May 202012
 



I have said it before and I will say it again – the Illinois Route 66 Association gets it! They are the shining examples of how to keep not only the route alive – but to prosper from it.

ATLANTA — While Atlanta may have a small population, it boasts a pair of giant tourist attractions — Route 66 and a 19-foot-tall statue that looms over it.

More than a dozen volunteers came from Illinois and beyond Saturday to wash and paint Atlanta’s Bunyon’s Statue — a giant man holding a hot dog — to ensure it remains a Route 66 icon for years to come.

Similar statues were once popular and designed to attract people to businesses. Atlanta’s giant originally stood for 38 years on Route 66 in Cicero, drawing customers to Bunyon’s restaurant.

When it closed in 1993, the restaurant’s owners loaned the legendary figure to Atlanta, where it draws tourists to the town of nearly 1,700.

While the one-of-a-kind Route 66 icon draws smiles and laughter from visitors, he’s a “serious factor” when it comes to economic development. The statue draws thousands from all over the world each year, said Atlanta business owner Bill Thomas, who helped bring the attraction to the city.

“There’s no where else in the world you can have your photo taken with a 19-foot man holding a hot dog,” Thomas said.

Thomas was at the statue talking with a three-man film crew Friday afternoon when two carloads of people stopped to have their photo snapped.

“That happens time and time again,” Thomas said.

And it’s not just people from the Midwest.

Saturday morning, as volunteers refurbished the statue, two visitors from Odernheim, Germany, stopped on their way from Chicago to Los Angeles.

“It’s history and was a dream,” said Klaus Dreesbach of why he decided two years ago to plan the motorcycle trip on Route 66.

Dreesbach and friend Rolf Mau weren’t surprised to see the fiberglass giant.

“We have read in a trip book about them,” said Mau, who described Atlanta as a “nice, typical, western city.”

Restoration effort

The opportunity to help preserve the giant also drew enthusiasts from as far away as Iowa and Michigan.

“I’m impressed by what people want to do to help,” said John Weiss, chair of the preservation committee of the Route 66 Association of Illinois and organizer of the work day. Those who are interested in getting involved can visit www.il66assoc.org for more information.

“It’s my wife’s birthday and it’s what she wanted,” said Joe Foster, who traveled from Urbandale, Iowa, with wife, Kara, and daughter, Ella Hendricks, 8.

“Route 66 is my passion, and he’s grown to like it,” said Kara, who painted one of the statue’s arms and the mustard on the hot dog.

Bill Kelley, who grew up hearing stories of Route 66 from his parents, came from Eastpointe, Mich., to help.

“Disneyworld and Vegas aren’t for everybody,” said Kelley of his passion for Route 66.

Volunteer Jerry Law, of Wood River, agreed. “To me, Route 66 has everything I want.”

Jan 252012
 



Bill Thomas remembers the response when he suggested developing the Logan County village of Atlanta, population 1,635, as a Route 66 tourist attraction.

“Fifteen years ago, that was laughed at,” Thomas said.

Nobody’s laughing today.

Communities throughout central Illinois — from Atlanta to Williamsville to Litchfield — are benefiting from efforts to market their ties to the famous road — and to attract some of the thousands of visitors who trace its path from Chicago to the West Coast each year.

In Atlanta, sales tax revenue jumped 43 percent last year during the peak tourism season of April to August compared to four years ago, before the opening of the Atlanta Museum and the reopening of the 1930s-era Palms Grill Cafe. Both buildings in the 100 block of S.W. Arch St. are owned by the Atlanta Public Library.

The two endeavors were Atlanta’s first efforts to generate revenue from the steady trickle of Route 66 travelers who drive through the town every summer.

Atlanta had long been a favorite stop with its library packed with memorabilia, a 19-foot-tall fiberglass Paul Bunyan-like statue holding a super-sized hot dog and advertising murals painted on the brick buildings lining Route 66.

Today, visitors can take a walking tour of the community, eat at the Palms Grill and trace where their corn flakes come from at the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum, housed in a restored 1904 grain elevator.

The increase in foot traffic led to the opening of two new businesses: the Route 66 Gift Shop, which sells memorabilia and vintage items, and the Arch Street Artisan Shop.

“The city really got behind this push,” said Mayor Fred Finchum, who served on the village board when Thomas first proposed the idea. “It took a while to wrap our minds around it. But we thought, what we’re doing to try to bring people in isn’t working.

“What else can we do?”

Atlanta leaders are still asking that question, but today they are looking at historical aspects of their community tourists might be drawn to.

Packaging the past

This spring, Atlanta will begin preparing a walking trail and signage around a quarter-mile of the original Route 66 pavement north of town. Officials also plan to open a coal-mining exhibit next to the grain elevator museum.

The community also has purchased an 1891 residence that served as a rooming house for Route 66 travelers in the 1940s, before motels were readily available. The city plans to offer the same service to modern travelers, although the Atlanta Route 66 Rooming House isn’t expected to open until 2013.

Copyright 2012 The State Journal-Register.