Quirky Things: Iowa / Illinois: Day 9: June 23, 2016

100_9580Louise Speaks:  We are now on a mission to head East and then North to get to Canada.  As we are heading out of Iowa we stopped in Burlington, Iowa to visit Snake Alley.  According to Ripley Believe it or Not, Snake Alley has been known as the crookedst street in the world.  100_9582The physical limitations and steep elevation of Heritage Hill inspired the construction of Snake Alley in 1894.  It was intended to link the downtown business district and the neighborhood shopping area.   Snake Alley is a one-block section of this route.  The street was completed in 1898, but was not originally named Snake Alley.  A resident noted that it reminded him of a snake winding its way down the hill, and the name stuck.  Bricks were laid at an angle to allow horses better footing as they descended. Unfortunately, riding horses back up the alley often resulted in a loss of control at the top; for this reason, even to this day, Snake Alley remains a one-way street, with all traffic heading downhill.  There is a battle as to who has the crookedst street between Snake Alley and San Francisco’s Lombard Street.  Lombard street beats Snake Alley by several turns, but the turns on Snake Alley are sharper, giving it a total of 1100° of turning from end to end, where Lombard Street’s straighter curves total only 1000°.  Snake Alley consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves over a distance of 275 feet, rising 58.3 ft , a 21% grade.  Having seen both Snake Alley and Lombard Street, Snake Alley seems steeper because I think it’s shorter.  Both are pretty cool though and I’m glad we stopped.

100_9586Our next stop was to Ottawa, Illinois to find the grave and monument of the Boy Scout Founder, William D. Boyce.  The monument is of a lad in shorts and knee socks.  There are also graves of all his family although it was difficult to match up parents and children.  There was a bit of a mishap driving through the cemetery in the RV, but I’m going to leave that up to you to ask Thelma to tell the tale.

100_9590Also in Ottawa, Illinois is a bronze statue of “Radium Girl”.  I found this story very interesting and it was the reason we went on a hunt to find the statue.  In the 1920’s hundreds of young girls worked in a watch factory painting tiny strokes of glowing paint on ity bitty wrist watches.  The glow came from radium and the company encouraged the girls to keep their brush tips sharp by licking them before dipping the brush into the glow paint.  Even after the girls bones began to dissolve and their jaws started falling off, the company insisted that nothing was wrong.  It wasn’t until the girls were dubbed Radium Girls by the press when they sued the company that the practice ended.

Now fast forward to 2006.  An 8th grade student in Ottawa learned of what had happened in her hometown and was amazed that no one else seemed to know about it.  She lobbied her elected officials to erect a Radium Girl memorial.  The town eventually commissioned the young girls father who was a sculpture to create a life size bronze statue of a Radium Girl which was unveiled in 2011.

100_9591While on this trip we have noticed many wooden carved Indians sprouting up everywhere.  They are on corners of gas stations, in shopping centers and in parks.  We were looking for one specific carving but were unaware that there were so many.  While in Ottawa we were looking for the Peter Wolf Toth Statue located next to the Illinois River.  There are many signs that point the way and it is in a very nice park…so nice that this is where we stopped to have lunch.  Peter Toth has hand carved over 70 of his whispering Giants.  These statues are conceptually alike but each statue is unique, and placed  in parks across the United  States and Canada.  I don’t remember where, but I know I’ve seen them just at intersections in the middle of town.  I wish I had gotten a list of where all 70 could be seen…I know we saw at least 10.

100_9594Continuing East, our last stop in Illinois was in Morris…a town where one of my daughters lived.  We were looking for “R” Place”,  a truck stop the claims fame to the “World’s Largest Hamburger”.  The hamburger is made of over a full pound of beef, a half head of lettuce, and a loaf of bread for the gigantic bun.  People come from Chicago, which is over an hour away just to eat here.

We have done some driving today.  We have driven many miles on the Great River Road–US 61 a road mentioned in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”.  Leaving Iowa, going through Illinois and we plan to sleep in Indiana tonight.  Three states in one day.

Route 66—Day 5 (Litchfield, IL to Granite City, IL)

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

100_6949Our 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.

100_6951Also 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.



100_6956From 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 100_6957a 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.

100_6961Just 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 20150731_112730Miners 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.

100_6965Next 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 100_6966reveals another “shorter” muffler man100_6967 of Route 66 fame.  The bright green UFO is visible from the road.  And the large ice cream cone, just makes you want one.

20150731_122932Our 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.

