As you travel on Rt. 66, you are driving along a historic railroad line.
Abraham Lincoln often used this line while on legal business from 1853 to 1860. Lincoln wrote the laws which formed parts of this railroad corridor, and without that start, Rt. 66 would not have been built here.
100 years after Lincoln's time, Rt. 66 was a smooth concrete ribbon winding its way through the prairie.
In the early 1920s the timber was cut by hand to make way for Illini Boulevard, later to become Rt. 66. The new Illini Boulevard made a beautiful drive through the timber.
The railroad, which is parallel to Rt. 66, was built by Irish immigrant laborers - hundreds of whom died in the effort. Fifty-three Irishmen and three Native American men, all laborers, were buried in a mass grave in the Funk's Grove Cemetery. The grave site is now marked by an Irish cross.
Dead Man's Curve in Towanda
So-named due to the many wrecks which resulted from drivers hitting these 90 curves at high speed. Locals talk of people from Chicago being particularly at risk.
Funk's Grove, a National Natural Landmark, is bisected by Rt. 66. The Grove is one of the most scenic areas in Illinois that Rt. 66 passes through. The grove's continuing existence is due to the shared stewardship of the Funk and Stubblefield families, who own the grove. At 1,200 acres it is the largest intact prairie grove in Illinois.
Since 1891 the grove has produced maple sirup, and a stop at the Sugar Shack is a must.
The Great Depression of the 1930s spurred demand for inexpensive travel. Bus lines which utilized the new concrete highways were the answer. Normal's Greyhound station, located at Sprague's, was a service to students at ISNU and families who had children at the nearby home for orphans. The classic Hollywood film "It Happened One Night" (1934) with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert popularized and romanticized this travel experience.
Fill ‘er Up!
This Tudor Revival-style building was built in 1931 by William Sprague as a gas station, cafe, and service garage. His apartment was located on the second floor. The cafe served beer for the short time after the end of Prohibition in late 1933 and before the town outlawed the sale of beer, wine, and spirits. The station also served as Normal's interstate bus station. There are five of these two-story gas stations left on Rt. 66. This is the largest of them. The station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Quinn Texaco opened in 1941 and was operated by twins Eldon and Elmo Quinn. They were noted for good service -- and good humor. The Texaco brand was national in scope. This station operated until 2014 under the management of Elmo Quinn.
Sampson Oil opened on Rt. 66 (Main St.) in downtown Bloomington in 1931. This was an independent operation selling Diamond Gasoline, a regional brand. The building was designed by local architect Arthur F. Moratz
Rt. 66 Goes Four-Lane
In 1939-40 in Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, and Springfield four-lane beltlines build to move cars around town, not through town. Its curve on the southeast side of Bloomington was called the "one-hundered miles-an-hour curve." This new road quickly attracted service stations, motels, and restaurants.
Hamilton-Whitten Dormitory, Illinois State Normal University
In 1960 Illinois State Normal University opened its first modernist dormitory. It housed 816 women students. Located on Business 66, it was the first tall/urban style dormitory on a state university campus in Illinois. Hamilton-Whitten was built to house the World War II baby-boom generation. Universities were scrambling to provide housing and tall dorms designed with Mies van der Rohe International-style sensibilities solved the problem. The dorms were designed by local architects Schaeffer, Wilson and Evans.
These students grew up in the automobile age and they were delivered to the dorms by their families with clothes, bedding, books, typewriters, and teddy bears. The building's windows were illuminated with the initials "ISNU" in celebration of its opening in 1960.