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Braidwood

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Coal Mining town on US 66

Braidwood is a city on both US66 and ALT US66. Its sights include the kitschy Braidwood "Zoo", the iconic Polk-A-Dot Drive-In with its life-sized figures and several Route 66 icons:
Rossi’s Service Station from 1939, the Weitz Cafe and Rossi’s Motel. On the 1958 alignment stand the Former Sands Motel and the Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) used in a scene of the Steve Martin and John Candy movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987). For history fans is the 1883 Diamond Mine Disaster Historic Marker.

Braidwood Illinois

1926-39 US 66 & 1940 -77 ALT US 66

< West     Gardner ¦ Braceville ¦ Godley ¦ Braidwood ¦ Wilmington ¦ Elwood ¦ Joliet ¦ Romeoville     East >

The Main Alignment of Route 66 in Braidwood

< Head West
Gardner ¦ Braceville ¦ Godley

Head East >
Plainfield ¦ Willowbrook ¦ Countryside

 

Braidwood IL

Facts, Information and trivia

Elevation: Elevation 574 ft (175 m). Population 6,191 (2010).
Time zone: Central (CST): UTC minus 6 hours. Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5).

Braidwood is a city located on Route 66 and ALT US 66 in Will County Illinois. (A Map of Braidwood).

History of Braidwood

Illinois' first inhabitants were the Paleoindians that reached the area at the end of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago.

Polk-A-Dot Neon Sign in Braidwood, Illinois

Polk-A-Dot Neon Sign in Braidwood Route 66
Polk-A-Dot Drive-In Neon Sign in Braidwood, Illinois. David Taylor

The French in the 1660s explored the Great Lakes, Illinois and the Mississippi River. They met the Illinois and Kickapoo people in what would become Braidwood. France lost the territory to England after a peace treaty in the mid 1700s, but shortly after, it became a part of the U.S. and organized into a Territory which in 1818 became the state of Illinois.

In 1836 Will County was created; it was named after Dr. Conrad Will who had been a member of the first Illinois Constitutional Convention and later a member of the Illinois Legislature.

portrait of James Braidwood

Portrait of James Braidwood. Coal City Public Library District

Some settlers reached the area in the 1830s and the railroad passed through it in the early 1850s but the region boomed after coal was discovered in 1864.

William Hennebry found coal while digging a well on Thomas Byron's farm in 1864. Being close to Chicago (a great market) was key to its success, and as it was beside the railroad, built in 1853, it also became a source of fuel for its steam engines, replacing wood.

Scotsman James Braidwood (1831 - 1879) was a steamship engineer who migrated to the U.S. in 1865 and sunk the first mining shaft. Coal brought a boom to the area and towns sprung up to become the ome of the immigrant workers.

The town and its post office were established in 1867. A strike of mine workers in 1877 resulted in the governor sending 1,300 troops to Braidwood.

The name: Braidwood

Named for James Braidwood whose surname like Broadwood, Bradwood and Braiduode is a Scottish one, from the village of Braidwood in the parish of Avondale, in the county of Lanarkshire.

Population grew to 5,000 in 1880. But then coal from southern Illinois was discovered, it had thicker veins which made it cheaper to dig out. The outpud in Braidwood declined, and mines began closing (1916: Godley, 1918: Torino, 1923: South Wilmington), though strip mining stepped in and coal was produced until the 1970s, it had lost its economic importance.

Rossi

Peter Rossi Sr. migrated from Italy to the US in the 1870s but he left them ines and began manufacturing macaroni in Braidwood. He grew and soon the Rossi and Sons Macaroni Factory made Braidwood known as "The Little Macaroni Capital of the Big Macaroni World", their brand was "Lincoln" and known throughout the US.

Rossi built a gas station on Route 66, a motel and a restaurant, they are still there, next to the Mother Road.

Route 66 in town

When Route 66 was created in 1926 it followed State Hwy 4's alignment which ran past Braidwood, on the eastern side of the tracks. Later, in 1940 it became US ALT 66 when a new US 66 was built through Braidwood but on the western side of the tracks.