100_6973Our 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.




100_6975Continuing 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.

Thelma Speaks:

Route 66–Day 4—Springfield to Litchfield

Louise Speaks:  Day 4:  July 30, 2015:  So we started the day knowing it was going to be a full day.  After all Springfield is what Illinois is all about right?  We were told that the tours for Lincoln’s Home fill up quickly so it would be best to get there early.  As a result, this was our first stop of the day.

100_6897I had been here before with my brother in the summer of 1968.  At that time it was just Lincoln’s house and it was painted a bright yellow.  I still have pictured of this house and it is not the same house I am looking at today.  Lincoln’s house now sits in a make believe city block of homes belonging to Lincolns’ neighbors.  There are horse drawn carriages, and businesses parked along the street in a 100_6898covered wagons.  While you are waiting for your assigned tour time, you are able to walk the streets of the neighborhood and go into some of the homes that display many historical artifacts from that era.  When our tour began, I asked about the different paint color of the house.  The guide did say that in the 60’s it was yellow, but in doing their research it turns out yellow paint didn’t exist in the 1800’s 100_690220150730_130911so they found a color that was a closer match.  At least that made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy and that I was at the right house.  With this new color, the 1860 Lincoln home has been restored to it’s original appearance.  The inside shows Lincoln as a husband, a father and a politician.  The tour is free and they let me carry in Gracie which was an added bonus.  The inside guide puts you in the setting that you are a guest in Lincoln’s home.  You may be invited to dinner and sit at the dining room table or have a conversations in the parlor.  Upstairs were the bedrooms where the children played and slept.  This was a great stop and shouldn’t be missed if you are ever in Springfield.  Of course Lincoln’s home is in Patricia’s book, “1000 Places To See Before You Die.”  I loved how they turned the streets into a neighborhood of how it used to be.  I loved that we could tour the home and the furniture was staged to make you feel like you were a guest in Lincoln’s home.  I loved how they allowed Gracie to go in as well.  This attraction was one that you could spend many hours visiting.  I would rate Lincoln’s home an A.  Definitely a site to see.


100_6886From Lincoln’s home we were off to the Lincoln Depot.  You can take a self-guided tour of the exhibit hall and the restored train depot built in 1852.  This is the train station where President elect Abraham Lincoln departed for Washington on Feb. 11, 1861.  Lincoln gave one of his most compelling speeches from the back of this train that would take him to Washington.  Along side of the depot is another mural, reflecting how important Lincoln is to Springfield.

100_6869While in the down town area, we came across Lincoln and Herndon’s first Law Office.  This is where Lincoln and his law partner had a practice from 1843 to 1852.  This is the only surviving building where Abraham Lincoln worked as a lawyer.  It has been restored and tours are provided, but it is currently closed for renovations.  Yes, one more stop for you to make and see what changes you will find on your Route 66 journey.



100_6872Just around the corner from the law offices and in the center of town is the Old State Capital building.  I just find these capital buildings fascinating.  They are huge and so ornate and out of a history book.  The Illinois State Capitol is topped with a 405 foot dome and has been serving Illinois residents since 1877.  You can see politics in action from balcony level seating when the legislature is in session.  Again guided tours of this great building are provided, but although we are not on a real time schedule, we have been on Route 66 for 4 days and have not even traveled 300 miles…so we passed on the tour and moved on.

100_6867Going through the center of town you will find the Lincoln Presidential Library.  It really is more of a museum, but does contain legal books as well.  This Library / Museum is dedicated to the life and legacy of our 16th President.  This library holds the world’s largest collection of documentary material related to Lincoln.  It merges scholarship with showmanship offering high-tech exhibits, interactive displays and multi-media programs as well as a reproduction of the White House as it looked in 1861.

100_6890The last thing on our list for Springfield related to President Lincoln was his tomb.  We headed out to the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site which is actually a state park.  On the day President Lincoln died, which was April 15, 1865, Springfield citizens began raising funds to build a memorial.  On May 3, the body was delivered to Springfield and stored in a receiving vault at the Oak Ridge Cemetery.  The tomb, built of granite with a 117 foot high obelisk, was completed in 1874.  This is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and three of their four sons.  Not sure where the fourth son is buried or why he is not buried here.  I guess every family has their black sheep…lol.

