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Lincoln in Logan County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

The Tropics

A Route 66 Landmark

 
 
The Tropics Marker image. Click for full size.
By Jason Voigt, September 27, 2020
1. The Tropics Marker
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A Family Business - The Early Years

Vince Schwenoha opened the Tropics in 1950, naming it in remembrance of his military tour of duty spent in Hawaii. In 1951, Lewis Lee Johnson came to Lincoln from Macomb, Illinois as a meat cutter with the Kroger Company. He began working at the Tropics, first as a busboy and later tending bar. He fell in love with Beverly Joan Worth, a young beautician working as the Tropics' night hostess. They married in February of 1955. On November 10th of that year, Vince sold the property to Vic Thudium and Jerry Austman and on November 11th Lew Johnson became the restaurant's manager, leasing the building until 1982 when they decided to purchase. From the beginning, it was a family business for the Johnsons. Their children grew up at the Tropics and eventually all three played an important part in running what became a Rt. 66 landmark.

Fire and Ice - A Double Whammy

On Saturday, January 23, 1965 a fire broke out, caused by a transformer located in the Tropics coffee shop. The restaurant closed for two months as damages were repaired. Then, in February of 1975 a
The Tropics Marker image. Click for full size.
By Jason Voigt, September 27, 2020
2. The Tropics Marker
Marker and sign are between McDonald's and King Buffet in Lincoln.
second fire, started by an electrical short in an exhaust fan, caused extensive damage to the restaurant. This time, the owners decided to rebuild the Tropics, rather than remodel. As the Tropics was being rebuilt from 1975 to 1977, traffic was routed off Rt. 66 and around Lincoln on the new Interstate 55. Motorists traveling from Chicago to St. Louis now had to intentionally exit the highway to get to The Tropics. On July 7, 1977 the newly updated Tropics reopened, but due to the new interstate bypass, business suffered and by early 1978 Lew and Bev were on the brink of bankruptcy. Then the ice storm of '78 hit Lincoln, leaving most of the city without power for 5-10 days. One of the first places the area's utility company, Cilco, chose to restore power to was the Tropics, as the restaurant was needed to feed the hungry utility crews working long hours. This influx of business helped keep the Tropics alive.

An Iconic Landmark - Resurrected

The Tropics restaurant was inducted into the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame in 2016. The year before, the City of Lincoln, the Logan County Tourism Bureau, and the Johnson Family formed a partnership to save and restore the restaurant's iconic neon sign as a tourist attraction for Lincoln and Logan County. The sign is now owned and maintained by the City of Lincoln. Restored to its former glory in
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2018 by Ace Sign Co. (Springfield, Illinois), the bright neon reminds visitors of the heydays of Rt. 66 and invites them to explore all the Mother Road offers.

The Tropics Family

Throughout their time at the Tropics, Lew and Bev Johnson worked hard to build their business and care for their employees. Beverly Johnson passed away in 1992 after a 3-year battle with cancer. Lew, along with his children, kept the Tropics going until 1997 when a decision was made - after 42 years serving the public - that it would be best to sell the restaurant. Lew Johnson passed away in 2004 and the building sat empty for 10 years. It was sold in 2014, but never regained its former glory.

Lew Johnson
June 2, 1930 - April 11, 2004

Beverly Johnson
August 3, 1935 - May 1, 1992

Survived by their sons Kim Johnson & Eric Johnson and daughter Tami Goodrich.

Thank you! - Restoration of the Tropics restaurant neon sign was made possible by the generous support and assistance received from these individuals and organizations whose gifts of $1,000 or more are greatly appreciated.

McDonalds of Lincoln, Millan/Petro Organizatino | State Bank of Lincoln, Established 1904 | The Woods Foundation | Illico Incorporated Supporting Lincoln Since 1904 David Golwitzer, President | Fond Love
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& Memories to the Johnson Family & Staff - Fred & Nadine Proctor, Jean Meikle & Family | Mr. & Mrs. Coy Hutchcraft - The Tropics, The Best of the Best Route 66 | Ralph E. and Vi Schmidt Family | Joseph & Sudie Mintjal | Seth A. Goodman, ME Realty | Arthur M. Mount & Family In Loving Memory of Burke Miller & Pat Jones | City of Lincoln | Logan County Board | Logan County Tourism Bureau | Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Program | Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois | National Parks Service Rt. 66 Corridor Preservation Program | The Family of Lew & Bev Johnson, Kim, Lisa, Bob, Tami, Eric, Chas, Max, Shelby, Molly, Sydney

 
Erected 2018 by Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway.
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceRoads & Vehicles. In addition, it is included in the U.S. Route 66 🛣️ series list.
 
Location. 40° 9.541′ N, 89° 23.237′ W. Marker is in Lincoln, Illinois, in Logan County. Marker is on Hickox Drive west of Lincoln Parkway (Old U.S. 66), on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1109 Hickox Dr, Lincoln IL 62656, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Roadside Attractions (approx. 0.7 miles away); Vietnam War Memorial (approx. ¾ mile away); Postville Park (approx. 0.9 miles away); Abraham Lincoln at Postville (approx. 0.9 miles away); Postville Court House Site (approx. 0.9 miles away); Postville Courthouse State Historic Site (approx. 0.9 miles away); In Memory of Abraham Lincoln (approx. 0.9 miles away); Judge Davis and Lincoln at Deskins Inn (approx. 0.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Lincoln.
 
Also see . . .  The Tropics sign returns to Lincoln. From route66news.com, this article (written by Ron Warnick) is about the then-upcoming re-lighting ceremony of the Tropics sign, which took place on 6/24/2018. Published on June 17, 2018. (Submitted on November 4, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on November 4, 2020. It was originally submitted on November 4, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois. This page has been viewed 45 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on November 4, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois.
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Feb. 24, 2021