Historic Route 66 begins in Chicago, Illinois
Route 66 was one of the United States' first continuous stretches of paved highway, and served as a major path for those who migrated west.
"The Mother Road" was established on November 11, 1926, and ultimately stretched 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The beginning point for a Route 66 road trip could be either Chicago or Los Angeles, depending on the direction of the trip. Most travelers seem to start their journey on Route 66 in Chicago, and head westbound, the direction taken by those leaving the Dust Bowl and those seeking a new life in the West. That is the direction we take on this website.
Illinois was the first of the eight states through which Route 66 passed to have its segment of U.S. 66 paved, at a time when much of the route across the country was still a gravel or dirt road. Illinois Route 66 took over Illinois State Highway 4, a pre-existing, fully paved two-lane road between Chicago and St. Louis.
Historic Route 66 spanned 301 miles in Illinois, traversing mostly level terrain.
The beginning point of Route 66 in Chicago has changed over the years. Today, the starting point is at East Adams Street at South Michigan Avenue, and the end point is at East Jackson at South Michigan. One way streets in the area can be difficult to navigate for first-time Route 66 visitors!
While in Chicago, many Route 66 travelers seek out Grant Park, the Willis Tower, Chicago Architecture River Cruise, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science & Industry, the Magnificent Mile, Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakeshore shopping areas.
|Chicago ... the beginning point of Route 66 when heading westbound
|Cruises on the waterways of Chicago
|Cloud Gate ... aka "The Bean" in Millennium Park
|A popular stop for Route 66 travelers, at 565 West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago ... Lou Mitchell's website
Once outside the metropolitan Chicago area, Route 66 followed the Pontiac Trail, a former Indian trail and stagecoach road.
From its beginning in Chicago, Route 66 headed southwest to Joliet, Wilmington, Dwight, Odell, Pontiac, Bloomington, Atlanta, Lincoln and Springfield. The segment from Chicago to Springfield is roughly a 2.5 hour drive.
Leaving Chicago and arriving in Joliet, travelers like to visit the Joliet Museum, Rialto Square Theatre and the Jacob Henry Mansion.
The City of Dwight features a restored Ambler-Becker Texas service station as well as a wealth of historic structures. Odell, just down the route, is the locale of another restored gas station.
Pontiac is a great stopover traveling down Illinois, with the always popular Route 66 Hall of Fame a "must see" attraction. Other attractions include the Pontiac-Oakland Auto Museum and the Livingston County War Museum.
Lincoln is home to the Postville Courthouse that Abraham Lincoln practiced law in, the world's largest covered wagon, The Mill Museum on Route 66, a telephone booth on top of the town hall, Lincoln College, and the Lincoln Heritage Museum.
Springfield was the hometown of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Visitors can tour the house where he lived, Lincoln Tomb State Historical Site, the Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, and the Illinois State Capitol Building.
Leaving Springfield, Route 66 traversed Litchfield, Staunton and Hamel, and then continued on to the Chain of Rocks Bridge at St. Louis, where it turned west through Rolla, Springfield, Joplin and into Kansas and Oklahoma.
We've driven much of Route 66 in all eight states, including segments in Illinois. On this website we present road trips including original photographs, travel experiences and personal commentary.
Now let's head west on The Mother Road, where we will make stops at these locations on Route 66 in Illinois starting in Chicago and ending at Granite City near St. Louis:
Illinois, Land of Lincoln ... Where the Road Begins
Guides & Displays Along Route 66 in Illinois
Visitors can explore unique people, places, and stories through a series of interpretive displays placed along Illinois' Route 66.
The Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, the Schmeeckle Reserve at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and Illinois Route 66 communities have developed and installed three types of interpretive displays:
Each display is placed in a location that has Route 66 significance and explains that importance through various media forms. Read more about the displays at IllinoisRoute66.org
The Illinois Route 66 Wayside exhibits can be found in 17 communities along the Mother Road. Each wayside is placed at a site with historic significance and tells the story of the site’s relationship to Route 66.
The interpretive stations use illustrations, pictures, and audio to explore each site.
