HISTORY OF ILLINOIS ROUTE 66
Route 66 is the most famous road in America. Generations of travelers have romanticized this highway as a symbol of unlimited mobility and freedom of the road. Its iconic status is enhanced by the unprecedented volume of music, books, films, and other art forms that depict it as the essence of America's highway culture.
It was born in 1926 as part of the new numbered highway network and quickly grew to be the preferred road west for a nation on the move. US Highway 66 was not as old or as long as some other transcontinental routes like the Yellowstone or the Lincoln Highway, but it quickly gained fame as the shortest, year-round route between the Midwest and the coast as it passed through the fabled landscape of the American Southwest. The construction of this thin, ribbon of the road helped to transform the American West from an isolated frontier to an economically vital region of the country and made it accessible to anyone with a car.
In its lifetime, this celebrated road witnessed a continuum of highway and transportation evolution from Ford Model Ts plodding through rutted dirt to the rise of the monolithic American Interstate Highway System. Route 66 was the most well-known road in a national network of public highways, which succeeded in uniting a huge, dispersed nation into a cohesive whole. During its heyday, Route 66 mirrored the mood of the nation.
During the Great Depression, it became the Road of Flight for farm families escaping the Dust Bowl. In his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck christened it the Mother Road, and it has carried that moniker ever since. Even this monumental exodus was but a single surge in the mass movement of humans in the nation's history. Another was the post-World War II movement of ex-GIs and their families to join the booming California job market.
About the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway
The most famous road in the world first came into being in 1926 as part of the new numbered highway system, and Chicago is where Route 66 begins.
The United States Department of Transportation has designated certain US roads as National Scenic Byways because of their special significance to the American people. Route 66 in Illinois received that recognition in 2003. Our non-profit organization has the responsibility for the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, and it is our mission to…" enhance and promote economic opportunities for each Illinois Route 66 community by preserving Illinois Route 66 Heritage and by sustaining and increasing heritage and cultural tourism…" We serve 90 communities in Illinois, from Chicago to the Chain of Rocks Bridge near Madison, IL. Most have a population of only 2,500 or less.
We help attractions, small businesses, and communities take full advantage of their Route 66 resources to provide the best possible experience for visitors from around the world. We also provide information to travelers to help them plan their adventure down Route 66.
Whether it is helping a "mom & pop" restaurant gets new tuckpointing for their restaurant, aiding a small business in setting up free Google Services or assisting a traveler on Route 66 to find the best milkshake in Illinois, we are there to find a solution.
THE 3 ALIGNMENTS
While Route 66 has been viewed as a constant in the cultural identity of many Americans, it has always been an ever-adapting ribbon of highway that has been shaped by transportation and American history. As the vehicles that traveled the Mother Road evolved, so did the pavement. Illinois has attempted to preserve this story through the preservation of three active alignments. Each segment preserves the story surrounding the evolution of the automobile and the story of the travelers of that era.
While Route 66 did not exist until 1926, in 1924, State Bond Issue 4 (SBI 4) was a route that was created from existing roads and paved to create an all-weather road that connected Chicago to St. Louis. The 1926 alignment of Route 66 follows SBI 4 and is the reason that Illinois was the first state to boast having Route 66 paved from end to end. Prohibition was in effect from 1920 until 1933, and an all-weather road made the transportation of illegal alcohol possible virtually all year long. Production stills located in central and southern Illinois could easily ship alcohol on Route 66 to speakeasies in Chicago and St. Louis. There is still pavement in use today that was laid between 1922 and 1924 (SBI 4, later Rte. 66) and is characterized by a road width of only 18'-20’. The average speed was 25 mph, cars share the road with horse and-drawn vehicles and tractors. Mechanical problems were frequent in the relatively new transportation technology, and it is for that reason that this alignment passes through so many small towns.
Rum running is in full swing until prohibition was repealed in 1933. Cars now have a top speed of 60 - 80 mph. Speed limits are now set by states and municipalities, and the moniker "Bloody 66" is widely used. By 1936 the Chicago to St. Louis portion of Route 66 is the heaviest traveled long-distance highway in the state. As a result, the road is re-routed to bypass larger, more congested communities such as Springfield and Joliet. By 1940, a maximum speed limit is set at 70mph. It is also during this period that picnic and rest areas are recognized as a necessary part of highway planning.
In June of 1940, as WWII raged in Europe, President Roosevelt asked for a study on the use of the nation's highways to meet defense needs. The result was the Highways for the National Defense report, which identified two types of defense roads; Roads required for defense operations and roads required to improve the strategic network of defense roads. Route 66 played a significant strategic role in the wartime efforts, including transportation of personnel and equipment and munitions. The next significant redesign occurs in 1951 and exceeds all other redesigns since 1928. The 1956 Highway Act began the construction of the Interstate Highway System, which ultimately replaced Route 66 as the main transportation route west. Many sections of Route 66 became I-55 by the end of 1956. By 1977 the Mother Road was deemed obsolete in Illinois, as much of it had been replaced by Interstate 55. The last sign was removed on January 17, 1977. The entire road was decommissioned on June 27, 1985.
Route 66 Resources
EnjoyIllinois.com - Illinois Office of Tourism
Route 66 Association of Illinois
Berwyn Development Corporation
Bloomington-Normal Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau
Heritage Corridor Convention & Visitors Bureau
Logan County Tourism Bureau
Oak Park Convention & Visitors Bureau
Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Tourism Bureau Illinois South
Historic Route 66 in Kansas