The Route 66 (decommissioned) Illinois State Police headquarters, Pontiac Township

Alongside Route 66 just, in the middle of pretty much nothing, and just south of Pontiac, IL is a very attractive but run down Art Modern Style building that clearly isn’t open, but is surround by all sorts of paid for by the government Illinois Route 66 signs.

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This building wasn’t on Google Maps (I really hate their tendency to not mark abandoned historic buildings. Off to the right side of the building you can spot (next to the tree) one of those State of Illinois Route 66 signs

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In this part of Illinois, at some point in it’s history, the state decided to build a NEW route 66 that runs just along the old one, which was allowed to decay. The old broken up road to the left/center on the image below is the old 66, and to the FAR left is a lighter colored strip, which is the new one that traffic now travels on.

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Old Route 66 heading south

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Old route 66 on left (blocked from traffic) the new on the right

Luckily there was a guy here mowing the lawn’s when I arrived. He told me that This was The Old Illinois State Police Headquarters, that they recently moved it to a new location up in Pontiac, and that they’re talking about turning this building into some sort of museum/landmark status building type thing…. but that the estimates to do it (because the building is in dire need of renovation) is about 2 million dollars and right now the funds are not available.

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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.

Rout 66: the “Meramec Caverns” Barn Pontiac, IL

Located just North of Pontiac Illinois is an iconic route 66 Barn that advertises the Meramec Caverns, which are located in Sullivan, MO a good four hours (265 miles) away. When ever you see this iconic image in photos you get the impression that it’s much bigger and MUCH MUCH MUCH closer to route 66 than it actually is.

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If anything the fact that this advertisement, located on the side of a barn is THIS far way from the attraction it advertises kind of tells you just what a tourist trap it is.

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But seriously they couldn’t have put in the gravel path at least… I walked out a few steps but was worried about picking up a tick with lime disease along the path, and stopped

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Finding the place wasn’t that easy either…. One questions if Route 66 didn’t use to run a bit closer to the barn because you can just barely see that thing from the road, and the you’re seeing in the picture isn’t even it… that’s a turn off from Route 66 which was only marked by this tiny little sign….

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