Take a Trip to the Weird Side of Southwest Illinois
Hulking artifacts and statues, old Route 66 fascinations, the strange and the quirky- these 12 road-side attractions will take you off the beaten path!
From hippies to ghost chasers, conservationists to history hunters, southwest Illinois is a melting pot of eclectic people and places to visit. Nestled between the great rivers and the historic Mother Road, the area has long been a hub of industry and cross-country travel. Many strange places were built between the byways- some historic- some gimmicky- but all are sure to make you scratch your head.
1. The Mistake House- 1 Front Gate Road Elsah, IL- Built in 1931 at the inception of Principia College, the Mistake House is a Frankenstein mashup of building styles all in one house. The house was meant to showcase all the building styles of the then-new Principia College; it ended up becoming one of the strangest-looking houses in the area.
Travel Note: Principia College is a private property- the Mistake House can only be viewed on a scheduled guided tour of the campus by calling (618) 374-2131
2. Monstrous Mascot- Southwestern Piasa Bird- Main St., Piasa, IL-
The brother of the Alton Piasa Bird, this relocated piece of art is on the north end of Southwestern High School's football field, which is conveniently located next to the highway. It's on the east side of Hwy 267/111.
The Piasa Bird is Southwestern District 9’s mascot and weighs 9,000 lbs. It was acquired from the City of Alton after being decommissioned in the 90’s when Alton repainted the mythical dragon on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi.
3. Curiosity Museum- 301 E. Broadway, Alton, IL- Located in the old Mineral Springs mall, the Curiosity Museum is dedicated to the history of odd- it contains over 80 unusual exhibits showcasing quack medicine, bizarre art and illusions, the history of torture, and more. From meteorites to vampire-killing kits- this museum definitely raises eyebrows
Bonus Oddity: Alton Night Market- 627 E Broadway, Alton, IL- the Night Market, held every Thursday night in the summer months- most often June and July- is an oddity all its own. The market sells obscure artworks, crafts, food, and often has art installations and performers on site- you never know what you might find if you go!
4. Luna Café- 201 E Chain of Rocks Rd, Granite City, IL- The Luna Café is one of the few original Route 66 restaurants still open to the public- built in 1924- two years before the Mother Road opened- you can still grab a meal there today. The Luna Café was a hangout spot of notorious gangster, Al Capone, and other gangsters who purportedly gambled in the basement
5. Ten-Person Swing- 1834 State St., Granite City, IL- a giant swing created by Brian Depauli- the swing serves as both a piece of art and usable playground equipment and is titled: “A Swing For All My Friends”. Bring your friends. Really!
6. World’s Largest Geriatric Walker- Circle Drive, Edwardsville, IL- Located on Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville’s college campus, this 25 foot walker is the largest on Earth- created for SIUE’s annual sculpture park exhibit.
7. Henry’s Rabbit Ranch- 1107 Historic Old Rte 66, Staunton, IL- A Route 66 attraction dedicated to rabbits- both the furry kind and the automobile kind- owned by Rich Henry. Pet furry friends on the shop counter, See both a Volkswagen Rabbit and pet rabbit graveyard, observe artifacts from the Mother Road, and learn about the history of Route 66 in Staunton.
8. Country Classic Cars- 2149 E Frontage Rd, Staunton, IL- Serving as both a dealership and museum, Country Classic Cars is dedicated to showcasing the old and historic vehicles of yesteryear. Located near the infamous Mother Road, come see classic restored muscle cars and show vehicles- maybe even buy one while you’re there!
9. Route 66 Storage, Market, and Giant Rocking Chair- 20623 Route 66, Staunton IL- a unique flea market on Route 66 with a Giant Route 66 Rocking Chair out front- great for a kitschy photo opportunity!
10. Litchfield Skyview Drive-In- 1500 Old Rte 66 N, Litchfield, IL-
Opened in the spring of 1950, the Sky View Drive-In has been a classic Route 66 stop for over 70 consecutive years. A dying breed, drive-in movie theaters used to line the Mother Road- now the Sky View is one of only four in the entirety of the nation- three of those in Illinois.
Sky View is in the Route 66 Hall of Fame and still plays new and retro films. The original 1950’s snack bar is still in operation serving old-fashioned food and candies.
11. Gettysburg Address Time Capsule- Courthouse Square, Hillsboro, IL-
A plaque of the Gettysburg address in bronze with a time capsule beneath a slab- a cannon sits atop, guarding the contents beneath. The cannon and plaque have been around since 1931 and the capsule was added 45 years later to celebrate America’s bicentennial anniversary.
BONUS ODDITY: A second time capsule is being added in Hillsboro on November 28th at 1:00 P.M. to commemorate Montgomery County’s bicentennial. It will contain objects like newspaper clippings, a 2021 graduation tassel, a church bulletin, gasoline receipts, a Covid-19 mask, a photo of city hall members, and a key to the city- along with other items from 2021. The new time capsule will not be opened until the year 2071 and city hall is accepting contributions to the capsule for a fee of $10.
12. Cannonball Jail- 201 East Main Street, Carlinville, IL-
Constructed in 1859 using the “cannon ball method” which implanted civil war cannonballs in the walls to make escape by removal of stones nearly impossible, the Gothic-revival building once held 25-30 prisoners in the upper floors and basement.
Prisoners lived in rough conditions- the floors were dirt and meals were cooked by the Sheriff’s wife. Original bunks still exist in the basement. The building is currently under reassessment for repairs and the interior is closed, but the old exterior is still an interesting pit stop.
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