Route 66 ghosts: Joliet’s Father Kellen Ryan of Victory Center

The Carmelite fathers and friars have a significant presence in suburban Chicago and in Joliet.  They have a priory on the old Smart-Madden estate in Darien in the Maddens’ former summer home, Castle Eden, as well as a local parish there (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), a shrine to St. Therese of Lisieux (aka the Little Flower), a senior citizens’ residence, and a retreat center.  In Joliet, they once managed St. Mary Carmelite Parish downtown as well as Joliet Catholic High School at 29 N. Broadway St., up on the upper bluff west of the Des Plaines River.  And it’s at that former high school and the building called the Victory Center that the ghost of a Carmelite priest and practical joker made its presence felt.

First, the background.  St. Patrick Parish is the oldest Catholic parish in Joliet.  The church’s original location was on Broadway near Jefferson Street.  Once a newer church was built further west on the upper bluff, the old church building and parish hall remained.  Around 1917, Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago directed the Christian Brothers to renovate the old parish hall and found De La Salle High School for boys on the premises.  The school opened in 1918 with only two classrooms.  A new school building overlooking Bluff Street was built in 1927.  That same year, De La Salle won the national high school basketball championship, the first of many titles the school’s teams would win during the following decades, beginning a sports tradition that led to the renaming of the renovated parish hall as the Victory Center.  Its tall spire can still be seen to the southwest from downtown Joliet and the path of historic Route 66.


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Route 66 news flash:  mysterious fire strikes Collins Street Prison, a local Joliet, IL landmark

A Joliet, IL local landmark is now prompting charges of poor security and neglect in the aftermath of a fire last night on the premises.  Originally known as the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet Penitentiary or Joliet Correctional Center, the Collins Street Prison has been closed since 2002 – and though Illinois Department of Corrections officials claim it’s “almost impossible” for anyone to get into the property, it now appears that squatters may have been responsible for the blaze.  A spokesman for the IDC said that the fire was limited to an empty warehouse that once stored mattresses made by the inmates.  The historic administration building and outer walls were unaffected.  Collins Street Prison can be seen from a scenic lookout in Route 66 Park on Broadway Street/IL 53 in Joliet.

It once served as a backdrop and location for the original Blues Brothers film and the recent movie Public Enemies as well as for TV shows like Prison Break.  But in the wee hours of last night, Joliet’s Collins Street Prison made the news all on its own when a fire broke out in a warehouse on the closed property.  The fire was discovered about 3 a.m. by a passer-by who saw smoke and alerted authorities. Local media reported that firemen were at the scene by 3:15 a.m.

Aerial view of Collins Street Prison in Joliet, IL; the warehouse that caught fire is located halfway up and near the eastern wall, just inside the property.

Aerial view of Collins Street Prison in Joliet, IL; the warehouse that caught fire early Thursday morning is the large shed located halfway up and near the eastern wall, just inside the property.

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Route 66 update: more on Joliet’s Rich & Creamy ice cream stand

So we’ve been following the brouhaha over the roof situation at the Rich & Creamy ice cream stand on Broadway Street/IL 53 in Joliet.  The fuss is between the stand’s current operators, who rent it, and the landlord, which is the city of Joliet.  The stand is an official Route 66 Roadside Attraction, so of course Route 66 aficionados are concerned about its preservation.

The operators figured roof repairs would cost about $19,000, according to one estimate they’d received.  The city manager, Tom Thanas, balked at paying that much and hinted that maybe the stand should simply be torn down … until people began complaining and sending him e-mail (which we encouraged).  My colleague Joe Kubal, a contributor to this blog, sent his own protest e-mail.  But look at the reply Mr. Thanas sent (below):  suddenly, his estimate of roof repairs has ballooned to $30,000.  WHY???  What could possibly cost that much?

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Protest the destruction of a Route 66 landmark:  you can help!

