Route 66 tourism has become a multimillion dollar business in this country, and thanks to a small group of local historians and city officials, Edwardsville is working to raise awareness on a national and international level. Below are some of the ways Edwardsville will showcase its Route 66 heritage this year.
Route 66 Experience Hub
For several weeks motorists at the corner of Schwarz and West Streets have wondered about the mysterious structure beneath a large blue tarp at the side of the road. Saturday morning at 11 a.m. the cover will be removed for all to see. A Route 66 Experience Hub, one of only 13 in Illinois, will be revealed at the site of the former Idlewood Tourist Camp, a favorite stop for tourists and locals along Route 66.
The public is invited to attend the dedication. Area residents with vintage vehicles that may have driven Route 66 are encouraged to bring their restored vehicles. Brief remarks by Mayor Gary Niebur and William Kelly, director of Illinois Scenic Byway, will be followed by a ribbon cutting and unveiling of the new Route 66 Experience Hub.
Awareness of the Edwardsville Route 66 experience will be raised thanks to the work of City Planner Scott Hanson, Alderman Barb Stamer, the Historic Preservation Commission and other city officials who worked with the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway to design panels for the structure and bring the Route 66 Experience Hub to Edwardsville. Edwardsville is the sixth city along the route to install their exhibit.
The design of the structure was influenced by the fins of 1950s era automobiles. Attached to the “fin” are three panels, a large map showing the path of Route 66 through Illinois and two smaller panels showing local and regional attractions and Route 66 history. While reading about the Route 66 experience in Edwardsville, visitors can listen to Bobby Troup’s “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.”
The experience hubs also feature a tactile station where visitors can make a pencil rubbing of a design unique to each city. In Edwardsville the design is the Centennial Monument in City Park.
Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame
This week word was received that Edwardsville’s nomination of George Cathcart for the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame has been accepted. In 1922 George Cathcart and his wife purchased the Joseph Hotz house at 454 E. Vandalia in Edwardsville and opened it as a tourist home. Two years later, Cathcart built a modest hamburger stand next door at 456 E. Vandalia. As business grew, he expanded the building to include a large restaurant and grocery.
Cathcart’s Café became a popular stop along Route 66. The café building no longer exists, but the house just west of it that most recently housed the Galleria Hearth and Home, has been beautifully preserved. The Cathcarts later built tourist cabins next door to the house, some of which still exist. In the early 1930s the Cathcart Tourist Home and Cabins were sold to the Goddard family who rented rooms to Route 66 travelers for many years.
Cathcart was important to Edwardsville’s story of Route 66 not only because of his businesses, but because he led a successful fight in 1938 against state plans to move Route 66 away from Edwardsville’s business district.
Route 66 Festival
The 16th annual Edwardsville Route 66 Festival will kick off on June 6 with a sock hop and continue on Friday night and Saturday, June 7 and 8, with events in City Park. Classic cars, music, great food and family fun have proved to be a winning combination for the festival. The event is drawing people from an ever widening geographic circle of Route 66 fans. A full schedule of events will be published closer to the dates of the event visit www.edwardsvilleroute66.com.
New Route 66 Heritage Posters
Members of HPC along with designer Sherrie Hickman of Creative Options Graphic Design are creating posters reflecting the history of ten different Edwardsville buildings along Route 66 (now Route 157). The posters will be on display at the Route 66 Festival and in the store front windows of businesses interested in promoting their Route 66 history. A bright blue Route 66 shield will draw visitors to the buildings.
Writing About Route 66 in Edwardsville
Local author and historian Cheryl Eichar Jett has been spreading the word about Edwardsville’s Route 66 story through articles in regional Route 66 publications. During the past year she has written “Along Route 66,” a monthly column in the Prairieland Buzz covering Route 66 in Montgomery, Macoupin and Madison counties, and written specifically about Edwardsville in magazines for the Illinois and Missouri Route 66 Associations. She is the author of two books on the old highway, “Route 66 in Madison County” and “Route 66 in Springfield.” Jett also authored the successful Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame application for George Cathcart.
Until now, Edwardsville has not had a high profile in tourist publications describing historic Route 66. Fortunately, that situation is being remedied by folks with a love for America’s Mother Road and pride in Edwardsville’s heritage.
By Cindy Reinhardt – Intelligencer