Braidwood: Hotels and Motels nearby

Accommodation near Braidwood

> > Book your hotel in town or in neighboring Wilmington

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Hotels east of Braidwood

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>> See the RV campground in Braidwood

The Weather

weather in Braidwood, Il

Where is Braidwood?

map of Braidwood Illinois showing where it is on Route 66
Map showing the location of Braidwood, Illinois on U.S. 66

The climate of Braidwood is a humid continental one with all four seasons distinctly represented; summers are hot and humid, spring is wet and cool, autumn is mild and pleasant while winters are quite cold.

Temperatures: The average winter (January) high is 31°F (-0.3°C); and the average low is 17°F (-8.6°C). The summer average high (July) is 84°F (29°C) and the average low is 64°F (17.7°C).

Rainfall ranges from 3 to 4.3 (78 and 110 mm) inch monthly from April to November, and falls to a drier 1.7 in. (28 mm) the rest of the year. On average, Braidwood gets 36.82 inches of rain each year (936 mm).

Snowfall: on average, 28 inches (71 cm) of snow falls each year. The first snow falls in Nov. and the last (less than 1⁄4 inch or 8 mm) falls in April. There is usually no snow between May and September.

Tornado risk

The county around Braidwood gets some 5 tornado strikes every year.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk on US 66.

How to get to Braidwood?

You can get to Braidwood via Historic Route 66 or former ALt US66 and also by using I-55 and taking either of these exits: 233 or 238

Map of Route 66 through Braidwood, Illinois

Display Braidwood Route 66 Map


  Click Map will appear below
 

Color key for Braidwood:

Pale Blue: marks the 1926 - 1939 US 66 and the 1940 - 1977 ALT US 66.
Red line or gaps in alignment, is I-55, where it overlaps the old alignment.
Green Line: is US 66 from 1940 to 1958. After that date and until 1977 it became part of I-55.
Black are the sections that are missing.

Check each individual city for its specific color key.

Google Maps. Terms. Nicolas Mollet, CC BY SA 3.0 License

Route 66 in Illinois: Historic U.S. 66 in Braidwood

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across Illinois

Route 66 is a Historic highway and has also been designated as a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road in the state of Illinois.

Read this detailed description of Route 66 in Illinois.

Below you will find More information on Route 66 in Braidwood.

Braidwood's Route 66 Landmarks and Attractions

What to see in Braidwood

US 66 in Braidwood: historic context

In 1946 Jack DeVere Rittenhouse published his "Guide Book to Highway 66" in which he describes the whole road from Chicago to Los Angeles. He mentions Braidwood:

"...stores; gas; cafes... you pass between huge heaps of dirt and 'slag' -refuse from the coal pits which made this a boom area at one time." He mentions that it was famous for the "Peter Rossi" macaroni plant, which opened in 1876 and in 1946 was still operating in the same factory. On the outskirts of Braidwood were "... a few tourist cabins" on the right and some old mine structures to the left.

Driving Route 66 in Braidwood a City Tour

Begin on the north side of town, on present Hwy 53 (which used to be ALT US 66). See this map with directions, it is a 4.9 mile drive to see all the attractions:

To your right is the famous Polk A Dot Drive In:

Polk-A-Dot Drive-In

222 North Front St.

This restaurant opened in 1956 by Chester "Chet" Fife. It got its name (Polk-A-Dot Drive In) from a school-bus covered with multicolored poka dots. In 1962 it moved to its current location.

Don't miss the fiberglass figures of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop and James Dean or its classic Neon sign (pictured above).

polka dot - noun
One of a number of round dots repeated to form a regular pattern on fabric.

For those looking for a 1950s-styled diner to enjoy some burgers, malts and fires, this is the place to stop and eat.