There are literally dozens, really hundreds, or interesting stops along Route 66 in Illinois. We have presented on this page some of the more well-known and popular destinations, seen as one travels from north to south ... enjoy the road trip!
Joliet is part of the original 1926 alignment of Route 66 in Illinois. The segment of Route 66 from Joliet to Wilmington was placed on to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. When traveling on Route 66, be sure visit the Joliet Area Historical Museum, the Route 66 Welcome Center, the Rialto Square Theatre and the Joliet "Kicks on 66 sign" (below).
For more information link to VisitJoliet.com
|Rich and Creamy in Joliet on 920 N. Broadway
Read more about this restored ice cream store
|Dick's Towing Service
911 North Broadway in Joliet, Illinois
The Gemini Giant - 810 E. Baltimore Street
Route 66 mural at 200 N. Water Street in Wilmington
The Polk-A-Dot Drive-In, in business since 1956, is located at 222 N Front Street in Braidwood
The great atmosphere at this family-owned restaurant transforms visitors back to the 1950s. The Polk-A-Dot offers table side juke boxes, photo memorabilia of rock and roll stars, child and adult sized tables and booths. And a great menu! Popular with Route 66 travelers are the numerous photo opportunities, from Superman to the Blues Brothers to Elvis and Marilyn, and more!
Read more about the Polk-A-Dot Drive-in ... Phone 815.458.3377
The Streetcar Diner
In 1932 a 20th century Kankakee horse-drawn streetcar was moved to Gardner to operate as a diner. The streetcar became a cottage and playhouse in 1937. It was moved behind the Riviera Restaurant in 1955. Later it was restored to the Route 66 Association of Illinois and inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2001.
It is located at 5650 Highway 53 S, Gardner, IL 60424
As Route 66 made its way through the area, Dwight was directly in its path. The C&A Railroad Depot, built in 1891, served for a time as the Village Hall, and is now home to the Dwight Historical Society and the Dwight Economic Alliance.
Across the street from the Depot is the First National Bank of Dwight, designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905, and put on the National Register of Historic Places. Lions Lake Park is a pleasant place to stop on your road trip, with bathrooms provided.
Ambler’s Texaco Station was built in 1933 at the corner of Route 17 and Old Route 66, and serviced travelers until 1998. The station operated as a gas station until 1999 and was an auto repair shop until 2002, when the owner Phillip Becker generously donated the station to the Village of Dwight. So, sometimes it is called the Ambler/Becker Station.
The building, now a popular Route 66 Roadside Attraction, has been renovated and is now Dwight's visitor's and information center.
My family's destination is Dwight ...
|The "Route 66 Experience" hub at Ambler's
1932 Standard Oil Gas Station
Patrick O’Donnell built a gas station in Odell, Illinois based on a 1916 Standard Oil of Ohio design, commonly known as a domestic style gas station.
In 1997, the station was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Odell Pedestrian Tunnel
A tunnel was built in Odell to safely cross St. Paul Catholic Church goers and school children underneath busy Route 66.
In later years, Route 66 was moved to the west and the tunnel was no longer required, and was filled in. The site is at the corner of South West Street and West Hamilton Street in Odell, Illinois.
A popular stop in Illinois along Historic Route 66 is Pontiac, known for the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, and many murals! It offer visitors a wide variety of attractions, hotels and lodging, and dining options.
|Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum
|Bob Waldmire's VW bus
|Welcome to Pontiac Route 66 mural
The Motor Police ... Patrolling Route 66
This Wayside Exhibit is located just south of Pontiac, before Chenoa, 0.3 miles north of E 1500 N Road, on the right side of Old 66 when motoring south. It features a silhouette of a patrolman on a motorcycle, and is situated outside the former District 6 Illinois State Police office.
Built in 1941, the building is an example of sleek Art Moderne architecture that reflects the streamlined design of automobiles of the era. The Illinois State Police remained headquartered in the building until 2003 when the police moved to a new facility in Pontiac. The historic headquarters remains vacant today, not open to the public; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Chenoa is located in McLean County, Illinois, at the intersections of Interstate 55, Historic Route 66, and U.S. Route 24. An early alignment of Route 66 in Chenoa was in use from 1921-1944, and traveled through town on Morehead Street.
