Route 66, known as “The Mother Road” and “The Main Street of America”, is one of the most famous roads in America. Established in 1926, Route 66 is now going to celebrate its 90th birthday. During the 90 years, Route 66 has faced rises an declines, mirroring the social and cultural changes of both Illinois and the whole nation.
Starting in the Windy City, Chicago, Route 66 winds through Illinois to St. Louis before stretching across the country to the West. The road, covering a total of 2,448 miles, has linked rural and urban communities with two big cities— Chicago and Los Angeles.
The route passed through numerous small towns, and with growing popularity of the highway, the people doing business along the road in Atlanta, to the famous Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, from the old Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell to the Kristin Cafe in Litchfield, all those iconic restaurants, motels, theaters and gas stations made Route 66 the most energetic road at that time. Today, some of them have fallen, some of them have become museums but some of them still serve people passing by.
In the 1930s, Dust Bowl storms in the Midwest drove thousands of people from their homes, primarily fleeing down Route 66 to the west. During World War II in the 1940s, with the need of war-related industries in California, more migrants headed west through Route 66, symbolizing the highway as the “road of opportunity.” Then in 1950s, it turned to be the main highway for vacationers. The attractions along the road became popular and Illinois, the home state of Lincoln, was one of the hottest destinations.
The beginning of the decline for Route 66 came in 1956 with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act by President Dwight D.Eisenhower. Although Illinois held the first completely paved section of Route 66 in 1929, it was also the first state to decommission Route 66, which was replaced by Interstate 55. By 1977, “the Mother Road” was deemed obsolete in Illinois.
Since the decommissioning of Route 66, the appeal to revive has never stopped. As Route 66 associated formed in other states, a core group of Illinois Route 66 fans started to form an association in Illinois. Established in 1989 in Dwight, the association made some achievements to preserve and promote the historic features of Illinois Route66. In 1995, Illinois Department of Transportation put up historic signs along Route 66 in Illinois. In the late 1990s, Route 66 was designated a “state heritage tourism project.” It was designated a National Scenic Byway on September 22, 2005, known as the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway.
Nowadays, the heritage of Route 66 such as museums, attractions and activities are popular among both local people and tourists around the world. Diverse museums like the Berwyn Route 66 Museum in Berwyn, the Route 66 Museum in Joliet and Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac all have great collections to discover the stories and features behind the road. In addition, every June in Grant Park is the Chicago Blues Festival, which features “Route 66 Roadhouse” stage. Also, every September Springfield hosts the “International Route 66 Mother Road Festival” for celebration.