Most of us immediately think of the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona when we hear “Route 66,” but don’t forget about the hundreds of miles that travel right through the heartland of America. Of all the charming towns we’ve visited along Route 66, our favorite has to be Pontiac, IL, and here’s why…
For starters, our tour of the town was given by none other than the mayor himself, Robert Russell, and despite showing up 15 minutes late and needing to charge the camera battery, everyone we interacted with was beyond friendly and helpful. Our first stop?
The Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum…
The museum really begins outside with the giant Route 66 mural that has become a “must-stop” for anyone traveling the Mother Road… As iconic as Route 66 is, few spots provide such a perfect pull-through spot for a picture with your road trippin’ machine and your fellow road warriors.
After snapping your obligatory picture, check out Bob Waldmire’s famous bus. (More about Bob here)
After touring Bob’s bus, you can enjoy learning more about his life and seeing his VW bus inside as part of a larger exhibit honoring the man. From Pontiac, IL‘s tourism director Ellie Alexander:
Bob Waldmire was one of the most unique Route 66 travelers in history. Beginning as a young man, Bob spent his entire adult life driving and living on Route 66. An artist by profession, Bob grew up near Springfield, Illinois. He took his first trip on Route 66 with his parents and family. It was then that he fell in love with the people, the businesses, and the scenery that could be found along the Mother Road. Bob died in 2009 but left a legacy of advocacy for the preservation and appreciation of his favorite American highway. With the collaboration of Bob’s family, especially his brother, Buzz, a new display has been created and placed inside the complex. There are original art works, videos, and photographs that, taken together, tell the interesting story of Bob’s life as an itinerant artist and aging flower child.
While the downstairs of the museum features the Bob Waldmire exhibit and several other Route 66 artifacts, the upstairs of the complex was a pleasant surprise as well… While it seems like many museums struggle to fill their spaces with interesting pieces, the art & photos, recreations of a home from the 1940s and other fascinating exhibits upstairs definitely keep your attention. In fact, I think this is about the spot where I stopped listening to my guides as they explained we were transitioning into the Livingston County War Museum…
Livingston County War Museum
Most military-focused museums are all about the big machinery… the guns, the tanks, the airplanes. They use those major pieces of hardware in hopes you’ll read the storyboards surrounding the eye candy. The Livingston County War Museum, however, took a unique person-first approach to their museum, and I’ll have to say, I was more moved by this simple museum than most I’ve visited. The pictures (and the stories) are just too great to only share a few. Read the full article on the Livingston County War Museum (with tons more pictures) here…
The International Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum
When we visited in the fall of 2014, the Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum was in a bit of transition as they prepared to move over to the same building as the Route 66 Museum, so our pictures are from their old location, but they are now in the Pontiac museum complex and ready for you to enjoy!
Pontiac Oakland Museum
If you’re looking for a great car museum, you’ve found it. The Pontiac Oakland Museum is so great we gave it a whole article of its own… Read about the world’s premier Pontiac collection here…
Museum of the Gilding Arts
Taking the space once occupied by the Mural and Sign Art Museum, the Museum of the Gilding Arts is unique to say the least. This museum focuses on the use of gold and silver leafing in architecture and decoration throughout history. The focal point of the museum: the Swift Collection.
M. Swift & Sons was a Hartford, Connecticut business whose specialty was gold beating and the manufacture of gold leaf products. When the business was started in 1877, Swift was beating gold by hand in order to produce leaf. In the early 20th century, machines began doing part of the process of making leaf. M. Allen Swift, a fifth generation gold beater and the last owner of the business, was one of the last people in this country to beat gold entirely by hand.
With all our running around to the multiple FREE museums around Pontiac, we worked up quite an appetite. Thankfully, Lydia’s Cup, right on the town square was there for me with a tasty meal and then when we saw the classic-looking Pfaff’s Bakery right around the corner, we thought, “You’re never too old for some milk and cookies…”
Of course, this was all packed into just a few hours. We were still scratching the surface of what Pontiac, IL has to offer people traveling Route 66 or even passing by on I-55. For starters, the city comes alive with multiple festivals, farmers markets, car shows, etc. throughout the year, so check out the Pontiac tourism website to stay in the know on the best times to visit.