Remnants of the old road can still be seen south of town beginning at the intersection of Old 66 and US Highway 24.
Lexington was founded in 1836. Today, the city's Memory Lane is a well-preserved stretch of the original 1926-1930 Route 66 alignment. The road is open year-round to pedestrians and bicyclists, and for automobiles on special events.
Shown below are scenes in Towanda, Illinois along Route 66 ... Dead Man's Curve to the right. Be sure to get out of your vehicle, and enjoy a 1.6 mile walk along Old 66 and experience the Mother Road up close and personal!
Circa 1931 Sprague's Super Service and its large, unique, brick, two-story Tudor Revival architecture is a popular stop on Route 66. Visit Ryburn Place Gifts & Gab at 305 Pine Street in Normal, a former Route 66 segment.
Bloomington - Normal, Illinois
The Bloomington - Normal area is located in the heart of Illinois, at the intersections of 39, 55 and 74 and within two hours of Chicago and St. Louis. It features a number of Route 66 attractions. Be sure to check out the "Cruisin with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center"!
For more information, visit the website of the
The Village of McLean was laid out in 1855, and was located on early alignments of Route 66. Today, Mother Road travelers enjoy a stop at the McLean Depot & Visitor Center (see photos below).
Other popular local destinations include the Dixie Travel Plaza, the oldest truck stop in Illinois, a "Home on the Road", established by J.P. Walters and John Geske in 1928, and the Playable Arcade Museum.
Shops, cafes, attractions and the famous Paul Bunyon Hotdog Statue!
Standing 19 feet tall and clutching a giant hot dog, this Paul Bunyon statue (not “bunyan” - purposely spelled with an “o”). It is one of Illinois Route 66’s famous "Muffler Man" Statues, joining others like the Gemini Giant in Wilmington and the Lauterbach Giant in Springfield.
Bunyon's statue is located in Atlanta at 112 SW Arch Street, across from the Palms Grill Café, which features fine fare from The Mother Road’s golden age.
|Atlanta, Illinois ... "Midway on Illinois' Mother Road" mural
The Lincoln Heritage Museum has a vast collection and Immersion Tour which allows guests to travel back in time with Abraham Lincoln. It includes rare items like Abraham Lincoln's law books, furniture from the Lincoln home, Mary Todd's jewelry, and much more.
For more information, visit the website of Lincoln Heritage Museum
The Mill Museum on Route 66
The Mill was opened in 1929 in Lincoln, Illinois as The Blue Mill, on what was first known as Route 4 (old Route 66). The construction of the building was Dutch-themed, and painted white with blue trim and featured a revolving windmill that lit up. Many people know it as the “Home of the Schnitzel”.
It is located at 738 S. Washington Street in Lincoln. For more information, phone 217.735.1218 or visit the website of The Mill Museum on Route 66
Elkhart is famous for its unusual landscape - a tree covered hill that rises 777 feet above sea level, surrounded by a horizon of flat Illinois prairie land. Settled in 1855, Lincoln and Lincoln-era political figures populate Elkhart’s history.
Be sure to view the newly created Historic Wall Mural commemorating the village of Elkhart and its long association with Route 66. The colorful hand-painted mural measures 36 feet long by 8 feet high and depicts historic figures of the village and The Mother Road.
The Golden Years ... Doing Business on "Main Street"
|The Golden Years ... Doing Business on Main Street
|The Old Station on Route 66 in Williamsville
Springfield has lots to see for Route 66 travelers, from the Lincoln Presidential Museum to the State Capitol and so much more. For more information on area tourism ... Springfield Convention & Visitor Bureau website
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois
|Abraham Lincoln Home
|Phillips 66 Station at Fulgenzi's Pizza
|Route 66 Drive In ... Springfield, Illinois
|Dana Thomas House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Cozy Dog Drive In
The Cozy Dog Drive in is home of the original hot dog on a stick, dipped in batter and deep friend. It has been owned and operated by the Ed Waldmire family on famous Route 66 in Springfield, since 1949.
Located at 2935 South Sixth Street, Springfield, IL 62703. Read more about the Cozy Dog Drive In
Motorheads Bar, Grill and Museum
Motorheads is located at 600 Toronto Road in Springfield. Read more about Motorheads
Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, this 1.4 mile section of hand-laid red brick on Route 66 survives today. It is located about two miles north of Auburn on Route 4.
Paved in sixteen-foot wide Portland Concrete circa 1921, this segment began as Illinois 4, serving as US 66 from 1926-1930. Later, in 1932, IL 4 was improved by widening the roadway and removing the ninety-degree turns, mostly by bypassing them. At this time, a brick surface was added to the route along Snell and Curran Roads.
|Heading south on Illinois 4 to Virden on the 1926-30 alignment of Historic Route 66
The beautiful new "Virden History Mural" has been completed downtown, documenting much of the history of the city since its establishment in 1852. It is located on the wall of the Sav Mor Pharmacy located on Historic Route 66 (Rt4).
More information about the design at VirdenMural.com
Located on Highway 4 (the original 1926 Route 66 alignment) between Virden and Nilwood in Macoupin County is the City of Girard, home to over 1,500 residents.
The Girard Chamber of Commerce is an association of businesses and individuals organized to promote an economic environment, orderly growth and prosperity. Residents and visitors enjoy a variety of annual events, and camping at Hidden Ridge at nearby Otter Lake.
Girard is also home to the popular and well known Doc's Just Off 66 soda fountain, with a history dating back more than 100 years. It serves a variety of items, not just sodas, but sandwiches, salads, pork chops, burgers, breads, soups, beer and more! For detailed info, visit the Doc's Just Off 66 website and Doc's Just Off 66 on Facebook. It is located at 133 South 2nd Street. Phone 217.627.3491
West of Nilwood about 3 miles along today's Highway 4 on Donaldson Road are the "Turkey Tracks". The tracks were created when the concrete was poured in the 1920s, and a turkey took the steps that remain famous.
Today, the tracks are marked with a sign, with a "Turkey" pointing to them, and are surrounded on the pavement with a square of white paint. A fun stop while touring Route 66 in Illinois!
A good place to stop while on your Route 66 road trip is the Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center.
Other popular Litchfield attractions include The Ariston Cafe and the Sky View Drive-in Theater.
334 Historic Old Route 66 North, Litchfield, IL 62056
Sky View Drive-in Theater
The Sky View Drive-In Theater in Litchfield is in its 72nd consecutive season of bringing patrons big-screen entertainment. This outdoor movie theater opened in the spring of 1950. The Litchfield Sky View is one of four drive-ins nationwide that are located on the historic Mother Road and has been since its opening. It is also the only drive-in with that claim in Illinois.
The Litchfield Skyview Drive-in is not only a local tradition, it is a Route 66 hall of fame business. It remains one of several original Route 66 businesses on the Mother Road, in Litchfield. It operates seasonally, April through mid-October, and offers a grill onsite. The drive-in is Located at 1500 N. Historic Route 66 in Litchfield, IL 62056.
The Ariston Cafe
The Ariston Cafe in Litchfield has been satisfying local patrons and international travelers on Route 66 since 1924. Today, this landmark dining experience continues to attract those who "remember where good food is served".
When you're cruisin' down Route 66 in Litchfield, and hunger strikes, take the time to check out one of the oldest American restaurants on the legendary highway. The Ariston Cafe opened its doors in 1924 and is one of the oldest continually-operated Route 66 restaurants still going today.
Located at 413 Old Route 66 N. Litchfield, IL 62056.
Mt. Olive, Illinois
Soulsby's Shell Service Station
Russell Soulsby built this station in 1926 with his father, Henry. He ran it with his sister Ola until 1991. For its 65 years of operation, they sold only Shell gasoline. The Soulsby Station is an excellent example of a "house with canopy" form.
It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. More information about Soulsby's at NPS
Henry's Rabbit Ranch ... HARE IT IS! ... Staunton, Illinois
Henry's Rabbit Ranch Station and Visitor's Center looks like a real old classic filling station once found all along Route 66. At Henry's Rabbit Ranch you'll find a wide selection real live rabbits, Volkswagon VW Rabbits, and Route 66 gift and collectible items too.The Ranch is located at 1107 Historic Old Route 66, Staunton, IL 62088 ... phone 618.635.5655
More information at ... Henry's Rabbit Ranch
The Pink Elephant Antique Mall is located in the former Livingston High School building, and offers wares from than 50 antique dealers. A quaint diner onsite offers burgers, nachos, sandwiches, and refreshments. Save room for ice cream!
