Exploring Springfield Illinois

The first time we did Route 66, we spent one night in Springfield, rushed through the Lincoln sites for a few hours the next morning and then made a long drive into Missouri. It was a grueling day.

This time we decided to take it a bit slower, and spend a full day exploring Springfield. Since we had already visited the downtown Lincoln sites just four years ago, we decided to mix it up a bit and try some other sites.

Dana Thomas House

 On our last visit, we saw, but did not visit, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Investigating, we found the home was the Dana Thomas House, designed by Wright on a commission he received in 1902. The home is considered to have one of the largest collections of site-specific, original Wright art glass and furniture.

The home is large (over 12,000 square feet) and was Wright’s first “blank check” commissions. As such, Wright had fairly free reign in the design and use of elements he embraced.

The tour we took was the first of the day and only had two couples attending. It was an extensive tour and we explored every level of the home, receiving great insight on the stained glass designs created by Wright.

You might be wondering how a Wright designed home in Springfield is related to a journey down Route 66.

Well, the home was designed for Susan Lawrence Dana, a well known socialite in Springfield and she used the home for extensive entertaining of wealthy guests. Because she was proud of her artistic home, she would often invite Wright to attend affairs and Wright would often use the home to demonstrate his thoughts on design (which Susan would eagerly invite). In effect, the house was a lure for new clients.

When Wright would visit Springfield, he would travel from Chicago, by car, on Route 66!

Cozy Dog

 For lunch and we visited a famous Springfield icon, the Cozy Dog Drive In, home of the original corn dog. Besides being the birthplace of the famous battered treat, the other claim to fame for Cozy Dog is that it was founded by non other than Ed Waldmire, the father of Bob Waldmire.

The place is busy with locals and curious travelers. In fact, it’s a stop for bus tours on Route 66.

Just as we were finishing lunch, a bus pulled up alongside the restaurant and the passengers got off and strolled into the restaurant. Listening to conversations, we found out the bus was filled with people from England who flew to the states to take a two-week bus tour along the entirety of Route 66. What crash course in Americana would be complete without an introduction to that American classic, the corn dog!

This was a classic stop!

Old Road Segments

We finished our afternoon by doubling back on the route to the north side of Springfield to explore some “lost” and abandoned road segments of the old two-lane Route 66.

The first section of old pavement was in the small US 66 Memorial Rest Area in Sherman, a northern suburb of Springfield. The wayside, tucked into a corner at the intersection of two highways, had limited access but some nice green space and a sweet walkable stretch of original two-lane road pavement that curved into the distance, ending at a small drainage ditch.

The park area was reportedly a true rest area for travelers of Route 66 in the late 1920’s.

Even though the area was at a busy intersection, it was easy to get lost in the history and imagine all the old classic cars that must have traveled down that two-lane pavement, possibly stopping to take a break before continuing their journey.

The rest area struck me as a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be developed. I did fin d some web sites that mentioned that Sherman hoped to revitalize the park soon. I hope they do, and I trust they will do it as a historical marker to help visitors understand automobile travel before the advent of interstates.


The second stretch of original two-lane pavement that we investigated was located in Springfield’s Carpenter Park on the north bank of the Sangamon River. Route 66 effectively formed the eastern border of the park, and the pavement from that original alignment was acquired by the park when it was abandoned.

The pavement, complete with curbing and the original surface, is currently a very pleasant walking trail in the park. It goes all the way to the point on the river bluff when the original bridge embankment was located.

Finding these two quiet sections of original road was a great experience and it reminded me that “the journey is the destination”, especially when exploring our highways and byways. It was also a great way to wrap up our day before embarking on a section of our journey where the road was the real star.



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