“Investigating the Effects of I-55 On the Culture of Route 66 Communities In Illinois” by Monica Davila
July 27, 2015
The first few decades of the 1900s were a pivotal turning point for transportation in the United States. In 1910, there were approximately 180,000 registered vehicles in the country, and by 1920 the number had grown to over 17 million (“Before 1926: The Origins of Route 66”). However, while Americans were finding it more affordable to travel by car, only 36,000 of the nation’s 2.5 million miles of road were paved and capable of withstanding automobile traffic (“Before 1926: The Origins of Route 66”). Noticing the vital need for all-weather roads, the federal government passed the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which provided states with the funds needed to create a national highway system (Wallis 5).
As a result, Route 66 was paved in 1926 and stretched over 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles (1). Since many smaller, rural communities at the time lacked access to major road systems, planners designed the route so that it would connect urban and rural towns across the country (“Before 1926: The Origins of Route 66”). Thus, as the popularity of the road grew in the next several decades, these small towns became dependent on the stream of people traveling across state lines. According to the Illinois Motor Vehicles Division, the number of trucks that traveled on the highway between Chicago and St. Louis increased from 1,500 per day in 1931 to nearly 7,500 per day in 1941 (“Route 66: 1926-1945”). Local businesses such as the Pig Hip, the Dixie Truckers Home, and Ariston Café developed loyal customers, and gas stations such as Soulsby Service Station relied on the increased traffic that consistently flowed on Route 66.
While the increased popularity of the road benefitted many towns and businesses, it also had an unexpected consequence. Inspired by the autobahn he had seen in Germany during World War II, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized the creation of a new, larger interstate highway system (Wallis 25). The system, composed of five interstates stretching over 42,500 miles, was designed to accommodate the increasing number of people traveling across the country, and relieve the burden on the old highways (25). The first interstate to bypass part of Route 66 was I-55 in Illinois, which was constructed throughout the 1960s and 70s (“Demise and Resurgence of Interest in Route 66”). The rest of the road was completely replaced by the interstate highway system in 1984. (Wallis 26). In 1985, the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials officially decommissioned Route 66 as a national highway (“Demise and Resurgence of Interest in Route 66”).
After the bypassing of Route 66, various towns saw their means of survival dry up, and communities reported a significant drop in the number of travelers visiting the area. Glenrio, Texas, was once home to a motel, service station, café, and a fireworks stand, but saw its population drop and several businesses leave the area soon after the interstate was constructed (Wallis 138). The town of Amboy, home of the famous Ray’s diner, used to be a popular stop along the Mother Road in California, but is now a ghost town (Anton 2007). The popular Long Horn Ranch hotel and restaurant in Moriarty, New Mexico, was once a popular destination for travelers, but is currently empty and in ruins (Wallis 160). Various buildings and old structures now lie abandoned on the side of the road, and while some of these towns still exist, many others along the Mother Road have been left desolate and in disrepair after the construction of the interstate highway system.
While investigating the effects of the interstate highway system on all of Route 66 would be interesting, there is simply not enough time in which to conduct a thorough investigation of the issue. Since Illinois was the first state through which Route 66 was fully paved, and the first state to see the road completely bypassed by the interstate highway system, I have narrowed the scope of my investigation to this particular area. The question I pose is this: what effects did I-55 have on the culture of the communities located along Route 66 in Illinois?
Given the findings of my initial research regarding other Route 66 towns mentioned above, my hypothesis is as follows: the bypassing of Route 66 by I-55 led many towns to lose tourists and travelers, thus causing many businesses to close and town populations to drastically drop as the communities were slowly abandoned.
In order to adequately investigate the effects that I-55 had on the culture of Route 66 communities in Illinois, I define culture as that which is unique to the towns, such as certain attractions and businesses. In order to have a well-rounded understanding and analysis of the situation, I sample five random businesses to use as case studies. In these case studies, I look at whether or not the business saw a drop in the number of customers shortly after the construction of the interstate, as well as if the business itself was forced to close due to the lack of customers. I also look to see if the business became part of a corporate entity or chain due to the construction of I-55, or if it continued to be family or resident-owned. I also use census data to see whether any of the towns located on Route 66 suffered a drop in population after the construction of I-55, and whether the town was deserted. In addition to using books and newspaper articles to gather data, I also conduct interviews of people who know about Route 66, such as an expert at the Route 66 Hall of Fame in Pontiac, Illinois, and the owners of businesses that are still in operation along the road. If I find that these businesses lost customers and closed because of I-55, or became part of a corporate entity or chain due to the construction, then it will suggest that the interstate had an overall detrimental effect on the communities because it destroyed an aspect of the town that was unique. Similarly, if I find that the populations of towns significantly dropped, then it would also suggest that I-55 had a negative impact on the culture of the town because it led to the abandonment of the area.
Case Study #1: Funks Pure Maple Sirup
In 1824, Issac Funk settled down in a local grove and began extracting maple sirup from the trees with his sons. In 1891, Issac’s grandson, Arthur Funk, set up a commercially operating sirup farm in the area and began selling the product for $1 per gallon. By the time Route 66 was constructed nearby, Funks Grove was producing 240 gallons each season and selling the product for $3.50 (“Funks Grove History”).
In 1947, Stephen Funk and his wife, Glaida, assumed control of the family business (Teague 9). The business continued to be highly profitable, but was threatened when the Funks were informed in the 1970s that I-55 was slated to cut through the grove (“Funks Grove History”). The family managed to convince planners to reroute the road, but the new path meant that the grove now lay a mile away from the interstate. According to Stephen, officials refused to allow the Funks to set up an exit sign on I-55 because they did not have enough traffic to warrant one (Teague 9). As a result, sales dipped, and the family found it harder to sell their sirup each year.
According to the Funks Pure Maple Sirup website, the financial situation of the business improved once the family was able to convince officials to allow them to install a sign along the interstate, thus allowing them to reach a wide range of new customers. The website also reports that the business saw an increase in sales in the U.S. and overseas in the late 1980s when “the nostalgia for Route 66 began”. Today, Stephen’s son produces approximately 1,800 gallons of sirup during the season, and each gallon is sold for $35. There is also a mail order system that allows the family to sell their sirup and other merchandise such as cookbooks, maple cream, and Route 66 memorabilia, to customers around the world (“Funks Grove History”).
Case Study #2: Dixie Truckers Home
The Dixie Truckers Home was founded in 1928 in the town of McLean, Illinois, when John Geske and J.P. Walters began selling sandwiches out of a rented mechanic’s garage. They soon set up an actual restaurant, and for years the Dixie served as a “local cultural center”, screening free shows for the locals and travelers on the weekends and serving as a meeting place for town residents (Freeling 2003).
“People would come from Minier, Stanford, from all over—people would come from 30 miles away,” said Charlotte “C.J.” Beeler, John Geske’s daughter (qtd. in Freehling 2003).
According to Tom Teague, who studied the history of the road for over 19 years, the Dixie did well because “in those days there weren’t many filling stations…there was a growing retail demand for gasoline, and the Dixie came at a perfect time to meet that need” (qtd. in Freehling 2003). The Illinois section of Route 66 was the busiest, and as more trucks drove from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Dixie thrived.
“Lots of times there’d be a long line of customers when I came in, and a long line of customers when I went home,” said Fern Gresham, an employee who worked at the Dixie for over twenty years. “And it’d be like that all day” (qtd. in Freehling 2003).
In addition to serving as a restaurant and filling station, the Dixie soon expanded to the point where it had its own cabins and gift shop. Over the next few decades, the Dixie was “an unqualified success”, and started outposts in Tuscola and Effingham, never closing except for one day in 1965 when there was a fire (Freehling 2003). The day after, the Dixie was back in business.
“The truck companies really depended on us in the earlier days,” said Chuck (qtd. in Freeling 2003). Technology and deregulation led to less stops and longer times on the road for both truckers and the general public. The Dixie is also no longer one of the only truck stops on the road, but Teague pointed out that the “others don’t have the Dixie’s 74 years of service to stand on…instead of personal loyalty, [the others] encourage brand loyalty” (Teague, “Still Trucking”). Regardless of the changes, the Dixie continued to see over 200 trucks park each night on its lot in the early 2000s, and is consistently listed as one of the top ten truck stops in the nation (Teague, “Still Trucking”).