100_6920Now after all the historic stuff in Springfield it was off to find some of the fun stops of Route 66.  Of course we are in Illinois so Hot Dogs are a big thing.  We went by the Cozy Dog Drive-In which is a restaurant shrine on Route 66.  The restaurant itself is packed with mementos, clippings and old signs as well as many Route 66 things for sale.  Cozy Dogs were officially launched at the Lake Springfield Beach House in 1946, at a stand on the corner.

100_6921Also on Route 66 is the Mel-O-Cream which is a donut shop founded in 1932.  This was a donut shop that sold donuts wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores.  In 1964 the first franchise store was opened.  Celebrating more than 75 years in business, this Springfield and Route 66 Landmark is still serving warm donuts today.  Our luck, since it’s mid afternoon, they were closed.

100_6878Our last stop in Springfield was the Dana-Thomas House.  I’m finding that every major city has at least one Frank Lloyd Wright Home.  This prairie-style home was built in 1902 and was commissioned by Susan Lawrence Dana.  The building contains the largest collection of site-specific original Wright art glass and furniture.  Wright traveled Route 66 with his entourage of students to reach Taliesin West, and would periodically stop by this house to see Susan Dana.
Due to the time of the day, and how long we have spent in Springfield, we were only able to see the outside of the home.  But that in itself was beautiful.  Like with any Frank Lloyd Wright home, this is definitely going to warrant a trip back to Springfield for the tour.

100_6925We were finally done with Springfield and it was off to Chatham, IL.  Here we found the cutest neighborhood.  At the end of the block is the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge.  This historic 1880 Bridge was built by Thomas Black.  It is 60 feet across the Sugar Creek.  The bridge was restored in 1965 and is open to foot traffic.  A quaint park adjacent to the bridge and creek is an ideal place for a picnic, or in our case a potty break for Gracie.  It is obvious the neighborhood was built around this creek and the bridge is just an added touch.

100_6927From here it was off to Auburn, IL.  In Auburn there is a 1.4 mile stretch of a hand laid brick road that was built in 1931.  It now curves through a corn field near Auburn.  You might be asking yourself how did we ever find this road???  Well if you ask that then you don’t know us, because if it’s in the book or on our itinerary, we’re going to find it…and we did.

From here you go through several small, and I do mean small towns.  They did have historic sites to see but none that peaked our interest and it was almost night time so we kept on driving down good old Route 66.  At this stage of the trip we still don’t know if we are on the oldest part, the old part, or the last part of Route 66.  We are just following those brown signs and heading west.

100_6930We arrived in Carlinville, Il home of the Million Dollar Courthouse.  The building began as a $50,000 project and was supported by bonds and taxes.  Through series of political and social scandals the courthouse construction was stopped in 1870 with a total cost of $1.3 million dollars and at the time was the second largest courthouse in the U.S. (New York had the largest).  The third floor courtroom was never completed and the planned ornamental statues were never built.  It took the county 40 years to pay off the debt and inspired the nickname of “The Million Dollar Courthouse”.  It is recognized as the most magnificent courthouse in Illinois.

100_6936Directly across the street is the County Jail of 1869.  The jail was in use from 1869 to 1988.  The Gothic Revival stone structure was leftover Civil War Cannonballs embedded within the walls to prevent jail breaks.  There is a local tale of a man who shimmied through the narrow slit windows to escape.  He walked into town square where he had a beer at a local tavern and then walked back to jail where he walked in through the front door and put himself back into his cell.  Seems every small town has a small story to tell.

100_6940Continuing on Route 66 we go through the town of Benld, Il.  Here along side the road we find the Route 66 attraction of people Dancing the night away.  This must have been a roaring town back in the day.  We found many relics like this along the way but it’s just not possible to post pictures of everything…another reason for you to rake your own Route 66 journey.

100_6941We were driving along and thought we made a wrong turn as we were in a corn field, but when we went to find a turn around spot we came across this Rocking Chair.  Now it’s not just any normal chair as you can see, but signs did tell us we were in Staunton Il., so we knew we were headed in the right direction.

What we were looking for in Staunton 20150730_202237was Henry’s Ra66it Ranch.  Notice how they spell it with 66 instead of bb, we thought that was cute.  This modern attraction celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway it’s emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s 66 Express “Humpin to Please” trailers next to a replica of vintage gas stations.  This attraction offers all things about rabbits:  Volkswagen’s or the furry kind.  We made it here just in time as it is dark and we can barely take pictures.

We are now driving in the dark heading to Litchfield for the night.  Today was a 12 hour day and we traveled 69 miles.  Yikes, this is a long trip.

Thelma Speaks: