Roadside Attractions in Illinois’ Land of Lincoln
By Idoia Gkikas
Route 66, also known as the Mother Road, is quintessentially American. This legendary road captures the imagination and transports visitors to the heyday of the American automobile, when cars were big, dreams were bigger and adventure was just over the next rise in the road.
Sometimes called the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 begins in Chicago, Illinois. As you journey southwest through the Land of Lincoln toward Springfield, the state’s capital, you’ll travel through some wonderful towns, each with its own unique attractions and historical icons. Be sure to get in the spirit and have your photo taken in front of each of them as you create your own Route 66 memories.
Back in the day, local businesses used larger-than-life statues to grab the attention of passersby, hoping to get them to stop in. Several such figures can be found along Route 66 in the Land of Lincoln.
Wilmington, a picturesque town tucked into the Kankakee River valley, is home to the Gemini Giant, a 30-foot-tall statue named after the Gemini space program, which launched manned space flights in the mid-1960s. The statue holds a rocket ship and wears an astronaut’s helmet.
Across town in Wilmington, a Sinclair gas station was built in 1963 on old Route 66 with the gasoline company’s signature green dinosaur on its roof. Today, the Sinclair Dino (a bright green fiberglass brontosaurus) sits atop a service station in the same spot, keeping watch over Wilmington and beckoning to motorists.
As you head down the road, be sure to stop in Atlanta, especially if you’ve worked up an appetite with all the sightseeing you’ve been doing. Stop by the historic Palms Grill Café, which dates to 1934 and is known for its homemade pies. Across the street stands another huge figure – the Bunyons Giant Statue, holding a hot dog. He began life in front of a restaurant on Route 66 in Cicero, Illinois; when the business moved, the statue was relocated to Atlanta so he could remain a Route 66 icon.
Other Photo Opportunities
The Historic Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell is a charming spot to visit. With a little luck, you can pose for a photo with a classic car – many stop by on their journey to Route 66 sites. This station, which dates to 1932, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Gas was sold here up until the 1960s; today, the gas station is home to the Odell Welcome Center. Old gas pumps still stand out front, and in the adjacent garage, there’s a display of old tools, tires and spare parts.
Up the road in Pontiac, the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum is filled with memorabilia. Have your photo taken by the VW van of the late Bob Waldmire, who spent more than half of his life on Route 66. “Marriage or Route 66 – I chose Route 66,” said Waldmire. He spent 40 years selling art out of his van on Route 66. For him, Route 66 was life.