In 2003, however, C.J. and her husband, Chuck, were forced to retire from running the Dixie and sell the business to a corporate chain. According to an article in the Pantagraph Bloomington, the Dixie entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2001, and had been operating on a month-to-month basis since October of that year. While a representative from the Dixie Truckers Home was not able to confirm why exactly the business entered bankruptcy, they explained that the Dixie is “absolutely” thriving today and is still a popular truck stop (Dixie Interview 2011).
Case Study #3: The Rialto Square Theatre
Built in 1926, the Rialto Square Theatre was called “one of the finest theaters in the United States” by the Joliet Sunday Herald News, which claimed that it stood “on even terms with the modern motion picture palaces of Chicago and New York” (“Vision Takes Form”). The theatre, originally constructed to showcase vaudeville performances, had an inner lobby modeled after the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, and an outer arc that was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in France (“A Palace for the People”).
A “Save the Rialto” campaign was established in the 1970s, but according to Finance Manager Dale Evans, this had nothing to do with I-55. Over a phone interview, Evans explained that the mid 1970s were an important time in American history because 1976 marked the 200th anniversary of the United States. The theater, approximately fifty years old, was beginning to show its age, and as an “important [piece] of…local activity…it needed to be preserved” (Evans Interview 2011). While the theatre did not undergo restoration until 1980, the National Parks Service deemed it to be “a unique structure”, and added it to the National Registrar of Historic Places in 1978 (Evans Interview 2011). According to Evans, however, improving structural issues in order to preserve the theater was not the only reason the Rialto underwent renovations.
Steel production had been a crucial part of Joliet’s economy until the 1970s, when steel companies began moving to larger, more modern facilities to compete with the influx of cheaper, foreign steel (“Joliet’s History”; Evans Interview 2011). Families had also begun moving out of the downtown area and into the suburbs, further hurting business. According to Evans, the restoration of the Rialto was “viewed as a catalyst” that could help revive the town’s economy by attracting more visitors. Over a period of ten to fifteen years, the Rialto Square Theatre (in addition to the establishment of other businesses) helped alleviate the economic pressures on the town, and continues to showcase various performances today (Evans Interview 2011).
Case Study #4: The Palm Grill Café
In 1934, Robert Adams opened the Palm Grill Café in downtown Atlanta, Illinois (Holliday 2009). Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Palm Grill Café was a popular meeting area for residents, many of whom were high school students who worked at the restaurant (“Downey Building”). Bingo games and dances were held in the back rooms, and tourists and locals alike would stop by to enjoy home-cooked food such as mashed potatoes and fried bologna (Parker 2009). In the late 1960s, however, Atlanta was in the middle of an economic downturn, and the Café closed (Holliday 2009; Thomas Interview 2011).
According to a new exhibit at the Atlanta Museum, the cause of this decline stems back to the 1920s when Route 66 was first paved. The road cut through the middle of the town, and new businesses such as gas stations and small cafes popped up in the area to cater to the increased number of travelers passing through Atlanta. While this led to economic prosperity for the downtown area, residents soon found that they too could use the new road to leave town and spend the day in larger cities (“Atlanta and Route 66: A Mixed Blessing”). As more people drove to the surrounding areas for entertainment and shopping, local business owners found it more difficult to make ends meet. According to the museum, “between 1930 and 1960, this negative impact of Route 66 drastically reduced Atlanta’s business base compared to what it had once been”. Atlanta resident Bill Thomas also pointed out that the price of train tickets at the time dropped, and Route 66 was rerouted around the edge of the town. This caused businesses in the downtown area to lose their crucial customer base while residents continued to commute elsewhere for their shopping and entertainment needs. Thomas explained via phone interview that these problems were only exacerbated by the construction of I-55, which allowed more travelers to bypass the small town and its businesses. In the late 1960s, the Palm Grill Café closed due to the lack of customers (Holliday 2009).
