Cuba Missouri, The Mural City of Route 66

Cuba Missouri is yet another small town that has discovered the economic value of public art. It is the largest city in its county, with a population smaller than my high school had when I graduated, and yet it’s on every “MUST SEE” list for travelers traversing Route 66.

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A local bank funded the “Viva Cuba Project” in 1984 because while trying to lure potential investors into the town, that they were being turned off by the high percentage of eyesores… and realized that a city beautification project was needed in order to spur economic growth. This initially involved businesses investing in beautifying their business and the city investing in trees and shrubs and various landscaping projects. So for instance check out this incredibly cute cafe, The Fourway (Kabobs, salads and fresh foods) in what has to be the cutest re-use of a historic gas station that I’ve seen so far.

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I can’t review it as a restaurant’s food as I didn’t eat here, but I was tempted, SO CUTE

IMG_0660The Mural phase of the city’s beautification project began in 2001 and was completed in 2007. It was the Missouri legislature which designated the city the Mural city or Route 66… which I think a lot of the other small towns on 66 in other states, that have also gone this route, may take issue with.

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I noticed however that the murals, for the most part, face east…. so the artist is assuming that most visitors who are traveling Route 66 are headed west.

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Betty Davis Apparently visited the town once, and this mural honors that visit

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Ariston Cafe, Litchfield, IL

Built in 1935 (and on the National Register of Historic Places), the Ariston Cafe located on Route 66 in Litchfield, Illinois is the longest continuously running cafe along the route’s whole stretch. So I planned my trip so as to include a meal here.

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According to Wikipedia, with the exception of having added a banquet room and a few other minor tweaks, the interior of the Cafe has not been altered substantially since it first opened. In most other locations would be a bad thing, but on Route 66, it’s a selling point.

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As restaurants go it has a highly confused menu; they have: Mexican, Greek, Deli, classic American, Southern, Italian, Steak, and Seafood … with 7 different kinds of fish — where most places would do one or two

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but I guess if you’re a restaurant in a small town you sort of have to be all things to all people. That said, they also have an all you can eat soup and salad bar which had some tasty stuff on it… even if it is kind of seriously old-fashioned.

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I asked the waitress what the difference was between the pond and fillet catfish dishes. The pond catfish is two big catfish served on the bone for $15, while the fillet is one catfish filleted for $14… as two would have been too much food me, I got the fillet… but if I lived nearby I’d have ordered the pond for $15 and taken home leftovers.

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That said, the Catfish was rubbery and had a funny after taste …which I think the chef was trying to hide with all the spices. But with seven different kinds of fish, unless fish is VERY popular in this town, I don’t see how they can be serving anything remotely close to fresh.

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There was a large selection of HUGE slabs of various kinds of cake… but passed. When the owner noted that I was keeping notes about meal, posting to social media, etc., he came over and gave me two postcards and a refrigerator magnet.

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Route 66’s original Brick Road in Auburn, Illinois

This original bit of, hand-lain in 1931 brick, Route 66 in Auburn, Illinois, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and as such is protected from ever being paved over with boring old concrete.

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Interestingly you can in fact drive on it, which is kind of surprising… so they must do regular upkeep to keep it traffic ready.

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Abe Lincoln and the watermelon baptism, Lincoln IL

This monument, a few blocks away from Route 66 and in the middle of Lincoln, Illinois marks the spot where Abraham Lincoln himself christened the town with his own name, using the juice of a watermelon to do it.

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Lincoln, IL is in fact the first town in America named after him. He was only a lawyer at time, and it was well before the election. Lincoln had, as lawyer been involved in helping to deal with the legalities of laying out the town’s plans and breaking up the ground into lots for sale. He client was in fact the railway that was laying rail in the area and had decided to put a town at this location. According to tradition he was present at the towns naming, only one hadn’t been chosen yet. So the other men there, for whatever reason, suggested he name it with his own name, which he had at first advised against, with the quote mentioned below…

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Years later, then President-elect Abraham Lincoln came here to speak, and after his assassination his funeral train stopped here

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Hoito Finnish Restaurant, Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada

The Hoito is an unimpressive looking but historically important Finnish restaurant located in Thunder Bay Ontario Canada.

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It drew my attention both as being one of the highest ranked restaurants in Thunder Bay on all the customer review websites (pulling four or five stars at each), but all because FINNISH food!!! Seriously how often do see that being offered up.

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My airbnb host asked where I was intending to go for my meal and when I said “that Finnish place, the Hoito”, he said, “Good choice, I love that place.”

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After I arriving there I discovered the Hoito is historically important restaurant, established in 1918 (Wikipedia). Founded by loggers over 100 years ago, and running continuously since then, the restaurant is co-operative and is so deeply embedded in the labor movement that it is considered to be socialist.

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Regular customers buy membership cards that allow them to vote at the Finnish Labor Temple located directly above the restaurant, and until the 1970’s customers could buy meal tickets to if they ate here regularly, and the food was served on long communal tables. This restaurant was even written about in the New York Times.

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I had suolakala (pronounced soo-la-ka-la) which is described as a salted fish sandwich — open-faced. It’s a bit like gravlox, in that it’s cured salmon… only it’s not smoked. Thing is I eat lox sandwiches almost daily so…

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— I HAD wanted kalakeitto (a salmon soup) but they have run out. They are also giving me a single Finnish meatball (to try) … definitely NOT on my diet

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Yale, British Columbia, Canada

Driving along Canada’s Route 1 (I was heading east, but at the time the road was going due north) I passed through the tiny town of Yale in British Columbia, population 186

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I have to admit, there were items for sale at this place that made me drool… IF I had more room in the car I’d have bought the cow’s skull or the carved wooden bear… but I don’t, and I have no where to store any of it anyway… my storage locker is pretty full.

