Hi there, fellow roadies and curious travelers! It’s your Route 66 Chicago correspondent here again, with news updates. We have a few more details on that goofy idea for a Route 66 ‘museum’ (a marker-sized display would be more truthful) suggested for the CSO’s proposed vest-pocket park next to the Chapin & Gore Building at Adams and Wabash. But let’s start with our second bit of news.
New transit center coming to Jackson Boulevard/Route 66
The city will be turning that big, flat open parking lot on Jackson Boulevard directly south of Union Station (the ground-level one, not the multi-story parking structure behind that) into a new transit station. Right now, a number of CTA bus lines use the east side of Union Station along Canal Street as a parking and turnaround spot. Although there’s a separate bus lane up against the curb, those buses still contribute to a traffic jam every weekday morning and evening during commuter rush hours. The city and the CTA finally got wise, and now a new open-air bus depot will be created in that parking lot, which is probably a much better use of the land (see illustration below).
The Jackson Boulevard (Route 66) bus depot near Chicago’s Union Station will make it easier for both locals and visitors to find the right line. And there’s room for a wayside marker at Clinton!
It’s been a relatively cool, somewhat rainy summer this year in northern Illinois, but the payoff is in days that are more comfortable for day-long road trips and in photos wherein the cloudy haze makes the images dreamier, with deeper colors than a normal summer. That was the case this weekend when your three scribes here cruised down to the Sugar Grove Nature Center in Thaddeus Stubblefield Grove Nature Preserve in Funks Grove, IL, a tiny unincorporated community that is barely a shout south of the Bloomington-Normal metro area. It’s so small that most of its postal addresses are listed in either nearby Shirley or McLean. Funks Grove is perhaps best known as the midpoint of Historic U.S. Route 66 in Illinois, which in these parts is also known as the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway – but it’s also home to a large, historic grove of sugar maples and white and bur oaks that is in itself a National Natural Landmark (yes, Virginia, there really is such a thing, as designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Funks Grove is one of 18 such sites in Illinois).
We’ll get to our purpose for being there – last Sunday’s annual picnic of the Route 66 Association of Illinois – later on. For now, let’s just say that even though the day was overcast and the threat of rain was ever present, the day trip turned out to be surprisingly satisfying as a photo shoot in addition to a good opportunity to renew some personal ties, make new friends, and eat like the happy carnivores that we are. We made stops not only in Funks Grove but also in Towanda (just northeast of Normal on Route 66) and Lexington (northeast of Normal, about as far from central Bloomington-Normal as is Funks Grove, but in the opposite direction).
Whoa. This year’s Illinois History Conference will have a panel on Route 66 – sounds like your scriveners here are going legit! Yes, fellow roadies, friends and neighbors, Joe, Keith and I had our proposal for a panel on Route 66 in Illinois accepted earlier this spring, and now we’re busy oranizing that for the history conference that will be held on Thursday and Friday, September 25-26 in Springfield, IL. Wheee!!! We’re so excited that the route is getting scholarly Respect in this manner (not to mention that we get to put in a modest plug for our in-progress Route 66 book). More important, it’s happening right before the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival car show in Springfield (it’s that very weekend), and anyone who’s coming to that and wants to attend our session at the conference can still register for it (see p. 2 of the downloadable PDF conference flyer).
Our panel session on Route 66 is scheduled on Friday, September 26 from 1:45 pm to 3:15 pm at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in downtown Springfield, just west of Historic U.S. Route 66/Business Interstate 55. That puts us just down the street from the Adams Street headquarters of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway. One-day registration for Friday’s sessions, which begin at 8:30 am, is $50 in advance, $55 on site. If you wish to attend the luncheon that day, that’s another $25; see the conference flyer for further details. But look at it this way: if you’re already going to be in Springfield for the Mother Road Festival, why not take in a session about Route 66, too? After all, how often do you get to do that?
Whenever I get to discussing the former U.S. Route 66 with friends and family who haven’t traveled it or don’t know much about it, they’re always shocked to discover just what a big deal the road is to foreigners. In an era when America and American’s aren’t exactly that popular in many places around the world, Route 66 surprisingly is. It’s the iconic wide-open American road trip, the one everybody secretly wants to travel. It represents what a lot of folks envy about us: the sheer immensity and freedom of the place, its vast resources, and just how lucky we are to be here.
You’d think there would be a lot more statistics about foreigners traveling the route, given its popularity, but no, the hard numbers are kind of scarce. That should actually bother a lot of marketers reading this. Sure, the Route 66 museum in Pontiac collects numbers regarding its visitors, as does the Joliet Area Historical Museum, and a few others in other states … but that only provides a count of those who stopped at those particular points. It doesn’t necessarily tell you who traveled the road and stopped for lunch or other amusement, pit stops, etc., instead of hitting a museum. Nor does the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway have much in the way of hard numbers on Route 66 tourism.
Despite the less-than-pristine quality of the water, Chicagoans love their river. We like hanging out along it and cruising down it in good weather. We dye it green for St. Patrick’s Day. We stop to watch the sailboats making their way down the river to the lake every spring and back again in the fall. Even in bad weather, we love the view, for good reason: the architectural canyon that lines the river’s main stem is spectacular.
‘Tis the coming of the green: dyeing the Chicago River for St. Patrick’s Day is an old and hallowed tradition undertaken by (are you ready for this?) the plumbers’ union. But you can see a bit of our lovely Riverwalk here, too. (Photo courtesy of ChooseChicago.com)