“Get your kicks” on Illinois Historic Route 66

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on May 31, 2010 0 Comments

If you ever plan to motor west,

travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.


It winds from Chicago to LA,

more than two thousand miles all the way.

Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.


So begin the lyrics of the 1946 hit song Route 66 by Bobby Troup. The song originally recorded by Nat King Cole, was also sung by many others, including the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and the Rolling Stones.

Route 66, which as the song says, connected Chicago to the Los Angeles area, was the super highway of an earlier era.  Commissioned by the federal government in 1926 and employing thousands of unemployed men, it was built between 1933 and 1937.  When done, it stretched approximately 2,500 miles and went through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  When done, it linked rural communities with big cities and beckoned people to venture west.

In his famous book The Grapes of Wrath, Nobelist John Steinbeck termed Route 66 the Mother Road.  Steinbeck’s moniker stuck and helped give Route 66 a mythic status, which it still enjoys. Route 66 has also been called the Main Street of America and The Will Rogers Highway.

After enactment of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, the interstate highway system burgeoned across the United States.  Interstate highways outcompeted Route 66, and enterprises that had built up along its course shut down.  Route 66, its pavement broken and crumbling from World War II truck traffic, eventually was officially decommissioned.

The Mother Road played a significant part in both the social and historical development of the United States.  In recognition of this role, the National Historic Route 66 Federation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Route 66 across the country, was founded in 1995.  Similar organizations have been set up in states that were part of the Route 66 system.

Illinois, where Route 66 began, formed a group in 1989 “to preserve, promote and enjoy the past and present of U.S. Highway 66.”   Signs have been posted to mark the route of Illinois historic Route 66.



As I scanned the page of upcoming day-trips in the senior center’s events catalog, I at first ignored the listing for the Route 66 excursion.  I knew that Interstate 55 largely replaced Route 66 and having taken Interstate 55 a number of times over the years to visit Springfield and Peoria, I considered Interstate 55 a boring ride.   But then I noted the tour leader was Bill Hinchcliff, whom I knew to be exceptional, and read more about what we would see and do.  It sounded interesting, and I signed up.

In Illinois, Historic Route 66 begins in downtown Chicago at the corner of Adams Street and Michigan Avenue not far from Lake Michigan, one block from where the original Route 66 started. To save time, our tour skips the Chicago part and leaves directly from our meeting point in a northern suburb of Chicago.   After traveling south and southwest on various interstates, we reach Interstate 55.  The landscape we pass isn’t exactly boring, but rather, unattractive.  We pass a lot of huge warehouses.  Bill tells us that Chicago is the third largest intermodal distribution center in the world.

We also pass a wind farm, which happily for me is on my side of the road.


Wind farm along Interstate 55 southwest of Chicago as viewed through the window of the coach

The coach drops us off near the historic train station in Dwight.  Bypassed by the original Route 66, this small town of Dwight is filled with so much history, art, and architecture all within walking distance of the train station that it is a must stop on any historic Route 66 venture.


Built in 1891, the Depot in Dwight, IL, is still in use as a stop for trains that run between Chicago and St. Louis.   Designed by Henry Ives Cobb, the Romanesque structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.  It currently houses the Historical Society Museum and the Dwight Chamber of Commerce.


For many years, Dwight was known as the place to go for treatment of alcohol and drug addiction.  In 1879, Dr. Leslie Keeley opened the Keeley Institute and used his secret and famous “gold cure” to treat alcohol addiction.  Patients received injections of a red, white, and blue solution through a “needle” the size of a garden hose into a bicep three times a day.  The Institute operated until the mid 1960s.

I use the map of the town Bill has given us to walk a short distance from the Depot to the building that housed the Keeley Institute, now the Fox Developmental Center.  In addition to being the site of some fascinating history as a quack and immensely popular addiction treatment center, the building contains beautiful art glass windows.


Built in 1902 to replace a previous structure that was destroyed by fire, the Fox Developmental Center building, previously housed the Keeley Institute, an alcoholic treatment center.  The structure juxtaposes a neo-classical style with a Romanesque façade.  Note the five stained glass windows on the second floor above the entrance. Each represents one of the five senses affected by alcoholism.


