Where: Running diagonally across the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles
When: 1926 – 1975
History: Road of opportunity, a highway linking all the towns and villages in the region iconicised by authors Steinbeck and Kerouac
Best sights: The ‘no-tell’ Coral Court Motel, built in a Streamline Moderne style, and Capone hangout, the Riviera Road House
History Of Route 66
Route 66, once known as ‘The Main Street Of America,’ was constructed in 1926, along with the rest of the federal highway system. It took ten years to pave the 2,400 miles that cross eight states from Chicago, Illinois in the Northeast to Los Angeles, California in the Southwest corner of the United States.
When the road was built, it zigzagged to link villages in each county. Sharp turns were the cause of many accidents and after World War Two the four-lane system was introduce in the most dangerous stretches.
Route 66 has a special place in the hearts and memories of Americans across the country. It was driven by millions of people and made famous in John Steinbeck‘s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, where he called it “The Mother Road.” During the Great Depression of the 1930s, thousands of poverty-stricken people migrated to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl (drought-stricken regions). Route 66 became the road of opportunity.
After the Great War, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation of the 1950s made road trips a necessary rite of passage for thousands of young Americans. Route 66 became a historic road, a slice of American history, yet you won’t find it on any modern maps because the road was decommissioned in 1975.
Things to See on Route 66
– Route 66 was the catalyst for the culture of fast food joints by the road, filling stations, and motels with a very particular architectural style, like the 1940s Streamline Moderne style (late Art Deco) of the Coral Court Motel in St. Louis, Missouri. Author Michael Wallis described Coral Court as “the proverbial ‘no-tell motel’ with a definite touch of class.”
– Riviera Road House in Gardner, Illinois is one of the last operating roadhouses on Route 66. Guests eat in the basement and the food comes down on a dumbwaiter weighted down by a World War One artillery shell. Stalactites still hang from the ceiling above the bar. The owners, Bob and Peggy, are both in their 80s. It is rumored that Al Capone and his brother Ralph were frequent visitors here.
– In the town of Pontiac, Illinois you can visit the Route 66 Hall of Fame which documents the history and stories this legendary road has to tell.
Route 66 Association
The Route 66 Association of Illinois is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to preserving, promoting and enjoying Route 66 in Illinois. This includes restoring Route 66 architecture. Association members John and Lenore Weiss are the driving force behind the preservation work and also offer bus tours on the road. Support their effort by looking at their website, which includes details of all the interesting sites on the road.
Website dedicated to history of Highway 66 with links to maps, videos, and other resources.