Residents of the town, however, had a similar idea to those in Joliet who had seen the restoration of the Rialto Square Theater as a means of improving their economic situation. While the city’s government searched for ways to regain their tourist base in the 1990s, Thomas noticed that people were beginning to travel down Route 66 once again. He proposed that the town reopen the Palm Grill Café and restore it to its former glory as a means to bring back visitors. As chairman of the Illinois Route 66 National Scenic Byway program, Thomas helped spearhead the movement to reopen the restaurant, and in May of 2009, the Palm Grill Café was once again open for business (Holliday 2009). As the new owner of the Café, Thomas reports that the plan was successful, and that the number of visitors to Atlanta has tripled in the past two years.
Case Study #5: Soulsby Service Station
The 1920s saw the automobile become the main form of transportation for many families, and entrepreneurs such as Henry Soulsby quickly took advantage of the large numbers of cars on the road. After hearing that Route 66 was slated to pass through his town of Mt. Olive, Illinois, Henry used his life savings to open what became known as Soulsby Service Station. Aware that oil companies were trying to design stations that blended in with the local towns in order to avoid opposition to the construction, Henry designed the station to look like a simple house with a canopy The station opened in 1926 and Henry began selling Shell gasoline to the many travelers driving down Route 66 (“Soulsby Service Station”).
The Great Depression hit the area in the early 1930s, but Soulsby Service Station continued to do business, thanks to the large numbers of families driving West in search of work and a better life. The station stayed open throughout the years as Henry’s children, Russell and Ola, learned how to manage it, and they soon took over (“Soulsby Service Station”).
In the late 1950s, however, construction began on I-55, and by the time it was finished, Soulsby Service Station was nearly a mile away from the interstate (“Soulsby Service Station”). Although bypassed by I-55, Russell was able to continue supporting himself with a television repair business he had also started on the side and the station continued to sell gas to customers for several more years until it stopped doing so in 1991. However, Russell and Ola kept the station open to “check oil, sell soda pop, and greet the ever-growing legion of Route 66 tourists” (“National Registrar of Historic Places Registration Form”). In 1993, the siblings finally closed the station, and in 1996 Ola died. In 1997, Russell sold the station to his neighbor, Mike Dragonvich, and died soon afterwards (“Soulsby Service Station”).
The station still stands today as one of the oldest service stations on Route 66. In 2003, the Soulsby Preservation Society joined with Mr. Dragonvich in restoring the station, and the National Park Service provided additional funding to continue the work. In 2004, the station was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors are now allowed inside for limited tours (“Plaque Dedication for Soulsby Station”; “Soulsby Service Station”).
The following table shows the population for a sample of towns located along Route 66 during different time periods. The year 1930 was chosen because it was approximately four years after the paving of Route 66 in Illinois, allowing time for the population to settle down and adjust. 1960 was chosen because the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed in 1956 and construction on the interstate began in the late 1950s, and 1980 was chosen because I-55 was fully completed in the late 1970s, allowing for the number of people in a town to settle down after a period of possible upheaval. 2000 was chosen due to the fact that the 1980s saw a resurgence of interest in Route 66, and many towns began embracing the road as a means to lure travelers and tourists.
While there are many more towns located along Route 66 in Illinois, several do not have exact population statics available to publish. The town of Dwight, Illinois, reported having 3,086 residents as of 1980, but the town has seen growth over its history, according to the city hall. In 2000, its population was 4,363, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thus providing support for the claim, although no exact figures are available for years before 1980.
Similarly, the town of Edwardsville, Illinois, was not able to provide census information for 1930 or 1960, but did report that the population was approximately 12,000 in 1980. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town’s population nearly doubled in the span of twenty years, growing to about 21, 491. While there is no data for the years before 1980, the town is said to have “survived the interstate bypass”, with Michael Wallis reporting that “it’s always been business as usual” (Wallis 45). This suggests that while there are no specific population figures for the town in the years 1930 and 1960, the town did not see a decrease in population.