Well!  At least one Route 66 roadie (that I know of, anyway) decided to let Joliet, IL City Manager Tom Thanas know that tearing down the Rich & Creamy ice cream stand at 920 N. Broadway St. would be a bad idea.  Considering that Route 66 tourists make a special stop to spend their money at the stand, which is an official Route 66 Roadside Attraction on the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, tearing down something that helps bring money and tourists into Joliet seems crazy to us.  We hope you agree.

The historic Rich & Creamy ice cream stand on Broadway St. is an official Route 66 Historic Attraction in Joliet.   Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved

The historic Rich & Creamy ice cream stand on Broadway Street in Joliet, Illinois is an official Route 66 Historic Attraction.  Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved

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Joliet, IL: Route 66’s birthday + St. Martin’s Day = PARTY!!!

What could be better to offset the approach of winter than a saint’s feast day that also provides a national excuse for a party?  And what if that saint’s day just happens to coincide with Route 66’s birthday – and the party’s down on the route itself??  Excellent!!!

November 11, 1926 is when Route 66 – and most of the rest of the U.S. Route system – was born.  It’s also the feast day of St. Martin, the Roman soldier who became a monk, and Slovenes everywhere celebrate St. Martin’s Day (Martinovanje) annually on November 11th.  That’s when the harvest is finally in, the winter wheat is planted and the fattened cattle are slaughtered.  In Slovenia, it’s also the time when wine matures (okay, there’s a reason to party all by itself!).

Accordingly, the Joliet, IL chapter of the Slovenian Union of America had a big shindig over at the Slovenian Heritage Museum at 431 N. Chicago Ave. in Joliet back on the evening of November 10, the night before Route 66’s 76th birthday.  My co-author and fellow foodie Joe Kubal and his wife Susan had the honor of attending, and we finally have photographs.  Take it away, Joe …

Slovenian Heritage Museum, Joliet, IL  (photo credit:  Keith Yearman)

Slovenian Heritage Museum, Slovenian Row, Joliet, IL             (photo credit: Keith Yearman)

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Ruby Street Bridge detour along Route 66 in Joliet, IL

[Today’s post comes courtesy of my friend and colleague Joe Kubal. Joe and our other co-author, Keith Yearman, are big bridge fans. I like interesting bridges, but my Mama was an architect, so you know where my bias lies. Which is why I generally let the guys write about big, macho metal engineering wonders, like bridges. Take it away, Joe!]

Ruby Street Bridge under reconstruction, looking west from Columbia St., August 2012; repairs should be done by mid-November. (Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Well, the Ruby Street Bridge in Joliet, IL is finally closed. The bridge was overdue for repairs and is, at long last, undergoing refurbishing. The construction project, which began July 9th, should be completed by November 19, 2012. The bridge is located (appropriately) at Ruby Street just east of Broadway, aka Illinois 53 (Historic Route 66), on Joliet’s northern edge. It spans the Des Plaines River, connecting the downtown area and older east side of town with the Upper Bluff historic area on the west bank and the newer, more suburban-looking west side of town. Continue reading

You’re doing what?? (Or: that’s what my relatives asked before I explained and they said: Oh. Cool.)

Greetings, gentle readers and devotees of U.S. Route 66!

We are (most of us) low in profile but legion in number.  The historic highway, once the only winter-safe road between Chicago and Los Angeles, retains its reputation and its romance with freedom and the allure of the open road despite having been officially closed by the mid-1980s.  That both its myth and its appeal endure this long should tell you something of its importance, not just because it was one of two major cross-continental highways at the time (the other being U.S. 30, better known as the Lincoln Highway, now replaced by Interstate 80) but because of the indelible mark it left in the hearts and imagination of the American public.

The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to a new book on Route 66 that is being researched and written as you read this – namely, The Curious Traveler’s Guide to Route 66 in Metro Chicago – and to some of the interesting things being discovered in the process.  The blog is also a partial record of our progress on this project, which we consider a labor of love but one that also has to be useful to other travelers.  So this will be our way of keeping you up to date on our inquiries.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; gentle readers, please bear with me. Continue reading