The Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center, a prominent new part of the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington, Illinois, opened to more than 300 guests in just three hours during its debut Saturday, according to the Bloomington Pantagraph.
Spurred by the success of Pontiac, Illinois, playing up Route 66 tourism, Bloomington embarked on a major renovation of its museum with the help of a $250,000 grant from the Illinois Office of Tourism. The center hopes to eventually draw 20,000 visitors a year.
The visitors center is called Lincoln on 66 because Lincoln frequently followed the future path of Route 66 during his travels as a “circuit riding” lawyer before he was elected president. Route 66 also follows the path of the old Chicago/Alton Railroad, of much of which was created with the help of Lincoln as a state and U.S. representative.
Ten lighted exhibit panels give visitors a glimpse of what it was like to travel the Mother Road in that part of Illinois from Lincoln’s day, to the 1920s, then to the 1950s. For instance, drivers went from camping out at a Bloomington park — a common sight during the early days of the automotive era — to seeking more refined overnight lodgings such as Streid’s Hotel and Prairie Traveler.
The Bloomington Pantagraph, in another story, also found fascinating tidbits:
In between, the exhibit panels provide some interesting and little-known facts about popular places of the time, including the Green Mill, a Bloomington cafe that had a sign that read, “We reserve the right to serve our customers” — a message that let African-Americans know they would not be served, said Koos. Or the advertisement at Cabin Town, built in 1925 south of Forrest Park, that offered “Chicken Dinner, $1 by appointment” — something Koos believes hints of prostitution.
Other features at the museum:
— One video with a Lincoln impersonator giving a walking tour of Lincoln sites in Bloomington, and another with former Illinois state trooper Chester Henry — an Illinois Route 66 Hall of Famer — telling stories of his patrols of Route 66 from 1958 to 1984.
— A variety of art and artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries, including a working Brothers Pepsi-Cola machine that holds bottles of Pepsi you can buy.
— A souvenir shop that focuses on products — some of them hard to find or exclusive to the museum — made in the region, including Beer Nuts, State Farm Insurance, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Steak ‘n Shake restaurants, Katydids candy, and Funks Grove Maple Sirup.
The museum is closed Sunday. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Tuesday. The visitors center is free, although there is admission to the rest of the museum. It’s at 200 N. Main St. in Bloomington (map here), between the northbound and southbound alignments of Route 66.
(Image of the museum by the McLean County Museum of History via Flickr)