Several other towns were unable to provide population statistics for all four years, but were still able to provide some information. Broadwell had a population of approximately 173 people in 1960, shortly before I-55 was completed, but the U.S. Census Bureau lists their population as 169 people in 2000 (“Population: 3 Towns Show Loss”). The town of Sherman saw a population explosion over the course of 40 years, rising from 209 in 1960 to 1501 in 1980 to over 2,800 residents in 2000 (“2030 Sherman Comprehensive Plan”). The town of Odell did not have population statistics for 1930 or 1980, but has seen their population rise from 936 in 1960 to approximately 1,014 in 2000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau (“Population: 3 Towns Show Loss”).
I used certain criteria to examine the impacts I-55 had on Route 66 communities in Illinois: whether there was a drop in the number of customers and the business closed as a result, whether the business is owned by a corporate entity, and whether the towns experienced a drop in population and were abandoned. The analysis for each is listed below.
Drop In The Number of Customers and Closure of Businesses
According to the data collected in the case studies, it appears that only Funks Pure Maple Sirup, the Palm Grill Café, and Soulsby Service Station saw a significant decrease in business after the construction of I-55, while the Dixie Truckers Home and Rialto Square Theatre were not affected in any obvious manner. These results suggest an interesting trend regarding the ability of a business to continue attracting customers after the construction of I-55.
According to John Weiss, a Route 66 historian at the Illinois Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum, the type of business was an important factor in determining which businesses were able to survive the bypassing. Those that depended heavily on traffic from outside the local area, such as gas stations and general stores, were typically the hardest hit when people began traveling on I-55 instead of Route 66. While I did not use a general store in my case studies, it appears as though Weiss’s theory may be correct, as the only two businesses to close (the Palm Grill Café and Soulsby Service Station) relied on the steady stream of travelers through the area to make a profit. Even though the Palm Grill Café was not a gas station, Bill Thomas mentioned in an interview that the Café was located near a Greyhound station and depended heavily on travelers.
It is possible, however, for one to argue that if Weiss’s theory was true, then the Dixie Truckers Home should have closed when the interstate first opened. As a major truck stop, it depends on a steady stream of traffic to stay in business. However, the Dixie was not bypassed by I-55 since the interstate was paved directly over the route in this area.
Another possible issue with the theory is that Funks Pure Maple Sirup saw an immediate decrease in customers, yet it is not a gas station or a type of business that would normally rely on a steady stream of automobile traffic. However, Weiss’s explanation includes businesses that relied on traffic from outside the local area, which was true for Funks Pure Maple Sirup. Its survival, however, leads to another possible explanation related to Weiss’s theory: businesses that were able to use the interstate as a new source of customers survived over those who were not.
According to this explanation, a business that was successfully able to route customers off of the interstate and back towards the town had a better chance of staying in business than those who were not able to attract those customers. Once the owners of Funks Pure Maple Sirup were able to advertise along I-55, they regained their lost customer base and stayed in business. The Palm Grill Café and Soulsby Service Station were not able to do this, however, for reasons related to Weiss’s theory—the Palm Grill Café depended on customers from the Greyhound station that instead chose to commute via train, and Soulsby was a gas station a mile away from I-55. While people may have decided to leave the interstate to buy sirup, they may have decided to wait until they came upon a gas station closer to I-55 to stop and fill up their tank.
The fact that Funks Pure Maple Sirup saw the number of customers drop shortly after the interstate opened supports the initial hypothesis that I-55 led to a drop in business. However, the increase they saw shortly after being allowed to advertise on the interstate suggests that owners who knew how to use the interstate to their advantage saw their business grow due to the newer and bigger customer base that was now available via the interstate. In this case, I-55 brought economic prosperity to these individuals and their businesses, allowing them to stay in the communities, and the culture to stay intact. In cases like the Rialto Square Theatre and the Dixie Truckers Home, the interstate did not appear to have any impact, whether detrimental or positive, on the number of customers and its survival.
Ownership By Corporate Entities
Since I defined culture as that which is unique to the towns, none of the businesses examined was part of a corporate entity or chain when they were founded. Instead, they were owned by families or private individuals. Out of the five businesses sampled, the Dixie Truckers Home was the only business to eventually become part of a corporate entity.
