We Got Our Kicks on Route 66 – Springfield, Illinois

We woke up to pounding rain and wind so outdoor sightseeing was not an option today. When full timing you have to learn to be flexible because every day cannot be a sunny one. Even on less than optimal days though, we feel very fortunate that we are able to explore our great country and to meet the people that make it so.

One of the indoor options was to tour a Frank Lloyd Wright designed prairie house. We knew that the famed Dana-Thomas House was in Springfield. David secured the last two admission tickets for a late morning tour for us. Due to COVID, the free tours are offered several times a day and they are limited to only five guests. These precautions are changing daily and may be different by the time you read this post.

The docent met us at the grand entrance at the front and greeted us warmly. To be honest we were not sure if we would like this house. We had seen another Wright designed house in Bentonville, AK and, while it was interesting, it was not overly impressive. By contrast, the Dana-Thomas House was magnificent and we were glad that we made the effort on a soggy day to visit this architectural marvel.

Susan Lawrence Dana, a wealthy socialite, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build a house for her and her aging mother. Mrs. Dana’s husband, who was a silver mining mogul, had died and had left her a fortune. Since she loved to entertain, she asked Wright to design a house. She basically gave him a “blank check” to complete the project. Construction began in 1902. When the house was completed two years later at a cost of $60,000, it had 35 rooms which were perfect for entertaining.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s design and attention to detail was amazing. We were in awe of all of the architectural design and the breath-takingly beautiful artistic glass work with a sumac motif throughout the house. This house also has the largest collection of Wright furniture and art glass in the world. Since Wright was opposed to hanging photos or pictures on the walls, he worked with famous artists and filled the house with water features, murals, sculptures and other artistic pieces that grace the interior space. The house is a three story structure but has sixteen different levels. There are hidden balconies where musicians can be tucked away to entertain guest during dinner. Also it was one of the early houses to be wired for electricity. The fixtures were designed to run off of gas too just in case the new invention called electricity did not work out. Among the other unique features were indoor bathrooms, a walk-in vault to store Mrs. Dana’s fur coats, a concert venue with a raised platform, a library, a duck pin bowling alley, a pool table, an indoor goldfish pond, and much more. This is a quintessential Frank Lloyd Wright house and it is truly fabulous.

Mrs. Dana and Frank Lloyd Wright remained friends long after the completion of the house. She was one of his most generous benefactors. He was a welcomed guest when in Springfield and he even brought some of his students to visit when they drove down Route 66 from Chicago to Taliesin West, another home he designed, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Mrs. Dana lived in the home until 1928 and then sold the house with all of the furnishings to Mr. Charles C. Thomas. It remained in the Thomas family until 1981 when they sold it to the State of Illinois for $1,000,000. The house was worth significantly more than the state paid. It has undergone a number of restorations to return it to its original pristine state. The Dana-Thomas House is now a historic site and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency manages it. To help preserve the house, photographs of the interior of the house are not permitted. Here is a link to view some photos of the house.

Route 66 is a highway that stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. With its catchphrase “Get your kicks on Route 66,” it became one of the most popular roads in the United States. After it opened in 1926, it covered 2,448 miles and became a symbol of freedom and escapism for many Americans. Springfield actively promotes the history of Route 66 via road signs, historical markers, and period businesses.

Many mom-and-pop establishments sprung up along the route to provide services to the Route 66 travelers. Although it was removed from the highway system in 1985, reminders of the famed highway still exist. Many of the restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc. have ceased to exist but a few still remain. David and I found a couple of places in Springfield that are still in business and several places that have collected and preserved memorabilia from that era.

Ace Sign Company is family-owned company that has been in business for more than 80 years. They are an internationally known neon sign designer and manufacturer that have created signs for events like the Super Bowl as well as many businesses. They also have an Illinois Route 66 Antique Sign Museum on site. If you stop by, they will give you a guided tour of these iconic signs that hang on the walls of their facility. Little did we know that our private tour guide would be the current president of the company, Dennis Bringuet. He spent a long time with us showing us many of the signs from Route 66 and the Springfield area that they designed. Hanging in the same area where their current graphic designers work and the machinery hums, there is a Bel-Air Motel sign, the famous Pepsi-Cola sign, the Cozy Dogs sign, and even a fully restored Sputnik. The Sonrise Donut Sign, which dates back to 1947, is there as well. On display there is a sign that hung at the Great Western Railroad Station from which Lincoln left for Washington D. C. when he was elected president. (Obviously, they did not create that sign though.) The museum also has some classic cars that have ties to their family. We had a wonderful tour of the Illinois Route 66 Sign Museum.

Cozy Dog Drive In is where the corn dog was invented. In 1946, Ed Waldmire came up with the idea of a “hot dog on a stick.” When he returned to Springfield after WWII, he opened a restaurant on Route 66 in 1950 and it is still open today. The eating establishment has many Rte. 66 mementos on the walls. They still serve their famous Cozy Dogs which they claim are better than today’s mass produced corn dogs. Of course, David had to see if that was true so he tried one. He said that the batter was sweeter and it had a different texture than the corn dog but it was good.

Route 66 Motorheads Bar, Grill, and Museum is another stop on the famed route. Motorcycle enthusiasts stop here to see memorabilia that Ron Metzger, the owner, has collected. Unique to this location is the Chevy Camaro that hangs from the ceiling. The collection includes an old gas station that stands beside the restaurant. David and I poked around in it but it is not well organized or presented.

One of the main items that they serve in the restaurant is a local favorite called a “Horseshoe.” The smaller portion is called a “Pony.” I call it a “heart attack on a plate.” It consists of a piece of bread topped with your choice of meat (hamburger, bacon, spiced beef, or ham) with french fries on top and it is covered with cheese sauce. Of course, we had to try it but, to be honest, it was not to our liking. Sometimes you get great recommendations, other times not so much. Our visit to Motorheads was, we had to admit, a unique experience.

Springfield has a lot to offer. There were so many interesting places to see and we found the people there to be very friendly and helpful. We would definitely like to visit the capital of Illinois again and will plan to stay more time during our next visit. Hopefully, next time it will not rain every day.

One thought on “We Got Our Kicks on Route 66 – Springfield, Illinois

  1. Excellent post! I love the Dana-Thomas house. There is another Frank Lloyd Wright House in Kankakee, Illinois which I greatly enjoyed visiting. You are right; there is more in Springfield to enjoy. I look forward to seeing where you go next!

    Liked by 1 person

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