“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Wilmington in Will County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

Wilmington, Illinois

Welcome to Route 66 Illinois

Wilmington, Illinois Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Jason Voigt, September 30, 2020
1. Wilmington, Illinois Marker
Front side (all Illinois Route 66 Experience Hubs have the same front)


Route 66, the Mother Road, is an American icon that symbolizes romance and freedom of the open road. Born in 1926, Route 66 was one of the first numbered U.S. highways, journeying 2,500 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. Today, you can still "get your kicks on Route 66" by exploring the Illinois Historic Route 66 National Scenic Byway.

The Mother Road

Route 66 was the road of flight for people escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. It was the route of adventure for families seeking the wonders of the Southwest and California in the 1950s and '60s.

Roadside Oddities

Quirky attractions lured travelers off the road with the promise of fun and adventure. Explore giants, museums, and other attractions that still exist today.

Fill 'er Up?

Service stations along Route 66 did more than just pump gas. Friendly attendants assisted travelers with a smile. Today, you can rediscover several historic service stations.

On to Missouri

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is the scenic endpoint of Route 66 in Illinois.
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It served as a crossing over the Mississippi River for traffic from 1936 to 1955. It is now open for walking and biking.

The Beginning

Historic Route 66 starts in downtown Chicago, the business and cultural capital of the Midwest. It travels through bustling Chicago suburbs before reaching the rural countryside.

Main Street of America

Grain elevators and fields greet modern travelers, much as they did in earlier eras. Journey through prairie farmland and friendly Midwestern towns.

Good Eatin'

Diners and cafes sprang up along the road catering to people on the move. You can still enjoy home style cooking from a time before fast food.

Route 66 Lives On

Unable to compete with fast-moving freeways, U.S. Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985. Nostalgia for hometowns and America's landscape, fueled by movies, TV shows, and music, keeps the Mother Road alive.

(reverse, top panel:)

Route 66 Attractions in the Wilmington Region

1) Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie - Visit the Welcome Center just 3 miles north of here to discover the largest tallgrass prairie restoration in North America.

2) Launching Pad Drive-in and Gemini Giant - This classic Route 66 drive-in opened in 1960 to serve hot dogs and ice
Wilmington, Illinois Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Jason Voigt, September 30, 2020
2. Wilmington, Illinois Marker
Reverse side
cream. Get your photo taken with the Gemini Giant, a fiberglass "Muffler Man" holding a rocket.

3) Sinclair Dinosaur - Look on the roof of G&D Tires for this dinosaur statute, the symbol of Sinclair Oil since 1933.

4) Mar Theater - This classic movie theater has been featuring first-run films since 1937.

5) Eagle Hotel - Built as a stage shop in 1836, this hotel was already 90 years old when Route 66 was designated.

6) Polk-a-Dot Drive In - In 1962, hot dogs were served out of a bus covered in colored polk-a-dots. Don't miss the good food and memorabilia at this 1950s-style drive in.

7) Art Deco Service Station - This historic station began serving Route 66 travelers in 1939.

8) Ill. Rte. 66 Mining Museum - Experience the "Mother Lode" of Illinois mining history along the Mother Road.

9) Mazonia-Braidwood State Fish & Wildlife Area - This reclaimed strip mine is a great place to watch wildlife and to hunt for fossils (permit required).

10) Two-Cell Jail - Take a picture behind bars and listen to an audio message at this historic jail built in 1906.

11) Historic Streetcar Diner - This Kankakee horse drawn street car came to Gardner in 1932 to serve as a diner for Route 66 travelers.

(reverse, bottom panel:)

Wilmington, Illinois Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Jason Voigt, September 30, 2020
3. Wilmington, Illinois Marker
Nelly's restaurant is in the background on the right
Island City" - Route 66 in Wilmington

You are standing on an island surrounded by the scenic Kankakee River, the source of Wilmington's nickname, "The Island City."
People have crossed the river here for hundreds of years. It was a winter camp of the Potawatomi tribe. In 1834, Thomas Cox harnessed the water for a saw mill and soon after platted the town. Route 66 passed through here from 1926 to 1939.

Eagle Hotel

Cox's Mill drew settlers from a wide area to grind their wheat and corn into flour. The Eagle Hotel was built in 1836 to accommodate these farmers and as a stage stop between Chicago and Pontiac.

The Gemini Giant

The most photographed citizen of Wilmington is not a person. He is The Gemini Giant, a 1960's "muffler man" at the Launching Pad Drive-in. These enormous advertising characters towered over roads across America, clutching mufflers, hot dogs, axes, and, in Wilmington, a rocket ship.
Erected by Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceNative AmericansRoads & VehiclesWaterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the U.S. Route 66 series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1926.
Location. 41° 18.474′ 
Gemini Giant in Wilmington image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Jason Voigt, September 30, 2020
4. Gemini Giant in Wilmington
Mentioned on the marker, this is located 0.6 miles from the marker
N, 88° 8.898′ W. Marker is in Wilmington, Illinois, in Will County. Marker is on Bridge Street (Illinois Route 53) north of North Park Street, on the left when traveling north. Marker is in the parking lot of Nelly's restaurant. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 140 Bridge St, Wilmington IL 60481, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 12 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Diamond Mine Disaster (approx. 5˝ miles away); Abraham Lincoln Founding President (approx. 5.6 miles away); Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (approx. 5.6 miles away); LGBT Veterans Memorial (approx. 5.6 miles away); Elwood Arsenal (approx. 7 miles away); Mining Black Diamonds (approx. 7 miles away); Rockville Illinois (approx. 11 miles away); War Memorial (approx. 11.6 miles away).
More about this marker. This is one of 14 "experience hubs" (erected by Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway) that are all over Illinois along the old Route 66. All experience hub markers have the same front text, but have different reverse signs on the back. The top panel typically shows recommended Route 66 and local tourist stops, as well as maps of different Route 66 alignments. The bottom reverse panel usually has historical content, as well as a passport rubbing stamp. All experience hubs are nine feet tall, and have a button where people can listen to Bobby Troup's "Get Your Kicks on Route 66".
Credits. This page was last revised on October 22, 2020. It was originally submitted on October 22, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois. This page has been viewed 332 times since then and 131 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on October 22, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois.

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Sep. 25, 2023