SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Visitors to this year’s Illinois State Fair will be able to visit one of the nation’s more historic highways with the creation of the Route 66 Experience.
The multiyear project will turn the Springfield fairgrounds’ Gate 2 into a year-round destination for visiting a microform of the Mother Road in Illinois, from Chicago to the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in Madison. It will highlight communities and attractions along the way.
The project sponsor, the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, will have the first phase completed by the state fair’s opening Aug. 12, executive director Casey Wichmann said.
“Being able to provide visitors a central location to experience what our historic road has to offer is an amazing opportunity prior to the 100th anniversary of Route 66,” Wichmann said.
The 2,448-mile (3,940-kilometer) highway, one of the nation’s first interstate “hard roads,” was begun 95 years ago. It was dubbed the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” It runs from Chicago’s Loop business district to Santa Monica, California. Its path through Illinois is similar to that of current-day Interstate 55.
Once running, the exhibit will feature Quick Response codes and story boards detailing historic attractions and businesses. Those communities lining Route 66 will be invited to participate by working with the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway to develop their areas.
The project will be completed before the centennial in 2026.