Tourist Spot

Murals help spur interest in Route 66 towns

Edwardsville has a historic theater, Collinsville a giant ketchup bottle and East St. Louis its jazz, all Americana from the glory days of Route 66.

Now, a series of 12 outdoor murals will connect select southern Illinois towns along the Mother Road. Drawing on history, kitsch, and modern points of pride, the public artwork is called Route 66 Mural Art Trail.

The patterns for the murals are similar, but “they’re all unique to the city they represent,” said artist Daniel Ricketts, owner of St. Louis Sign & Mural.

In July, he and two others painted the colorful Edwardsville mural on the corner of Vandalia and Main streets, a few doors down from the popular Stagger Inn and not too far from the Wildey Theatre, built in 1909, and a life-size fiberglass steer nature at Butchery Goshen.

Ricketts, who lives in St. Louis, loved hearing locals talk about the city and their interest in mural painting.

“We’re excited to be working on it,” he said.

He is convinced that visitors will want to take selfies in front of the fresco and share photos on social media: “I think it’s good for businesses, the city and the people who have fun taking photos in front of the frescoes. with their friends.”

Organizers hope the murals – four years before the Route 66 centennial celebration – will draw visitors to Illinois’ last 100 miles.

“Traveling along Route 66 is a huge draw for international travellers,” said Stephanie Tate, director of marketing and communications for the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau.

Visitors will come to the United States for a month to complete the approximately 2,400-mile road trip between Chicago and Los Angeles, she said. She hopes to attract more national fans to the southern Illinois portion of Route 66, which has transformed over the years, adding and subtracting local and state routes.

In May, the tourism board received a state grant of $919,000 to pay for the murals and a range of other projects. Cities awaiting murals include Hamel, Granite City, Livingston, Staunton, Carlinville, Girard, Gillespie, Virden, Litchfield and East St. Louis. Their artwork will also be personalized, with nods to the steel of Granite City, Litchfield’s 1924 Ariston Café and Staunton’s Henry’s Rabbit Ranch (which features both Volkswagen Rabbits and furry hoppers). A symbol of East St. Louis will be a trumpet.

The tourist board also plans to use the grant over the next few years for six monuments, the restoration of the “Cannonball Jail” in Macoupin County and the transformation of the West End Gas Station, 620 St. Louis in Edwardsville, as a new interpretation and educational museum and visitor center of Route 66. Formerly a service station for Route 66 travelers, the building became a dental practice in 1965, after Route 66 bypassed Edwardsville. The Illinois Department of Transportation purchased the site in 2021, the office said.

Alderman Elizabeth Grant of Edwardsville said in a press release about the mural that “we are proud of some of our additions (to the art model) that make Edwardsville unique, including the Leclaire Water Tower, our tiger paw and trees for our Tree City distinction.” She also said, “It will be a tourist attraction for all ages, and especially for our Instagram friends.”

According to the National Park Service, more than 250 buildings, bridges, road alignments and other sites along Route 66 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (One is the old Chain of Rocks Bridge.)

As the country’s automotive culture grew in the 1920s, some of the roads designated as part of Route 66 in 1926 had still not been paved. But the highway quickly became a symbol of freedom and adventure.

“Although not the first long-distance highway, nor the busiest, Route 66 has become famous beyond almost all other roads,” states the National Museum of American History. “Dubbed the ‘Mother Road’ by John Steinbeck in ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ Route 66 carried hundreds of thousands of Depression-era migrants from the Midwest who made their way to California in hopes of a job and a better life.”

During World War II the road was used for military transport. In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower supported the construction of new high-speed highways, and in 1985 Route 66 was officially decommissioned. But support for the freeway remained, and Congress passed legislation in 1999 to create the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The nostalgia never wavered.

“We want to rekindle this love affair with the road,” Tate said.

Discover the best of Route 66

Pontiac Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, Pontiac, Illinois

There are myriad museums on Route 66, but it’s the first stop for many travelers driving from Chicago to Los Angeles. It houses thousands of road-related items, including a stand from the first Steak ‘n’ Shake restaurant. Operated by the Route 66 of Illinois Association, a black and white shield mural decorates the side of the building.

Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield, Illinois

The Cozy Dog, a hot dog dipped in cornbread-like batter and served on a stick, was concocted in the mid-1940s by Springfield resident Ed Waldmire. By 1949, the Cozy Dog Drive-In had opened along Route 66, where it is still run by descendants of Waldmire. The stopover for aficionados on the Mother Road is a tradition.

Soulsby Shell, Mount Olive, Illinois

This canopy-style gas station looks a lot like when gasoline was first pumped here in 1926. A Route 66 realignment in 1931 brought it within yards of the Soulsby pumps. Fuel was sold there until 1991, and now preserving the pristine location is a labor of love for local volunteers from the Soulsby Preservation Society.

Wagon Wheel Motel, Cuba, Missouri

Route 66 enthusiasts were relieved in 2009 when Cuban resident Connie Echols bought and restored the 1934-dating business with 1940s decor. Even the 1947 neon sign welcomes guests, but it doesn’t always face east. “Due to a freeway realignment, you could only enter the motel from a westbound direction,” says Echols.

66 Outpost and General Store, Fanning, Missouri

When Route 66 was originally built, efforts to lure people off the highway led to a wealth of quirky roadside attractions, like the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, where guest rooms are inside concrete tepees. Similar marketing tactics continue. In 2008, the “world’s largest rocking chair” was built in front of 66 Outpost and General Store in Fanning. The 42-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide rocker features a Route 66 shield on the front.

Hooker Cut, Waynesville, Mo.

Northeast of Waynesville, a historic section of the original 66 (now Highway Z) was also the last section of Route 66 to be paved and the last section to be bypassed in the early 1980s. was also the first four-lane section, the first place where a series of rock shelves were used to protect the platform from falling rocks, and the first time the sloping curbs still visible were used to channel the rainwater from a highway. Most motorists crossing the Hooker Cut today do not realize that the road that runs along the paved portion of old 66 is an original unpaved section of 66.

Spring Valley Court, Richland, Missouri

Even businesses that no longer operate are attractions along the Mother Road. Just a mile west on I-44 at exit 145 in Pulaski County, Missouri, four rubble-covered stone cabins and a stone shower house are all that remain of the Spring. Valley Court dating back to 1929. But the abandoned business still attracts discerning travelers following the old Route 66.

Woodruff Building, Springfield, Missouri

The 10-story office building at the corner of St. Louis Street and Jefferson Avenue has been known as the Woodruff Building since it opened on February 1, 1911. But a more apt name might be “Route 66 building”. Inside the Woodruff on April 30, 1926, a telegram was sent to federal authorities suggesting the designation of “66” for the new highway. The reasoning behind the choice was that the numbers were easy to remember and pronounce.

Route 66 Visitor Center, Baxter Springs, Kansas

Just 13.2 miles of Route 66 runs through the southeastern tip of Kansas, but that hasn’t stopped the city of Baxter Springs from opening a Route 66 visitor center in a Tudor-style gas station. from 1930.

Route 66 Soda, from Illinois to California

The length of Route 66 is the target market for Route 66 Root Beer. Each bottle has a road sticker on the back label. The drink can be found in many museums, visitor centers and tourist attractions along the way.