Route 66’s Chain of Rocks Bridge, Madison Illinois

Privately built as a toll bridge across the Mississippi River in 1929, The “Chain of Rocks” was part of the designated Route 66 city bypass beginning in the late 1930’s, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. When you see it, the reason why the bridge was retired is obvious, it’s only wide enough to allow a single line of cars headed in one direction to pass over it at a time. As vehicles are no longer allowed over the bridge, it is now (by default) one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges.

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It’s name comes from its location along the river. Previous the 1960’s when the United States Army Corps of Engineers built a low water dam to correct the problem, this area was actually the sight of river rapids that made navigating this stretch of Ol’ Man River very dangerous indeed.

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That said, when the bridge first became the designated bypass, the Route 66 traffic that WAS willing to pass through downtown initially took the more southerly MacArthur Bridge, located just south of where the I-55 crosses the Mississippi… although that only the first of the bridges, as route 66 traffic was continually being re-routed….

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As I’ve said repeatedly, when you are in this part of the country, being able to “drive 66” becomes a questions of WHICH 66 you want to travel on… there is not just one… simply to cross the river there are FIVE different options.

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… the best place to access the bridge is on the East/Illinois side of the Mississippi rather than West/Missouri side. On the east side there’s easy parking dedicated to those wishing to walk across the bridge (with I might add police protection there around sundown), while on the west side there is no dedicated parking lot

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When you first approach this area (heading west) you’ll pass over a shorter, cars traveling in one direction at a time, bridge that is still functional. This one takes you from the Illinois side to Chouteau, a man-made Island that when I was driving through it seemed like it was being used as garbage dump, but apparently its being converted into a recreational area. You then drive to the other side of the island, directly into the parking lot for the Chain of Rocks bridge.

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If you look at google maps, the area directly after the gate (behind me) is green on the map… it’s not land so much as it’s swamp. As I mentioned before this section of the river was called chain of rocks because it was shallow enough that it had rapids before the corps of engineers fixed things… this was done in part by digging out the middle of the river, and this island was created with the mud …. but the first section of the Chain of Rocks passes over “land” that is still shallow and swampy

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After you’ve walked for a bit — and its was a very lonely walk (it actually made me very nervous walking across it by myself, as it could have just been me and G-d knows whom else on the bridge, in a location where there’s no one to hear you scream) you finally pass the swamp land into the wide River

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A 2nd word of warning… This bridge see’s so little traffic that the spiders seem to have taken over ownership of the place and humans are just intermittent visitors. It’s not just spider webs along the sides, as that is to be expected.

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Rather, it’s that as you along it every second or third step you find yourself walking into yet another strand of spider silk … as in THOUSANDS of them live here — this is NOT a place for anyone suffering from Arachnophobia.

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Over the course of the whole walk I saw only 6 people… one middle-aged woman walking alone (which made me feel much more secure) the group of three young people walking towards me in this shot, and then as I was leaving, middle aged couple who were smoking pot.

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And from the above photos you get a sense of just how far from downtown St. Louise the bridge is…. that odd-looking thing is the Gateway Arch from a bit of an angle.

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And no, I didn’t get all the way to the bend, the sun was going down and I was worried about getting caught out there when it started going dark.

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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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The Route 66 Welcome Center & Museum in Litchfield, Illinois

This is NOT one of the better museums along the 66 route, but it’s free. Its more of an excuse for a museum like they felt they had to have one in order to qualify for matching funding from some organization that gives grants to cities wanting to set up Route 66 stuff.

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I’ve seen places like this before, in Georgia, where there’s this one museum to a local African-American musician by the name of Royland Hayes, who had grown up in that town; where you can tell they wanted the funding for and “Arts center” essentially a ladies social center, but could only fund it by having the museum for the local guy most of them probably couldn’t name… so it’s an excuse for a museum shoved into a side room… while the population that uses the building is 90% upper class white ladies.

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That said, this museum is not actually OFFENSIVE, like that one was… (where the white community applied for funding in support of an African-American History — which they clearly could not have cared less about, when what they really wanted was the cash to fund something for themselves). In this case, it’s pretty clear what this community wanted was to build a building for their chamber of commerce and their genealogical society, on a lot that had stood empty for 20 years.  As a result, its less a full fledges museum than a book with its pages placed on horizontal surfaces, so if you wanted to you could spend a few hours standing there, in effect reading said book…. well a book, interspersed with a handful of large items, and a few display cases crammed with smaller items. But mostly, it’s a book.IMG_0562.JPG

Outside of museum along Route 66 is a neon sign for a gas station that had been on this property in the past, but that no longer exists…

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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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Cows in the Corn, Route 66 sculpture, Lincoln, IL.

