April 21, 2016
What an exciting day! I spent yesterday getting my computer ready and plans made for publishing the travel blog and then I visited the VFW Post 2608 that is hosting me in their parking lot. I began a conversation with John, a Vietnam veteran, who is a farmer and came in early from the fields due to rain. Quite an interesting man. He talked about his Army experiences in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief and when the time came he invited me to dinner at the Country Mansion. Back in the ‘70s he had helped to renovate the building and gave me a tour after dinner. The owner visited with us and invited me to the 90th anniversary celebration of Route 66 that was being held today at the old Texaco station.
I got out of bed early to backtrack into Wilmington, Braidwood, Godly and Gardner to capture some of the sights recommended to me. Then as I visited the Country Mansion for a photo opportunity before participating in the 90th anniversary celebration.
First stop is Wilmington, the Island City. As you drive in from Chicago through Joliet you enter to see the Gemini Giant and the Launching Pad Drive In. I learned today that the Drive In has been purchased.
Before you cross the Kankakee River there are three things to see:
Nelly’s Rte. 66 Diner. A typical 50’s – 60’s style diner serving burgers, fries, onion rings and hot dogs.
Next is the Van Duyne Motel – “Best Motel by a Dam Site”. This isn’t modern motel that you would want the family to stay in but it is still here and there is a vacancy!
Directly across the street at a baseball diamond is the 150 foot Joliet Arsenal flagpole that was moved from Joliet at 2am to avoid traffic. With this flagpole a veteran’s memorial is being constructed.
The Wilmington VFW Post 5422 is the only Blue Star Memorial on Route 66 in Illinois.
Every small town I ever visited had a Ben Franklin general merchandise store. Wilmington still has theirs and is sporting its own Route 66 corner. I bought a Route 66 piggy bank here.
Braidwood, IL is home to the Polk-a-Dot Drive In. From Elvis to the Blues Brothers with Betty Boop, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe this is the place to visit.
Across the street is the Braidwood Zoo.
Leaving Braidwood we head toward Godley and pass a Nuclear Energy Plant – no tourist facilities though. In Godley is the Godley Mining Museum (Free admission).
Passing through Braceville did not reap any tourist activities but I did find a couple of classic cars parked alongside the road.
I continued on and wanted to show that most of Illinois so far lives up to its claim as the heartland with fertile fields for growing food for America and the world.
The next stop is Gardner, home of the 2 cell jail. Next to the jail is the restored historic street car diner that was located at the rear of the Riviera – an original Route 66 road house. The Riviera hosted many old time movie legends such as Gene Kelly and cowboy heartthrob Tom Mix. Of notoriety is that Al Capone and his brother Ralph were also regulars. The Riviera was destroyed by fire on June 8, 2010.
Downtown Gardner, IL
Next stop is Dwight, IL. Beautiful spring blossoms everywhere.
Dinner at the Country Mansion was a treat at this charming restaurant.
What follows is from thecountrymansion.com website.
Long a landmark of scenic Dwight, Illinois, The Country Mansion has had a colorful and productive past, and since 1980 has been on the “National Register of Historic Places.” Built in 1891, this grand Victorian was originally a Scott House, a twenty room boarding house located one block northeast of its present location. According to town historians, in 1894 the three-story structure was moved by the use of horses to its current site, which at that time was the grounds of the Keeley Institute, an internationally known alcohol recovery hospital.
In 1895, the home was elaborately renovated under the direction of Joliet architect Julian Barnes to become the residence of John R. Oughton, one of the founders of the Keeley Institute. It then became known as “The Manse.” The April 6, 1895 issue of the Dwight Star and Herald reported, “The Scott House will not know itself when the changes are made. The residence and all the barns and out houses are the outhouses are to be moved and the grounds made into a beautiful park … the very best materials and the very best work throughout is provided for and the design is elegant. We understand the improvements will cost over $20,000 when finished.” Upon completion there were twenty rooms on the first two floors, including servant quarters and an additional five rooms in the basement, including a bowling alley, engine room, vegetable room, and ballroom, as well as a very roomy attic.
In 1896, the Windmill, which is now the centerpiece to a scenic new park adjoining the Mansion grounds, was constructed to supply water for the Oughton estate. Placed on “The National Register of Historic Places” in 1980, it was donated to the Village in 2001 by Mike and Bev Hogan and beautifully restored in 2006.
Changes continued to “The Manse,” and in 1930 it housed Keeley patients and was known as “The Lodge.” In 1939, the town and the Keeley Company celebrated the institute’s sixtieth at this site and dedicated a bronze memorial plaque with the likeness of its three founders which remains on the grounds today. With the closing of the Keeley Institute in 1966, the home was transformed into “The Lodge Restaurant.” In 1977, it was purchased by the Ohlendorfs, remodeled and reopened as “The Country Mansion.”
The east porch now serves as the main entrance into the Mansion dining areas. Overlooking the lovely wedding gardens, it offers a vista ablaze with colorful perennial gardens, a charming bridal gazebo, and emerald lawns shaded by ancient trees.
The interior has retained and enhanced the original Victorian appointments, which include a high barrel ceiling hallway, and dining rooms with elegant coffered ceilings, dentil moldings, leaded glass, and built-in oak sideboards. A romantic lounge features two inviting fireplaces and mahogany double doors opening to a delightful al fresco dining area.
To the rear of the mansion, an expansive addition known as the Garden Room offers two walls of towering multi-paned windows with breathtaking views of the magnificent grounds plus the adjoining new park and historic Windmill, probably the prettiest in the country. This sought-after facility provides an idyllic setting for many formal occasions including weddings, anniversaries, conferences, and balls
The Library that used to be a stables.
The Old 66 Family Restaurant that I ate at my first night here allowed me to take photos inside their facility. In this first photo notice the wood inlaid piece. I’ve blown it up for a better view as I liked this.
So the 90th anniversary celebration of Route 66 isn’t actually until November 11th. But the folks in Dwight, IL wanted to start the spring with a celebration claiming to be the first celebration of the 90th anniversary of the opening of Route 66 from Chicago to LA. The celebration was held at the Texaco station and following are several photos of the occasion and the station itself.
Cars that would have traveled the Historic Route 66 abound at this birthday celebration.
There is even a 1914 Fire Engine in the Texaco station!
A new Route 66 Ambassettdor has been appointed!