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Route 66

From Joliet, you can follow old Route 66 southwest through a series of nice small towns along Hwy-53, which runs along the southeast side of I-55. Though the route is sometimes a bit obscure and not all that rich in history or aesthetic delights, the towns here offer a pleasant taste of what old Route 66 had to offer. Wilmington is semi-famous for its photogenic 30-foot-tall, bright green Gemini Giant statue, which stands in front of the former Launching Pad Drive-In (810 E. Baltimore St.). The Gemini Giant is in fine shape, but not its host; the Launching Pad has been closed and put up for sale for a number of years. Fortunately, for hungry road-trippers, the neighboring town of Braidwood has the popular, retro-1950s Polk-A-Dot Drive-In (222 N. Front St., 815/458-3377) along old Route 66, and the Polk-A-Dot has a giant of its own: a 9-foot-tall guitar-wielding 1970s-era Elvis Presley.

A statue of a green-suited spaceman holding a rocket.
Stop and get a photo with the 30′ tall Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois. Photo © Maggie, CC-BY.

Continuing along Hwy-53, there are a couple more classic Route 66 scenes along the old road northwest of Pontiac, the next biggish town. Dwight is leafy and quaint, well known a century ago for its Keeley Institute treatment center for alcoholics, and now famous for its fine old Texaco station, which stands at the main crossroads (near the reliable Old Route 66 Family Restaurant).

A classic filling station with red pumps in Dwight Illinois.
Fill up at the classic Dwight Texaco. Photo © Laura Bittner, CC-BY.

The Dwight Texaco station opened in 1933 and managed to stay in business until 1999, earning it a reputation as the oldest continually operating gas station on the Mother Road (retiring at the ripe old age of 66 was a clever marketing move!). The station has been restored to its original look and now serves as Dwight’s welcome center. To my eye, an even more picturesque old Standard Oil gas station stands just down Hwy-53 in the next Route 66 town, Odell.

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