Route 66

If you’re looking for great displays of neon signs, mom-and-pop motels in the middle of nowhere, or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and “get your kicks on Route 66.”


Joliet, the “City of Steel and Stone”, has a rough reputation that doesn’t really reflect its status as the fastest growing city in Illinois. Route 66 through this once-mighty industrial enclave is a feast for fans of post-industrial scenery. Loads of old warehouses and commercial buildings like the lovely Rialto Theater on Chicago Street line the route. Stalwart bridges cross the Des Plaines River and historic Illinois & Michigan Canal, which, beginning in the 1840s, connected Chicago with the Mississippi River before being replaced by the less salubrious Sanitary and Ship Canal.

While the suburbs grow and grow, efforts to reverse downtown’s long economic downturn by embracing casino gambling have not had much success. The large Harrah’s Joliet Casino (151 N. Joliet St., 815/740-7800) draws gamblers but has not done much to revive the waterfront or the surrounding streets.

Interpretive signs outside the multi-story Joliet Prison/

Are you a fan of The Blues Brothers? ‘Joliet Jake’ was released from the prison’s east gate. Joliet Prison has served as a filming location for several films and television programs over the years. Photo © insatiablewanderlust/123rf.

South of Joliet, following old Route 66 (Hwy-53) across the I-80 superslab brings you past the massive Chicagoland Speedway and the Route 66 Raceway (888/629-7223), where NHRA drag races, NASCAR stock car races, and occasional pop music concerts are held. Also in Joliet, along the Des Plaines River north of downtown, is the now-closed state prison from which John Belushi (a.k.a. “Joliet Jake”) is released at the beginning of the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers.

Harrah’s Joliet Casino (151 N. Joliet St.)

Chicagoland Speedway (500 Speedway Blvd.)

Route 66 Raceway (3200 S. Chicago St.)