Route 66 News

Book review: “Macoupin County on Route 66”

“Macoupin County on Route 66,” with text and photo compilations by Dennis Garrels, is yet another historical volume about the Mother Road by Arcadia Publishing. That includes “Route 66 in California” and the recently published “Route 66 in Chicago.”

“Macoupin County on Route 66” (96 pages, $19.95) covers Macoupin County, Ill., which boasts not one, but two prominent alignments of Route 66. From 1926 to 1930, Illinois Highway 4 also was Route 66. Then Route 66 was moved some miles east, clipping the southern portion of the county. Macoupin County includes the Route 66 towns of Carlinville, Staunton, Benld, Sawyerville, Mount Olive, Virden, Girard and Gillespie.

Garrels’ book mainly consists of then-and-now photographs of sites in those towns. It’s much like the format used in the “Route 66 Lost and Found” books. Chapters center around hotels, train stations, churches, schools, restaurants and businesses.

You see miners gathering at the Chicago-Virden coal mine in 1898, a little more than an hour before a shootout between them and guards for strike-busting workers killed 12 people. Now, there is little evidence of the mine or the riot, except for a set of railroad tracks.

There also is a picture of workers in 1936 building the Mother Jones Monument in Mount Olive. An astounding 50,000 people attended the dedication for monument for the union organizer and the workers killed at the Virden riot. The monument is still there today.

Route 66ers will love the circa-1940 photograph of Bill Neuhaus’ Texaco station on Route 66 in Staunton. The station itself isn’t much bigger than many bedrooms, but it was a gem of architecture. It later was expanded, and it’s now a custom cabinet shop. The book contains several other photographs of Route 66 gas stations from the 1920s and ’30s that are long gone.

The book shows the erratic effects of time. Carlinville still has many of its historic buildings and continues to prosper. But few old buildings remain in Sawyerville, which now has fewer than 200 residents. Still other buildings were lost in parts of the county during a tornado in the late 1940s.

The book is not without shortcomings. Sometimes the text accompanying photographs doesn’t explain from what town it’s taken. I’m also a little surprised the dozens of historic Sears homes in Carlinville weren’t mentioned. Also, the author made the curious decision to include a number of photographs from Bunker Hill, which never was on Route 66.