Mo tomorrow but not have to try and find a spot to camp in a big city. But today it’s all about finishing Illinois. Five days in one state, just on Route 66…I hope the other states don’t take as long…lol
Our first stop is at the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, IL. Pete Adam started the Ariston Cafe in nearby Carlinville in 1924. When the Mother Road was rerouted in 1929, Pete leased a new building in Litchfield. The Ariston’s great reputation for service, excellent food and unbelievable desserts led Pete to relocate across the street in 1935 to his own building that still stands today. The family still offers the same wonderful food and great service that is has for 90 years. It is said to be the oldest cafe on Route 66. The Ariston was named to the National Register of Historic places in 2006 and is in the Route 66 Hall of Fame.
Also in Litchfield is the Sky View Drive In Theater. This drive in opened in 1951 and has been in seasonal operation since. It is the last remaining original operating drive-in theater on Route 66 in Illinois.
From Litchfield it was off to Mt. Olive. Here we found a couple of stops. One was the Soulsby’s Service Station. In 1926 Henry Soulsby and his son Russell built a Shell gas station. Today it stands as one of the oldest filling station still standing on Route 66. The original 1926 station was a mere 13 X 20 feet wide and had just enough room for a desk, cash register, battery charger and a few supplies. The Soulsby’s doubled the size of the station in the 1930’s but it was never big enough to be called a garage. A drive up ramp located outside of the station was used for oil changes and minor repairs. It now has a large tree growing inside it. Russell learned about electronics in the Navy during WWII and started a TV repair business in the 1950’s which allowed him to survive after the opening of I-55. After Henry died, Russell and his sister Ola ran the station until 1991 and continued to greet visitors until 1997. The new station owner is working with the Soulsby Station Society and the Route 66 Association of Illinois to maintain the classic filling station as a historical and educational attraction. Once again a must stop for you on your Route 66 journey to see what has become of the Soulsby Station.
Just down the road from the Soulsby Station is Mother Jones Monument and the Union Miners Cemetery. There are two cemeteries right across from each other, one for the miners and one for the regular folks. Miners killed in the Virden Mine Riot were denied burial in the established cemeteries. In response, the local union purchased a one acre site and the bodies were moved to the Union Miners Cemetery in 1899. Over the years, additional land was acquired and a monument was dedicated on Oct. 11, 1936. The cemetery is the final resting place of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, a fierce advocate for the rights of both miners and children. Before her death at the age of 100 in 1930, Mary Jones requested to be buried with “her boys”–the coal miners that she championed for decades. The cemetery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There is also a museum in town for Mother Jones, but we didn’t stop by.
Next along Route 66 is the town of Livingston, IL. Here you will find the Pink Elephant Antique Mall. This unique mall sports larger than life sculptures of things like the pink elephant, a male swimmer, another Paul Bunyon, a large tricycle and a space ship. There are even normal colored elephants emerging from an exterior wall of the old High School Building. A visit inside the building reveals another “shorter” muffler man of Route 66 fame. The bright green UFO is visible from the road. And the large ice cream cone, just makes you want one.
Our next stop was Hamel, IL, home of Weezy’s Route 66 Bar & Grill. This roadhouse at the intersection of Route 66 and IL Route 140 has been serving travelers since the 1930’s. In the past it was named Tourist Haven, Village Inn and Ernies Roadhouse. The old signs with the old names still decorate the inside walls along with historic photographs. The dining room has a Route 66 theme and the beautiful exterior brickwork shows it’s place in the evolution of travel on the old Route 66. I could not find out how or why the name “Weezy’s” is the current name.
Our next town was Glen Carbon, Il, home of another covered bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1976 to celebrate the 200th birthday of the United States. Today it serves as the towns focal point.
Continuing West is the town of Collinsville, IL, where you will find the Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower. Remember how I told you different towns decorate their water towers, well this one is a catsup bottle. This tower is 170 feet tall and is known as the worlds largest catsup bottle. It was built in 1949 for the bottlers of Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup. In 1995, due to the efforts of the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group, this landmark roadside attraction was saved from demolition and beautifully restored to it’s original appearance. In August 2002, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
We arrived in Granite City just before dusk. We located our camp site but before turning in for the night we were off to find the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. I had directions but I couldn’t find any bridge. We stopped several places to ask for directions and they directed us to a bridge. However, the bridge we were looking for was closed to traffic, the bridge they directed us too had cars driving over it. We still parked along side the bridge and walked across. We walked, and we walked and kept saying this can’t be the bridge, there is no sign anywhere….and this bridge is a big deal. We finally decided to give up and go to the camp ground where I could do a bit more research. Tomorrow I am determined to find this bridge.
All in all we have reached the Illinois/Missouri state line. It was a short day for us, only about 8 hours and only 55 miles. It’s a good thing we don’t have a schedule. Not counting the two days we spent in Chicago, it has taken us 5 full days to travel 362 miles of Route 66. It says Illinois only has 301 miles of Route 66, but we have driven off the beaten path a bit. Oh well, only 2,147 to go.