Welcome to Hamel, Illinois ... Established 1884!
Hamel has two original Route 66 attractions, The Tourist Haven Restaurant, now Weezy’s Route 66, and the “Church of the Neon Cross” St. Paul Lutheran.
West End Service Station in Edwardsville
In 2022, the City of Edwardsville partnered with Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau to purchase and restore this circa 1927 historic Route 66 landmark. It maps out the history of the iconic highway in Edwardsville. It opened in June of 2023 as a Route 66 interpretive center to take visitors on a nostalgic trip back in time through the stories and photos from past decades.
It is located at 620 St. Louis Street in Edwardsville. Read more about the station at the City of Edwardsville website
Founded in 1872, and home to "The World's Largest Catsup Bottle"
Since 1949, this has been a favorite example of roadside architecture at its best! The catsup bottle is actually a 170-foot water tower, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Granite City and Madison County
In Madison County Illinois, U.S. Highway 66 ran nearly 40 miles from the Macoupin/Madison County line to the Mississippi River. The route entered the county just south of Staunton and flowed generally southwest through Hamel, Edwardsville, Mitchell, Nameoki, Granite City, Madison, and Venice to cross the Mississippi River on the McKinley Bridge.
Granite City is located in southwestern Illinois, close to the Mississippi River and St. Louis. Over the years, it has had multiple alignments of Route 66 run through the city. It is home to a number of Route 66 attractions, such as O'Brien Tire & Auto Care which started as a service station and garage in 1906. It is the oldest auto repair shop on Route 66 and is located at 3924 Nameoki Road on the original Route 66 alignment through Granite City. Be sure to stop and visit!
Mitchell is an unincorporated community northeast of Granite City. U.S. Route 66 ran through Mitchell and various businesses along the road became stops for travelers and truckers, such as the Luna Café, built in 1924.
The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
The historic Chain of Rocks Bridge spanning the Mississippi River on the north edge of St. Louis, Missouri was opened in 1929. The eastern end of the bridge is on Chouteau Island, (part of Madison, Illinois), while the western end is on the Missouri shoreline.
The bridge was part of U.S. Route 66 and linked two states: Illinois and Missouri. The bridge is short and narrow, only 1 mile long by 24 feet wide. It towers more than 60 feet above the water, and features a unique 30-degree turn midway across the river.
Construction cost of the bridge was over $2.5 million, twice its original estimate. The bridge had beautifully landscaped approaches. A park-like setting around a pool and a large, ornate toll booth anchored the Missouri end. On the Illinois side, 400 elm trees lined the approach. The bridge brought travelers into St. Louis by way of the picturesque Chain of Rocks amusement park on the Missouri hills overlooking the river. The bridge became an official part of the Route 66 experience in 1936, when the Mother Road was rerouted over the bridge.
In 1966, the New Chain of Rocks Bridge was built immediately to the old bridge's north in order to carry I-270; the old Chain of Rocks Bridge was closed in February of 1970. The bridge is currently open daily for pedestrians and biking; permits are required for automobile traffic for special events.
Vintage view of the Chain of Rocks Bridge
|Bridge entrance in Illinois
|Old Route 66 signs on the bridge
More Information about Illinois Route 66
We have included below a sampling of our collection of vintage travel postcards dealing with Illinois and Route 66.
What was Route 66 like in its earlier years, as visitors drove around and across Illinois? What did all the service stations, motels and public buildings look like when they were new?
What did the traveling public experience on the Mother Road? We wonder such things when we travel Route 66 today.
Those earlier times in the 1930s, 40s and 50s were not always captured on film. But the use of colorful postcards was common in those decades.
These portray the historic road in its prime and help us to visualize, and appreciate, "earlier times" as we drive Route 66 today across Illinois.
Need help and ideas when planning your road trip on Route 66? Here are travel guides and reviews by state ...