The transformation of the city of Pontiac, Illinois

Located about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago is the small city of Pontiac Illinois. To be honest, the only mentions of this place that I ever heard growing up referred to the state prison located at the south end of town. In recent years however the city has made a concerted to transform itself into a tourism destination, and in my opinion is well on its way.

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Firstly, in the center of town is a very attractive turn of the century styled Town Hall.

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Until I approached it I hadn’t known that this was one of the towns included in the National Park Service’s Looking for Lincoln Trek.

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I also found it was quite attractive on the inside as well, although not quite as nice as on the outside (they need to work on that). It’s a bit too spartan (other than the floors) and why is Lincoln looking at the ground?IMG_0286.JPGAlso, one does not expect with a population of just shy of 12K people to have four museums (I went to two of them, the Auto museum and the Gilding arts one, and they were both worth the visit). In addition, the city has been embracing the tourism tactic of hiring artists to pain murals around the downtown area to beautify itIMG_0284.JPGAnd another very cute thing that they’ve done is to scatter these cars for kids on street corners around townIMG_0287

I really have to give my props to the Mayor and city consul of Pontiac Illinois for transforming their little town from a town whose major employer was a state prison into something worthy of extended visits from those doing the route 66 trek, as well day trips for people living in the Chicagoland area.

Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum.

Located just off Route 66 in Pontiac Illinois, is the interestingly named Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museumthe name confused me a lot till I look in Wikipedia and apparently the Pontiac brand was originally called the Oakland, but was produced in Pontiac Michigan, and ultimately the name was dropped in favor of being called Pontiac. IMG_2297As I discussed in the post about the Gilding Museum, Pontiac Illinois has decided to turn itself into a tourist destination that people will actually stop at. To do this, they have offered empty store fronts to people with museum worthy collections, and are hiring people to come in to professionally set up the exhibits. Where gilding actually has nothing to do with the town, what could be more apropos than a museum dedicated to the Pontiac brand of car in Pontiac Illinois?

IMG_0266When you first enter it’s to what seems to be a fairly large gift shop, but one that’s reasonably sized once you realize how bit the museum space is.

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The woman who owns it was working there and she says they’re opening up a second one in Flint Michigan and her husband also runs a magazine for Pontiac collectors

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If you’re into cars, and even if you are not, this museum is well laid out and well worth a visit.

Museum of the Gilding Arts, Pontiac IL

The Museum of Gilding arts in Pontiac Illinois is a very high quality museum dedicated to Gilding (applying thinly beaten gold to things). Located just off Route 66, It’s located in an abandoned storefront in the city center. The Town of Pontiac, in an attempt to draw tourism offers these locations free to any small high quality museums that are willing to locate their collections here.

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I’ll admit a bias, a very old friend of mine helped set this museum up. And when I say old I mean we’ve known each other pretty much our whole lives. When my dad was graduate student he did consulting work for her dad, our families went to the same synagogue, and then in high school we ended up hanging in the same click (I was a Freshman and the rest of them were Juniors. Growing up my friends were almost alway older than I was, and I didn’t tend to fit with kids my own age.)

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The Docent walked me through the whole collection. She was very nice and helpful and probably could have kept talking … but I was on a schedule. First she showed me a very thin sheet of pounded gold, pounded so thin that you could the light through it… and then a box full of sheets of the stuff, where you can turn the box and see thing and light it is. I told her that in fact I’ve spent a lot time in Japan, where gilding is still a very active art, and knew all of this already. (In Japan I have eaten cakes topped with gild — very thin gold — and some where in all my boxes I have a little canister of the stuff should I ever want to put gold on a cake.)

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According to the docent, … The Smithsonian wanted the collection that’s on display in Pontiac…. but they only wanted it for a temporary exhibit and the people who owned it — a family that had owned a now closed gilding company on the east coast — wanted a permanent space.

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A recreation of gilding workshop

Then guilders who live in Pontiac, (hobbyists, there was never a gilding industry here) heard about this and connected the owners with city, like I said before, the town for all intents and purposes gave them that location to put their exhibit into. There’s no real connection between Pontiac and gilding otherwise

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As I’m writing this, I googled the name in this board and found this, W H Coe Mfg Co Inc, Gold Leaf Manufacturer in 10 Love Ln, Hartford, Connecticut 06112. — but I couldn’t find more which makes me think the company really has gone out of business .

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There is also a small gift shop selling goods that I assume are made by the local gilders who helped bring the collection to Pontiac. I bought Chai Magnet, and gave it as a gift to my friend whose home I was going to be staying at as soon as I got back to Chicago.

Standard Oil Gas Station, Odell Illinois

This Standard Oil Station is YET ANOTHER restored gas station photo-op that is used for nothing more creative than a gift store selling for the most part route 66 stuff. It’s located on Route 66 in Odell Illinois  … at some point I have to count up just how many of these things I’ve seen over the last month and a half… but let’s just say I’ve seen my fill (joke intended)

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I looked this up and according to a 2004 estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency there are somewhere just shy of 200,000 abandoned gas stations in the USA. I even found a web page from the National Park Service explaining to local towns what they need to do to convert theirs into a historic attraction. Along this route I’ve only seen ONE that sold stuff worth buying.

fullsizeoutput_4d8fNOT only was most of the stuff they were selling utter junk, but it was EXPENSIVE junkIMG_2631

$10 for the fake license plate (I’ve seen it selling elsewhere for half that) and $35 for a rock engraved to say Illinois Route 66. I mean seriously? That and… and I am not overstating things when I say this… the woman inside the building, at BEST, grunted at me a few times. I kind of got the feeling  that she doesn’t really like her job.

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No hello, no smile, no “do you have any questions?” None of that… just a couple of grunts.