On The Road: 5 Great Stops Along I-55

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In our continuing coverage of flossy diversions along America's roadways (you can read the first two posts here and here), this week we take a look at the northeast-running expanse of Interstate 55 between St. Louis and Chicago.  Making up the eastern end of Route 66, this path connects two of this country's largest cities, linking together people, culture and the spirit of the highway"¦

1. Home-cooked Dining Since 1924

The Ariston Cafe, located in Litchfield, IL, holds the distinction of being the oldest restaurant on Route 66.  Originally founded in 1924 in nearby Carlinville, the cafe was relocated to its current spot in 1929  and has been owned and operated by the same family throughout its history.  The restaurant is also a member of the Route 66 Hall of Fame (although reports are that Chuck Berry refused to play at the induction due to a mistaken dispute over key lime pie).  With the motto "Remember Where Good Food is Served," pull up a chair and take in American dining at its finest (or at least its most nostalgic).

2. The Landmarks Of Lincoln

Lincoln's_TombWhat trip through the "Land of Lincoln" would be complete without a visit to see the 16th president?  If you're a history buff and haven't yet had the chance to visit Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, go now.  I'll wait.  This impressive resting place includes a 115-foot high granite obelisk and a reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial.

Dedicated in 1874, the tomb is also the final resting place for President Lincoln's wife, Mary, and three of their four sons (the eldest, Robert T. Lincoln is buried in Arlington National Cemetery).  Inside, you can find excerpts from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address. 

3. Get Your Kicks

Rt 66 HoFSnuggled in Pontiac, IL, you will find the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum, celebrating the history and Kerouacian joy of America's most popular highway.  Through its halls, you can view the towns and locations along this famous route and bear witness to its mission: to recognize "those people and places along Route 66 whose blend of hardy individualism and grassroots community spirit gave the road such special character."

And for that perfect blend of nostalgia and social networking, why not follow the museum on Twitter?

4. A Palace For The People

LOBBY_FRIn Joliet (hometown of Lionel Richie), you can find the Rialto Square Theatre.  Opened in 1926, the building was originally a vaudeville theater house and has since become known for its live entertainment and incredible architecture.  The inner lobby of the theater is designed after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, and one of the archways is an exact replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris—classic works that stand in perfect juxtaposition to the modernity of the Chicagoland Speedway found just a few miles away.

Additionally, the major attraction of the theater is a Baron Grande Theatre Pipe Organ, which once provided music and sound effects for the vaudeville acts.  The Joliet Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts have provided care and maintenance for the organ since 1972.

5. Breathtaking Natural Beauty

mazegarden_aerialOut last destination is the sprawling and spectacular Morton Arboretum located in Lisle, IL.  Comprised of 1700 acres, you will find over 4,100 species of trees, bushes and foliage inside its magical boundaries.  There are 16 miles of hiking trails, another nine miles reserved for cars, a gorgeous Visitor Center and, anchoring the east corner, the Sterling Morton Library, which holds over 27,000 volumes.

Established by Joy Morton (the founder of the Morton Salt Company), his original Thornhill Estate formed the basis for the arboretum.  While you're there, make sure you see the Millennium Oak, a tree so old it predates Illinois' statehood, and the Maze Garden.

September 17, 2009 - 8:24am
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