Route 66 Illinois (Part 2)
If you haven't read part 1 of this journey you should go and do this before part 2! Also if you haven't read my Route 66 Tips and Tricks you should do that here! I started and intended that Illinois should be one post but there was just so much of Route 66 Illinois to cover off that I had to split it into 2 parts! So far we've seen lots of garages, a few statues, a prison as well as lots of cars and murals. Part 2 is going to have a LOT of cars, the state capitol and the border to the next state. Sit back and enjoy the read of the next stage of Route 66 Illinois.
Springfield is the capital of Illinois. Present-day Springfield was settled by European Americans in the late 1810s, around the time Illinois became a state. The most famous historic resident was Abraham Lincoln, who lived in Springfield from 1837 until 1861. He left the city when he went to the White House as President. Major tourist attractions include multiple sites connected with Lincoln including his presidential library and museum, his home, and his tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
The State capitol building was our first stop. Living in Cambridge I'm used to seeing beautiful buildings but the state capitol building is definitely one to visit. Ground was broken for the new capitol building on March 11, 1868. The building was completed twenty years later for a total cost of $4.5 million. A lot of money in those times!
The building contains the chambers for the Illinois General Assembly, which is made up of the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate. An office for the Governor of Illinois, additional offices, and committee rooms are also in the building. The interior of the dome features a plaster frieze painted to resemble bronze, which illustrates scenes from Illinois history, and stained glass windows, including a stained glass replica of the state seal in the oculus of the dome.
With a total height of 110 meters, the Illinois capitol is the tallest non-skyscraper capitol, even exceeding the height of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The dome itself is 28.2 meters wide. A city statute does not allow buildings taller than the capitol.
We got to the capitol building and although were met with the usual security checks were allowed to wonder around it quite freely. We then made our way to the information desk where a very lovely lady took us on a guided tour of the building. She also explained how the USA political system worked and what part the building played in the Illinois history. I highly recommend this informative and factual tour. It not only helps you understand more about parts of the building but also lots about the USA in general.
A number of meetings were in session which meant we were able to go into the chambers and listen to the politics being discussed as part of the tour. The tour is free and lasts about 45 mins to an hour depending on how many questions you want to ask.
Other Springfield Things to do:
You are also able to visit a reconstruction of the 5th capitol building (the present is the 6th) this is almost as grand as the present building but is a lot smaller. It is here in the original building that Lincoln practiced law, served as a legislator and gave his famed House Divided speech on slavery in 1858. The building served as the seat of state government and a centre of Illinois political life from 1839-1876.
Although we didn't go (due to time and having such a good grounding on Lincoln from the capitol building) you can also visit Lincoln Home National Historic Site which preserves the Springfield, Illinois home and a historic district where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1844 to 1861, before becoming the 16th President of the United States.
If you are an Architecture fan you can also visit the Dana Thomas House which was designed by famous USA architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Although not his most famous work - it's still worth a visit!
Once you've ticked off the things you want to do in Springfield you head back out onto Route 66 to continue your journey through Illinois. You'll come to Litchfield Route 66 Museum. The museum is set in a nice Art Deco style building. Now here's my take. After a while we started to find that the Route 66 museums started to get a bit "samey". This isn't any kind of criticism of the individual museums and there are were some excellent ones which I will talk about later but some like Litchfield can be very similar once you hid mid point!
We were trying to do Route 66 in 2 and a bit weeks. If you stop at everything and stop at every museum you'll be going for weeks and weeks. If you are keen to learn about the very local history then stop. A lot of the museums carry very similar stories which at least for the first half covers the main route history. The Litchfield museum does have a good amount of local history and is certainly worth the visit if you have time (and of course you should sign the guest book!)
Heading towards Mount Olive you'll come into Soulsby Service Station. Covered in the Shell branding this service station is one of the most original service stations that haven't been rebuilt along the route. Still with the original Shell logos its well worth a couple of pictures here.
Country Classic Cars
Now this might be a slight generalisation but there is probably a good chance if you are doing Route 66 that you'll be a car fan. It doesn't matter if your not you'll still want to stop at Country Classic Cars. If you're a petrol head you'll happily lose a day here!
We had been warned (if this is the correct word) about Country Classic Cars. They have every sort of car you can imagine. From a Ford Model T right through to some more modern from the 80's and 90's. Most are at a reasonable cost as well. Be warned they will also ship globally for you as well! The have all standards of cars as well. Want one to drive on well you'll find one. Want one that's basically rusting in the corner you'll find that as well. There were some REALLY rare cars here that I am sure probably some you'll never find parts for anywhere to repair them!
The guys here are friendly and happy to chat. Obviously there is only so much tyre kicking you can do with them but they are happy to let you wander around the 4 or 5 barns (which are VAST) and have a look around all the cars. The pictures just don't do justice to the scale and numbers of cars here.
For us as total petrol heads this was probably one of the best stops on the whole of the Route.
Heading to St Louis Route 66
If you've managed to walk away from Country Classic Cars with your wallet intact you'll be on the way to St Louis! Now to get to St Louis you'll need to cross the Mississippi river. When we were on Route 66 the Mississippi was really high and there was regional flooding. It also scuppered plans to go down the river on one of the tour boats.
There is the main route which takes you into St Louis and the completion of Illinois but before that you'll want to visit the chain of rocks bridge (the old one!) This was the original Route 66 road across the river. Opened in 1929 and closed to motor traffic in 1970 it's over 1600 meters in length. Now here is a word of warning. On the St Louis side it's often reported on many forums about there being a lot of car crime in the car park area where you leave the car and walk the bridge.
There is a car park on the Illinois side where you can park up and it's apparently a lot safer. We didn't take the risk as at the time there were a number of groups of people hanging around which worried us. This isn't to deter you but the Chain of Rocks is off the beaten track. It's down a one track road in not a great area to get to that road. I am sure we would have been fine to leave the car, but we didn't chance it. We just took it in turns to walk along the bridge. I just suggest you check up on this before you leave the car.
Crossing the river
Once you've crossed the river you'll be in Missouri having ticked off your first state. You'll then be on to your second state and will have left Route 66 Illinois!