One of Pontiac’s most important Route 66 heritage sites has recently been given an exciting new element. The old Illinois State Police District 6 headquarters, located south of town along Historic Route 66, now has an interpretive statue and a corresponding wayside story panel celebrating the motorcycle patrolmen who served to enforce laws and protect travelers along the Mother Road. The Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway coordinated the project, which was funded through grants from the Federal Highway Administration's National Scenic Byway Program and the Illinois Office of Tourism. The iron silhouette of a mounted patrolman is one of nine cut-out statues being added to selected locations along the road in Illinois.
Bill Kelly, Executive Director of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, explained the significance of this latest series of interpretive exhibits along Illinois Route 66. “Statues tell the story of The Road in a way that is unique and unexpected by visitors. They also serve as a fun photo opportunity”, said Kelly. The Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway in the past has also worked with community partners to develop a series of 31 wayside exhibits and 14 experience hubs that have already been installed for the enhancement of the Route 66 experience for the traveler.
Pontiac has 4 other Route 66-related sites that have wayside exhibits. It is also one of the 14 locations selected to serve as an “experience hub.” According to Ellie Alexander, Director of Pontiac Tourism, “The new iron statue really makes an impression as you drive along old Route 66. You can see the cut-out looming on the horizon and if travelers stop to read the two wayside exhibit storyboards located at the old ISP HQ, they will learn a great deal about the history of policing along the road.” The District 6 HQ, which was built in 1942, was closed in 2003. It is unique for several reasons: it was designed in the shape of a handgun (when viewed from above), and it was one of the very few State Police facilities that was actually built right on US. Route 66 in Illinois.
The other eight “Shadow Statues,” running north to south, are as follows:
• Godley: Miner & Mule – an interpretation of the strip-mining of black diamonds in the communities of Braidwood, Coal City, Carbon Hill, Diamond, and Godley that begun in the mid-1800s and ended in 1974.
• Elwood: Rosie the Riveter – the symbol of the female worker during WWII at the Elwood Arsenal, two massive plants that employed 20,000 workers making bombs and shells.
• McLean: Dixie Gas Attendant – interprets Illinois oldest truck stop, The Dixie Truckers Home, opened in 1928 and still in operation today. The historic McLean Depot is also featured.
• Elkhart: Shirley Temple – tells the story of the famous visit of Shirley Temple to the House by the Side of the Road Café in 1938.
• Sherman: Wayside Park – depicts a picnic during the heyday of Route 66 at one of the few remaining wayside parks along Route 66.
• Gillespie: Miner – Gillespie also was black diamond mining country and central to the development of unions, with organizing conventions and subsequent riots that killed over twenty people.
• Benld: Coliseum Ballroom Dancers – the biggest dance floor between Chicago and St. Louis attracted large crowds, many top-name performers, and the gambling and bootlegging that inevitably came along with it. The Coliseum burned down in 2011.
• Staunton: Illinois Traction System – Electrified interurban railways connected travelers before Route 66 became the major national highway. They became obsolete in the mid-1950s.