A History of Car Culture

route 66 legacy

It’s a road so mythical, you may wonder if it still exists. And yet, cutting through Illinois is a 300-mile stretch of Route 66 that even today captures the imaginations of travelers the world over. The kitsch, the nostalgia, the people—it’s got all the makings of a road trip that’s just as much about the journey as the destination. Which is kind of the point when you take a trip down the Mother Road.

*excerpt taken from EnjoyIllinois.com.

Berwyn’s connection to Route 66

The City of Berwyn’s development began in 1856 when the south side of town began to be acquired and divided into lots. Developers invested heavily by building many roads and importing thousands of maple, ash, cedar, poplar, and pine trees, which were planted throughout the area that was bounded on the east by Ridgeland Avenue, on the west by Harlem Avenue, on the north by 31st Street, and by Old Plank Road (now Ogden Avenue), on the south. At that time, the only mode of transportation between this community and the City of Chicago was by horse and buggy along Old Plank Road. After a short period, the planks became warped and worn. In 1872, the Plank Road was renamed Ogden Avenue in honor of Chicago’s first mayor, William Butler Ogden. Portions of the road were bricked over by 1900 to accommodate the increasing traffic. In 1920, it was paved for smooth car travel. From 1926 to 1976, Ogden Avenue was designated as U.S. Route 66, connecting Chicagoans to Los Angeles.

Ogden Avenue was designed for automobiles when the car was king of American culture.  A wide street lined with drive-through businesses and convenient parking served both travelers and residents. Drive-in restaurants, service stations, and auto dealerships sprang up on Ogden to cater to a mobile society. In its heyday, the strip boasted over a dozen car dealerships.

Today, Berwyn continues to celebrate its car culture with events like the Berwyn Rt66 Car Show held annually.

A Brief history of illinois route 66*

Route 66 defined a remarkable era in the growth of our nation. As it threaded its way across eight states, it left its indelible mark on our nation’s physical, historical and cultural landscape. No other road symbolizes optimism, freedom and the American Dream quite like Route 66.

It began with an Oklahoma businessman and entrepreneur, Cyrus Avery, who envisioned a road stretching diagonally across the country between Lake Michigan and the Pacific Ocean. The diagonal course made it possible to connect hundreds of rural towns throughout the country and provide small communities access to a national highway system. The road was officially named Route 66 in 1929, but it was Avery who proclaimed it the “Main Street of America.”

Many “main streets” in Illinois were already connected by the Pontiac Trail, the original automobile route between Chicago and St. Louis. In 1920, State Bond Issue 4 enabled the construction of a new “hard road” to connect the two cities in a more direct fashion – the first in a series of efforts to make highway travel more efficient. Already paved in concrete by 1926, the Illinois stretch of US 66 was the first to claim it was “slab all the way.”

Over the next fifty years, the road carried travelers of all kinds: migrants from the Dust Bowl, military personnel, truckers, farmers, and eventually, vacationers. Ultimately, the desire for faster, safer and more efficient roadways led to the construction of a 4-land Route 66 following World War II. In addition to the extra lanes, the road was also realigned to bypass the small towns that had grown accustomed to heavy traffic and the commerce that came with it.

By 1977, Interstate 55 had completely replaced Route 66 in Illinois and in 1984 the last remaining section of US 66 in Arizona was bypassed by Interstate 40. Route 66 was officially decommissioned by the federal government in 1985. Fortunately, the legacy of Route 66 has survived. Today, travelers of the historic highway in Illinois can cruise more than 400 miles of road, including some of the original 1926 concrete segments.

*excerpt taken from illinoisroute66.org.