Larger Than Life on Route 66

On April 30, 2026, historic Route 66 turns 100 years old. The anniversary of the Mother Road is eagerly anticipated and preparations to celebrate are already underway with an exciting revival of the iconic American highway. Be a part of the Route 66 renaissance by traveling the Route 66 Monument Trail, a set of eight larger than life Route 66 shields honoring the Mother Road and the great American road trip. Take a photo with each monument to celebrate one-hundred years of travel!

An Evolving Highway

There are three alignments of Route 66 that changed as the American highway system was adjusted into what exists today. Southwest Illinois contains the last 100 miles of Route 66 in the state and some of the oldest towns on the first alignment.

• First Alignment:
The first alignment lasted from Route 66’s founding in 1926 to 1930. Alignment one’s width was only 8-20 ft. and the speed limit was only 25 MPH. The first alignment in Illinois followed previously dirt and rock roads connecting towns from Chicago to Springfield before crossing the Mississippi River to St. Louis. The 1st alignment was used heavily by bootleggers during the prohibition era and saw some of the earliest automobiles of the century.

• Second Alignment:
Route 66’s second alignment lasted from 1930 to 1940. The second alignment bypassed Springfield and Joliet Illinois in efforts to avoid a slowing of traffic in the higher populated cities. The speed limit was raised to between 60-80 MPH and the road was used by a multitude of travelers seeking work during the Great Depression.

• Third Alignment:
The third alignment of Route 66 lasted from 1940 to 1951. By the 1940s, the U.S, government decided the new road systems needed to have rest stops and picnic areas for international travel and in 1951 the Interstate Highway System had started development. The country needed reliable and fast transport for World War 2 defense needs and by 1956 most of Route 66 in Illinois was turned into U.S. highway I-55.
By 1977 Route 66 and its transportation ability were considered obsolete- the highway couldn’t handle the heavy loads of modern tractor trailers, higher capacity traffic, and most of Route 66’s bridges were not adequate to address the growing needs of the country. America’s most famous highway was decommissioned on June, 27, 1985.

Route 66 Shield Monument in Girard

Girard - First Alignment 133 S. 2nd St. 62640

Girard marks the historic Girard to Nilwood Segment on Route 66 which is on the National Register of Historic Places - which means you can drive this preserved original strip of Route 66 and see original attractions like the 1940’s Former Standard Station, a vintage Shell Station, and still get treats at the famous 1920’s Docs Just Off 66 or the 1950’s Whirl-A-Whip Restaurant.

Check out the Route 66 Monument Shield next to the historic Macoupin County "Cannonball" Jail in Carlinville.

Carlinville - First Alignment 215 S. East St. 62626

Route 66 traveled through the City of Carlinville at the height of prohibition from 1926-1931. The infamous Ortic Inn was built on a farm several miles south of the city and purportedly used by gangster Al Capone and bootleggers running liquor from the south to Chicago. Coal mining played a significant part of the economy of Carlinville and Standard Oil built 159 Sears and Roebuck kit homes in the city in 1918- 156 of which still stand today.

Carlinville is famous for the ‘Million Dollar’ Macoupin County Courthouse - one of the most extravagant courthouses in the country- and the Old Macoupin County ‘Cannonball Jail’- a slightly unorthodox prison allegedly structured with Civil War cannon balls in the walls to hinder escapees.

Gillespie - First Alignment 115 Macoupin St. 62033

The small town of Gillespie is on the original first alignment of Route 66 on the stretch between Springfield and Staunton Illinois. A well-known coal-mining town, Gillespie was one of the busiest towns in the county in the early 20th century for its rich ores and is home to the Illinois Coal Museum, the 1921 Canna Theatre, a former service station, and Lake Gillespie.

The Progressive Miners of America Union formed in 1932 in Gillespie and the small town was once famous for its annual Black Diamond Days, a three day festival featuring a carnival, parades, contests, mine rescue demonstrations, and shopping.

Discover more Mother Road history in Litchfield and be sure to get a pic at the Litchfield Shield.

Litchfield - Second and Third Alignments 1101 W. Union Ave. 62056

Located on two alignments of the Mother Road, Litchfield is a great example of Route 66 preservation. Route 66 era businesses like the Ariston Café built in 1924, Jubelt’s Bakery founded in 1922, and the 1950 Litchfield Sky View Drive-In Theatre - one of the last remaining drive-ins left on Route 66 - are still in operation in Litchfield.