However, there does not seem to be any evidence to support the fact that I-55 was responsible for the buyout since the business did not enter bankruptcy until the early 2000s. Had I-55 been responsible, this would have occurred in the 1960s or 1980s. A different explanation could be that the owners of the Dixie were quite elderly by the time they were forced to declare bankruptcy, and could not run the business adequately anymore. In any case, it does not appear as though I-55 was responsible for the selling of the Dixie to a corporate entity.
Ultimately, none of the other owners appeared to have “sold out” when the interstate was constructed, therefore, one could argue that I-55 did not lead to chain stores and destroy the unique culture of the towns in this manner.
Increase In Population
None of the census information collected appears to support my hypothesis that I-55 led to a significant decrease in population for local communities. According to the sample of towns, most saw a significant increase in the number of residents, with the exception of Towanda, and Hamel. Towanda, however, had a slightly larger population in 2000 than they did in 1930, and while no population information is available for the years shortly after the completion of I-55, it does not appear as though the interstate had a long-term impact on the number of people residing in Towanda. It is entirely possible, however, that there was a drop in population immediately after the opening of I-55, but since the population dropped by less than 100 people during a forty year time-span, this cannot be confirmed.
Hamel’s population also appears to have dropped significantly in the decades following the completion of Route 66 in 1926. While their population right after the completion of I-55 is unknown, their population shortly after the passing of the Federal Aid Highway Act in the mid-1950s was over 600 residents less than their population after Route 66 opened in 1926. While I-55 was not fully completed until 1977, construction began in the late 1950s, suggesting that the interstate may have played a role in the population decrease. However, their population in 2000 was significantly higher than that of 1960, signaling a possible recovery. Whether that increase is related to I-55 is unclear.
It is possible that the increase in population for several of these towns could be attributed to the baby boom shortly after World War II in the 1940s, or by the movement of people during WWII. According to the National Parks Service Special Resource Study, population growth along Route 66 during the postwar era ranged anywhere from 40% in New Mexico to approximately 74% in the state of Arizona (“Special Resource Study”). One could also make the argument that new businesses such as casinos brought more people to the towns. The towns of Bloomington and Normal are also quite close to each other, and are college towns that have attracted numerous residents to the area. However, had I-55 been responsible for making living conditions in towns too difficult to raise a family and make a living, then residents would have moved out of these communities. Since these towns saw a sustained increase in population over a period of several decades, it is possible to argue that although I-55 may not have been the reason people moved to these communities, it did not siphon away residents either. Furthermore, even if new businesses were responsible for an increase in population, it supports the idea that I-55 did not have a detrimental effect on population due to the fact that these businesses succeeded in attracting more visitors. If I-55 were responsible for the decrease in business for the towns, then these businesses would have never been successful in the first place since they would not have had the customer base they needed to survive. Overall, while the increase in population for these towns could be attributed to any number of factors, and does not necessarily mean that I-55 was responsible for bringing in more people, the data suggests that I-55 did not lead to the abandonment of towns.
Possible Reason For Survival
The survival, resurgence, and preservation of these businesses, as well as the lack of supportive census information, appears to counter my initial hypothesis that I-55 had an overwhelmingly negative effect on the culture of local communities on Route 66. Why is this so? According to John Weiss, the issue has to do with the distance between I-55 and Route 66.
While both tend to be very far apart in states such as California, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, both I-55 and Route 66 run very close to each other in Illinois, to the point where they sometimes overlap. The reason that many towns that were bypassed became desolate and empty in the other states, according to Weiss, is because they were simply too far away from the interstate highway system to continue attracting customers and travelers. In Illinois, however, businesses such as Funks Pure Maple Sirup and Soulsby Service Station were only about a mile away from the interstate after the bypassing. In these cases, they were not completely cut off from their supply of customers.