Fortunately, we are allowed to go inside the building and look at the windows. Designed by Louis J. Millet, the five stained glass windows depicting the five senses affected by addiction stand in a row in a darkened area on the second floor.  With the outside light shining through them, they are exquisite.  Each shows a woman with long hair experiencing a luxuriant nature.  There’s no brochure or plaque to explain the windows, but to me the scenes appear primeval.

Smell, because it involves breathing, seems the most primal of the senses.


Louis J. Millet art glass window on the sense of smell.

Eyes closed, a red-haired woman in repose inhales the nature around her. Smell is connected to memory and survival and often stirs the other senses.

Tasting leads to ingestion, nourishment and use of the outer world, all necessary for survival.


Louis J. Millet art glass window on the sense of tasting.

With eyes open, a pleased look on her face and looking sideways, a woman bathed in a golden hue holds a fruit near her mouth as a nude sprite hands her a bunch of grapes.

Such primordial scenes suggest that Millet took much of his inspiration and themes for the windows from mythology.


Louis J. Millet art glass window on the sense of hearing.

A small figure—perhaps Pan, the Greek god of rustic music—seems to be charming the woman’s hearing into being as it plays its panpipes.

While all parts of our bodies can feel, because the hands and fingers reach and grasp outside the body, they are emblematic for the sense of touch.


Louis J. Millet art glass window on the sense of feeling.

A seated, goddess-like woman, eyes closed, gently touches white lilies with her hands and feels their structure.  Lilies have been associated with the Roman goddess Juno.  The pose resembles that of a sitting Juno as seen on a silverware artifact.


Seeing includes not only recognition and sight, but also understanding.


The goddess looks up and to the side, while a pleasant-faced sprite, its eyes closed, holds its mouth shut, as if it possesses a secret waiting to be told.

The blue sky in the background suggests that Millet’s art glass window depicting seeing is inspired by Thea, the Greek goddess of sight and of the shining light of the clear blue sky.

I find it telling that the titles Millet assigns to the windows also convey meaning to the windows.  Why did Millet title his window Tasting instead of Taste?  Why do all the titles end in “ing”?  Probably because Millet meant each title to be more than a static noun naming a sense.

Each title is a gerund—a noun ending in “ing” and derived from a verb that retains the characteristics of the verb.  Thus, in addition to each title naming the sense, it gives the named sense the power of a verb, it gives the named sense the power to be, the power of action.

For lunch, we cross the tracks and go a few blocks away to The Country Mansion Restaurant, which has ties to the Keeley Company.  On our way to Dwight, we saw a wind farm dotted with modern wind turbines.  At the Country Mansion, we encounter a windmill from an earlier time.


The Country Mansion Restaurant in Dwight.  The original structure was built in 1891 at another location and moved to this site in 1895

Through the years, the building was: a boarding house; a private home; owned by the Keeley Company and named The Lodge; purchased in 1977 and remodeled to become the restaurant.  It was placed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The Kicks” of Route 66 all those years ago was the spirit of adventure on a road of progress.  The “Kicks” of Illinois Historic Route 66 are the history, the art, and the architecture it left us.  The romance of Route 66 lives on.


Addendum June 7, 2010: According to today’s Chicago Tribune, the Village of Dwight was hit by a tornado yesterday. The article noted that houses were damaged, but did not mention anything about damage to Dwight’s historic sites.

To be continued

More information

Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway (Illinois Route 66 organization)

Route 66 Association of Illinois

National Historic Route 66 Federation. Gives a brief history of Route 66 with photos.

Historic Route 66. Maps, books, gallery, GPS

Map of Route 66

Lyrics of Route 66 as sung by Nat King Cole

Send “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” ringtone to your cell

Walking tour of Dwight, IL, with photos and description.  Provides information for making Amtrak reservations if you want to visit Dwight.

Dwight historic sites

About the Author ()

I am a retired environmental, health and safety manager who has done some work in communications. I have a knowledge of and passion for sustainability issues. In temperament I am a peculiar mix of stable soul and free spirit.

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