Get your Route 66 kicks in Hamel and see the Route 66 Monument Shield.

Hamel - First, Second & Third Alignments 11 S. Old Route 66 62046

Once a service and dining pit stop on Route 66, the Village of Hamel has been aligned on Route 66 since its beginning and is still on the original route. The village is home to the 1931 Saint Paul Lutheran Church also called the ‘Church of the Neon Cross’. The town was also home to Nearon’s Tourist Cabins, a Conoco Station, a Meramec Caverns barn sign, Cassens Car Dealership, and Fowley’s Tavern - all since demolished or converted today.

In 1937, Hamel ‘Tourist’ Haven restaurant was opened by George Cassens- today the restaurant is reopened under the name Weezy’s Grill and still serves up meals hot and ready like it did in the old days. Another Hamel eatery is the Route 66 Creamery which opened in 2021. The new restaurant revives Route 66 charm with ice-cream, steak burgers, and chili and the Route 66 Mural Trail iteration for Hamel is on its façade.

Edwardsville - First, Second & Third Alignments 145 West St. 62025

One of the largest cities of the Last 100 Miles of Route 66 in Illinois, Edwardsville has a bevy of historic sites dating all the way back to 1805.

Edwardsville is the third eldest town in Illinois and has three historic districts including the Historic Leclaire Neighborhood District, St. Louis Street District, and the Brick Street District which are all included on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city is home to one of the largest campuses in the United States, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), has many routes interlinking Madison County Transit Trails, and is home to the historic 1909 Wildey Theatre which still puts on theatrical and musical performances today.

Other honorable Route 66 mentions in Edwardsville include the Hi-Way Tavern, Site Gas Station (current location of Mark’s Muffler Shop), Jacober’s Market building, and a wacky fiberglass steer on the 1947 Main St. Goshen butcher shop named ‘Herbie the Hereford’.

Be sure to stop by the newly renovated West End Service Station for some Mother Road nostalgia. The Route 66 Monument Shield is located just south of this landmark museum/visitor center.

Head to Uptown Collinsville and enjoy great dining, shopping and more. Be sure to stop by the Route 66 Monument Shield.

Collinsville - Third Alignment E. Clay St. 62234

Collinsville has two very popular Route 66 attractions - Cahokia Mounds, a World Heritage Site and archeologically important Native American civilization, and the 1907 Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower, a fun and tangy landmark advertising Brooks Tomato Products Company condiments.

Take a drive for some photos in front of the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle and climb to the top of the biggest earth mound in North America with an educational visit to the Cahokia Mounds interpretive center to see recovered artifacts and get to know the history of the ancient Cahokian people .

Collinsville is also home to many standing service stations from Route 66’s heyday including the 1970’s Lowell’s Mobil Station, a 1950’s gas station (now LaDrew Automotive), and a 1920’s cottage-style gas station called Eck Auto.

In Granite City, both the Route 66 mural and the Route 66 Monument Shield welcome visitors to The District.

Granite City - First, Second & Third Alignment 1243 Niedringhaus Ave. 62040

Only a few miles from the Mississippi River and at the crossroads of three Route 66 alignments, Granite City has many Mother Road attractions still standing including the 50’s style Mr. Twist Ice Cream shop - serving the ‘Best ice cream and sherbet in Granite City’- the O’Brien Tire & Auto Care building, which continues to serve as an auto shop, the old 1940’s Speedy Service gas station, and many vintage motels that served (or still serve) travelers on their way to St. Louis.

Granite City is also the location of the east side of the 1929 Chain of Rocks Bridge, a unique bridge with a 30 degree bend in the middle. First built as a toll bridge and now a foot and bicycle bridge, Chain of Rocks gets its name from the rapids and boulders beneath the bridge that churn the Mississippi River.

About the Author

Kayla Howland

Kayla Howland is a local writer and artist who lives in Alton, IL with her Cairn Terrier, Ripley. She enjoys fiction and non-fiction writing, graphic design, painting, drawing and photography. Kayla is a graduate of Southwestern High School and Lewis & Clark Community College. She has worked doing freelance graphic design, photography and commissioned paintings since 2012.