Explore Central Illinois on a Route 66 Road Trip

Rt 66 road sign, badge- or shield-shapedIf you’re driving on Route 66 this summer, you will come right through Bloomington/Normal. Stop and stay a while. And if you’re on the interstate, consider an overnight detour! We’re sure we’re one of the reasons people are still getting their kicks on Route 66, and we get our kicks pointing Vrooman Mansion guests in the direction of the highway gems.

As a 150-year-old mansion, we appreciate history around us, and Route 66 provides it! Predating the interstate system, its diagonal route connected small towns from Chicago to Los Angeles. Necessities along the road popped up—gas stations, diners, hotels—for travelers and eventually tourists.

Historic Route

The road led to easier, thus larger and safer, national migrations, usually spurred by economics. People escaped the Dust Bowl via Route 66, knowing the route to opportunity was already paved. Others escaped the cold, knowing this road would take them to warm, southwestern climes. And some, like now, escape just for a getaway.

Before they got far from Chicago, they landed in Bloomington where they could stop at the very first Steak ’n Shake. There’s even more reason to stop now. The Route 66 Visitor Center connected to the McLean County Museum of History may be the consummate Mother Road museum in the nation. The exhibits and stories cover the entire 2,448 miles of Historic Route 66. You can travel the whole thing right here! But go ahead; plan a trip and get out on the highway.

Route 66 in Central Illinois

Old gas pumps and old soda machine in front of old building. Route 66Pontiac (39 miles north): The Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum here is one of the road’s many museums. Pontiac is also home to the largest Route 66 shield.

Lexington (19 miles north): Drive down Memory Lane, a one-mile stretch of the original 1926 roadbed, and enjoy some historic billboards, including one of the famously funny Burma Shave signs. Lexington has a lot of the look and feel of Route 66’s heyday with several buildings and signs all around.

Towanda (9 miles north): You’ll find one of the old neon gas station signs at Kick’s Bar and Grill and an infamous Dead Man’s Curve, which we aren’t suggesting you test!

Arrive here in Normal, 3 miles from Bloomington: Normal is home to Sprague Super Service Station, which embodied the changing times. It was both a unique, family-owned station, but it was more than one pump and a house. It went up against the big oil boys but maintained a unique – instead of square—look of the corporations. It’s continuing to showcase its Route 66 history and distinctiveness.

Funks Grove/Shirley (11 miles south): Pick up great maple sirup—that’s not a typo; that’s how it’s spelled in these parts from way back in the day. It’s made on the Funk family farm here and has been since the 1800s. The family gave up (sold) a slither of their land to make way for Highway 66.

Atlanta (22 miles south): One of those great big men statues from the 1960s lives here. Called Muffler Men, they were an advertising gimmick. This 19-footer appears to have been selling hot dogs.  

Lincoln (32 miles south): Stop here to see another big man, but this 30-footer is not a Muffler Man, but a young Abe Lincoln with an ax. Any cherry trees around? If you’ve made it to Lincoln, you can engulf yourself in information about the 16th U.S. president. In fact, you’ll see him sitting and reading in the World’s Largest Covered Wagon on the route. This is a modern entry to American roadside kitsch (built in 2001) but fits perfectly.

Stay the Night at Our Inn

Deep purple room with white trim, white curtains, wood floors, and carved wood bed covered in floral beddingBut don’t forget, in the midst of a central Illinois tour of Route 66 or a scenic trip between Chicago and St. Louis, Vrooman Mansion Bed and Breakfast is here to give you its own taste of history. Before the highway, there was our Victorian-era mansion. It’s always been a home of both comfort and luxury, and now can be just that for travelers. Relax in our parlor, library, or other common rooms before laying your head on the down pillow in your uniquely appointed suite. Then enjoy a home-cooked, gourmet breakfast before heading onto the next leg of your Route 66 road trip.

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