The Highway Beautification Act
Weiss also explained that the Highway Beautification Act played an important role in the survival of the interstate. The Act, passed with the support of Lady Bird Johnson in 1965, “called for control of outdoor advertising, including removal of certain types of signs, along the Nation’s growing Interstate System” (“How the Highway Beautification Act Became a Law”). By barring businesses on Route 66 from advertising their product or services along the side of the interstate, the federal government inadvertently made it so that these businesses could not regain their lost customer base that had been diverted to I-55. With the help of later amendments such as 1976 bill which “permitted retention of certain nonconforming directional-message signs in specific areas where sign removal would create a substantial economic hardship”, businesses such as Funks Pure Maple Sirup were able to attract customers (“Highway Beautification Act Primer: The 1976 Amendments”). However, according to Weiss, the Highway Beautification Act’s enforcement ultimately caused more issues for businesses than the actual construction of Route 66. More research would need to be done on the topic to see if he is correct. Either way, it is possible to argue that I-55 still created a problem since it was linked to the Highway Beautification Act, and that businesses would not have had this issue had the interstate been constructed. However, as the success of Funks Pure Maple Sirup shows, I-55 was beneficial when businesses were given the opportunity to use it to bring in a new and expanded customer base.
Interstate 55 and Preservation
While the information collected suggests that I-55 did not have an overall detrimental impact on the communities, some businesses still saw a decline due to the construction of the interstate. However, it is entirely possible to make the argument that I-55 was a huge benefit to Route 66 in Illinois due to preservation. Had Route 66 never been bypassed in the first place, perhaps none of the restoration efforts (such as those for Soulsby Service Station) would have been undertaken by individuals concerned with the history of the Mother Road. It is possible that Route 66 may have lost even more of its culture without these preservation efforts, since there would not have been as pressing of a need to protect these areas from urban development and the construction of chain stores. While this is entirely speculative, it would be interesting to further research this possibility regarding I-55 and its preservation of culture.
Possible Issues With Research
One of the first limitations involves the collection of census information. While the United States Census Bureau provides population information for the year 2000 for each town, the website does not readily display population demographics for any year before 1990. According to the Bureau, more census information can be located at the National Archives, however, these tend to be on rolls of microfilm. Given the limited time I had to conduct my research, gaining access to the National Archives and going through the microfilm would have taken far too long. It was also difficult to gather population information from the towns themselves, as many did not have the records available. A longer period of time in which to conduct my research may have allowed for a better sample of town census information, as it would have allowed me to use the microfilm or track down more individuals who may have had town information.
I also experienced a few limitations regarding business information. While I was able to contact several people regarding the financial history of each business described in my research, some of the original founders were too old to contact, or had already died. While this was not a major issue for my research, it prevented me from collecting more data that could have been useful, or using businesses that were spaced further apart along Route 66 for a better sample. I may have been able to gather more data by going to the actual towns and talking to locals, however, this was too difficult to do within ten weeks. Had the research period been longer, I may have been able to do this.
According to the information collected, it appears that I-55 did impact Route 66 communities to some extent, but that not all of these impacts were detrimental to the culture of the towns. Out of five businesses studied, only three saw a decrease in business due to I-55, and one was able to survive after being allowed to advertise to travelers on I-55. Only two businesses were forced to close due to I-55, and one was able to reopen later on while the other was preserved as a museum, which allowed the community to retain a special part of their culture and history. Furthermore, only two of the towns examined suffered a drop in population that could have been tied to the construction of I-55, but this is uncertain. Overall, I-55 appears to have been beneficial to some degree for the communities along Route 66, as it provided a new, expanded customer base when businesses were allowed to advertise along the road, and may have aided in the preservation of Route 66 culture. Further research would need to be done to investigate more of the impacts, but it appears that my initial hypothesis was not proven correct by the information gathered.
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“Route 66: Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary”. National Park Service. Web. Accessed 9 Apr. 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/index.ntml>.
“Route 66 Overview”. National Park Service. Web. Accessed 12 Apr. 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/Route66_overview.html>.
“Route 66: 1926-1945”. National Park Service. Web. Accessed 12 Apr. 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/Route66_1926_to_1945.html>.
“Soulsby Service Station”. National Park Service. Web. Accessed 4. Apr. 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/soulsby_service_station_mt_olive.html>.
“Special Resource Study: Route 66”. Rep. National Park Service. July 1995.
Teague, Tom. Searching for 66. Springfield: Samizdat House, 1991.
 This is not a misspelling—the word “sirup” means that there is no sugar added, and the Funks family wanted to distinguish between their product and the more artificial “syrup” produced by other businesses.
 The sources for all the information in the table can be found in the bibliography, under each town’s name.