More than a few sites, particularly the Illinois centric ones pointed to this piece of art as Iconic to route 66… no idea why. Seriously, don’t bother… it doesn’t even show up on google maps.

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A sculpture is a 3-D object and should exist in 3D… this one is fairly 2D and photos of it tell you all you’re going to need to know… nothing to be gained by seeing it in person. (Seriously, paintings in person never look like they do in photos… this sucker does)

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The Railsplitter Covered Wagon, World’s Largest , Lincoln IL

this oversized covered Wagon in Lincoln Illinois, located just off of Route 66, was named the “Railsplitter” after Abraham Lincoln, is the largest one in the world, and has been recognized as such by the Guinness Book of World Records.

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A recent attraction to Route 66 (built in 2001 it was only purchased by Logan county and moved to it’s currently location in 2007), it was built out of oak and steel by David Bentley. According to one site, the Reader’s digest organization has also awarded it the title of America’s #1 roadside attraction… although I got to wonder about that title

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The Route 66 Lauterbach Giant, Springfield IL

Built in 1978 and located on route 66 (well one of them) in Springfield IL, is a fiberglass “muffler man”  in front of Lauterbach Tire and Auto who USED to be holding a tire.

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He’s actually had some serious repairs in 2006, as the result of a Tornado that ripped off his head (ouch).IMG_1151.JPG

Update: Further up Route 66 (i.e. Northeast) in Atlanta, where the Paul Bunyon Statue is located (A Paul Bunyan holding a hotdog in a bun), I found this description of the Lauterbach man that includes what he looked like BEFORE his repairs — he’s got a completely new wardrobe now… and back when he was still holding the tire
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I find it interesting  that as much as this muffler man is lauded as being one fo the Route 66 attractions, for SOME reason it has not earned one of those State of IL signs… which makes me wonder if the local authorities and business owners have to help pay for the things.

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Paul Bunyon Statue, Atlanta IL

This 19 foot “muffler man” is a Paul Bunyan woodsman statue (for those who don’t know, Paul is a character from American Folklore), who stands alone without his trusty side-kick Babe the Blue Ox…. and is holding, instead of an ax, a hotdog.

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The Statue was built in 1966, and stood initially on the roof of a hotdog joint on Route 66/aka Ogden Ave in Cicero Illinois. The owner intentionally misspelt the name as Buyon instead of Bunyan in order to avoid any copyright infringements. After a while the statue became such a tourist draw that the owner moved it down to ground level, so that children could climb on it

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When the business closed in 2002 the beloved Route 66 landmark went up for sale and was purchased by the city of Atlanta (a one stoplight sort of a town), as a tourism draw.

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Anyone reading my posts about traveling Route 66 knows one of my pet peeves was most of the gift stores along the route sell generic stuff you could buy on Amazon. The gift stores in town do have some of that stuff, but they’ve also got clothes and towels that have been embroidered with the statue, and even with some of the buildings in town. Didn’t buy any, but seeing these made me very happy. One warning about the town is that during the ‘off season’ which is when I was doing 66 — late October, most of the shop owners just can’t be bothered to keep their shops open. There are two museums in town, both were closed, and there’s a restaurant that’s supposed to be pretty good, and it was closed as well. And there were shops that, according to the signs in the window, SHOULD have been open and where not… the place was bit like a ghost town.

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Funk’s Grove Pure Maple Sirup, Shirley IL

Located Just southwest of Bloomington IL, and a good three house southwest of Chicago, Funks Grove is a historic purveyor of pure maple sirup located on Route 66 in Shirley Illinois. The Funk family has been making the stuff since 1824, and selling it as a business since 1891. That said, check their website before arriving, because they only sell their product and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

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Personally, I had no idea that you could even make maple syrup this far south.

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And here’s an interesting tidbit from Wikipedia, back when he was a young lawyer, Abraham Lincoln worked for the Funk Family. (Actually they have quite the family history, it’s worth reading)IMG_2203IMG_0325

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I arrived there in late October without first checking their web site, to discover that they were completely sold out. The owner, who lives on the property, said that they start selling it in mid-March and they’re usually sold out by mid August, and gave me permission to take my photos… but said the store was closed.

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