Elvis' statue is at the corner next to the restaurant:

Elvis life-size statue at the Polk-A-Dot in Braidwood, Illinois

Elvis life-size statue at the Polk-A-Dot in Braidwood Route 66
Elvis life-size statue at the Polk-A-Dot in Braidwood, Illinois. Click to enlarge image

Life-sized statues:

Marylin, Betty Boop, more life-size statue at the Polk-A-Dot in Braidwood, Illinois

Marylin, Betty Boop, more life-size statue at the Polk-A-Dot in Braidwood Route 66
Marylin, Betty Boop, more life-size statue at the Polk-A-Dot in Braidwood, Illinois. TripAdvisor

Ahead, on the next block to your left is a weird zoo

The "Zoo" in Braidwood US66

The "Zoo", Braidwood, Il. Click for street view

Braidwood "Zoo"

Route 66 Kitsch

155 N Front St, Braidwood, IL

The Braidwood Zoo is a cage holding an assortment of "animals" (a pink elephant, a cow, steer, polar bear and giraffe) that were created by artist Jack Barker who had his workshop nearby in Essex, IL. He passed away in 2012, but his work survives him on Route 66.

Stop at the Welcome center for information on local sights and attractions.

At the corner, take a right along E. Main Street and cross the tracks and you will be at the junction with IL-129 (S. Washington St.), which is no other than the 1940-58 Route 66 alignment through Braidwood. To your left are three Route 66 Attractions nestled betwen E Main, Mitchell and S. Washington streets:

Rossi’s Service Station

100 N Washington St, Braidwood

This was Peter Rossi's service station built in 1939 on what was then the new alignment of Route 66. It originally sold Sinclair Oil gasoline as you can see in the image below.

It is built in Art Deco style which flourished between both World Wars (1914 - 1940). It was a symbol of wealth, luxury and elegance that adopted symmetry, rich colors and bold rectilinear geometric shapes to exalt the technological progress of the early twentieth century.

A restaurant and motel were added later (more on these two below). In the 1980s it was acquired by the regional tire chain Lucenta Tire, then it became M& R Tire and Auto and now it is the Cossroads of America Car Truck and Tire Center and Auto Service.

Vintage photo Rossi’s Service Station in Braidwood, Illinois

vintage picture Rossi’s Service Station in Braidwood Route 66
Rossi’s Service Station in a 1940s photo, Braidwood, Illinois. www.66postcards.com

As you can see below, even though the office's large glass windows have been modified and made smaller and that the clock above the door has gone, the tiled parapets and overall appearance has not changed:

The former Rossi gas station nowadays in Braidwood, Illinois

The old Rossi gas station nowadays in Braidwood Route 66
The former Rossi gas station nowadays in Braidwood, Illinois. Crossroads of America. Click image to enlarge.

Next door, to the right is what was the old restaurant:

Weitz Cafe

110 N Washington St.

The café's sign read "Just Good Food". As you can see in the "Then and Now" sequence below, the early 1950s building has survived unchanged. Its four windows still face the highway, but the individual window awnings have been replaced by a single longer one.

Vintage postcard Weitz Cafe in Braidwood, Illinois

Weitz Cafe postcard in Braidwood Route 66
Postcard of the Weitz Cafe in Braidwood, Illinois. www.66postcards.com

Same place nowadays:

Former Weitz Cafe today. Braidwood, Illinois

Weitz Cafe nowadays in Braidwood Route 66
Former Weitz Cafe in Braidwood, Illinois. Click to enlarge image

The Rossi's complex also included a motel, which is located on the north side of the old restaurant, to the right of the former café.

Rossi's Motel - Now the Braidwood

120 N Washington St

The National Park Service described it as one of the 1935-1958 Motel Buildings Remaining on Route 66 in Illinois. It is a U-Shaped Frame building, one story with end gable roof. Dates back to the 1950s.

As its name hints, it is part of the Rossi family (of the Macaroni factory) heritage in town. Now it is the Braidwood Motel, and the Original neon sign still stands:

Rossi Motel in a vintage postcard in Braidwood, Illinois

Rossi Motel in a vintage postcard in Braidwood Route 66
Rossi Motel in a vintage postcard in Braidwood, Illinois. www.ebay.com

Braidwood Motel nowadays, Braidwood, Illinois

Braidwood Motel nowadays, Braidwood Route 66
Braidwood Motel nowadays, Braidwood, Illinois. Braidwood Motel

Drive west along Main Street till it ends next to the Freeway and turn south along S. Hickory St. to your right you will see the back part of the Sun Motel, the main entrance faces the freeway:

Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn)

140 S Hickory St.

Ths Sun Motel appeared in the 1987 movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), where the two characters who are trying to get to Chicago en up in Wichita Kansas. Below the two actors are sitting in front of the stone facade of "Edelen's Braidwood Inn", as you can see in the image further down, that same facade is still there (see red arrow) but no sign appears on it.

Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) movie scene in Braidwood, Illinois

Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) movie scene in Braidwood Route 66
Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) movie scene in Braidwood, Illinois. youtube.com (Click to see video of the scene)

Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) nowadays in Braidwood, Illinois

Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) nowadays in Braidwood Route 66
Sun Motel (Braidwood Inn) nowadays in Braidwood, Illinois. Click to enlarge image

Head back to S. Hickory St. and turn right; when you reach W. Kennedy Rd. turn left and there, just ahead, to the left is another Motel:

Sands Motel was the Davito’s in Braidwood US66

Sands Motel was the Davito’s, Braidwood, Il. www.66postcards.com

Former Sands Motel

1150 W Kennedy Rd. Braidwood

The "Sands Motel" as you can see in the 1960s postcard below has not changed that much half a century later. At one time it was also named "Davito's Motel" with "Telephones & Television".

Below is a "Then and Now" sequence of the old motel:

Sands Motel nowadays, Braidwood US66

Sands Motel nowadays, Braidwood, Il. Click for street view

Sands Motel 1960s postcard, in Braidwood US66

Sands Motel 1960s postcard,, Braidwood, Il. www.hippostcard.com

Turn around and head west, cross the freeway and then head north along Grundy County Line Rd. to Diamond (this is a map with directions; you will visit the Diamond Mine Disaster marker:

1883 Diamond Mine Disaster marker

Historical Marker

2300 Main St. (Illinois Route 113) Diamond

The marker is on the north side of Main Street in Diamond Park.

It honors those who perished in the mine disaster. The Marker's text tells us about the sad events that took place in 1883:

1883 Diamond Mine Disaster marker

1883 Diamond Mine Disaster marker, Diamond, Il. Click for street view

"Marker Description: The Diamond Mine of the Wilmington Coal Mining and Manufacturing Company, located near Braidwood on the Grundy-Will County line, was the site of a major mine disaster in Illinois.
The mine was on a marshy tract of land that had no natural drainage. At midday of February 16, 1883, the east side of the mine collapsed from the weight of melting snow, ice, and heavy rains. An alarm was sounded, and miners who were near the escapement shaft hurried to the surface. The main passage to the shaft flooded rapidly, and the weight of the water sealed the ventilation doors in the tunnels. Escape became impossible, and rescue attempts were futile.
Other mines in the area suspended operations, and their workers helped build a dam on the site. For thirty-eight days seven steam pumps removed water from the mine. Volunteers descended the shaft on March 25, and the first bodies were recovered on March 26. The recovery effort was hampered by accumulations of debris and gas as well as by falling rock. Several days later the mine was sealed with the remaining forty-six bodies entombed.
Numerous men and boys died in the disaster; two were thirteen years of age, and two were fourteen. Contributions for families of the victims were received from across the United States and totaled more than $42,000, including $10,000 appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly. In 1898 the United Mine Workers of America placed a monument at the site
".

This is the end of the tour you can return to the Polk-A-Dot and drive south towards Godley along ALT 66, or take it northwards into Wilmington, you can also hit I-55 north and reach Plainfield.

Historic Route 66 in Braidwood, Illinois

Illinois funded its original state highway network by floating a bond in 1918. Among the roads built was SBI 4 (State Bond Issue) along what had been the "Pontiac Trail" that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. Route 4 was paved completely by 1923 and it was chosen to become US 66's roadbed in 1926.

Route 66

US 66 1926 to 1939

Route 66 which nowadays is state highway 53 ran through Braidwood, on the south side of the railroad tracks between 1926 and 1939. In 1940 with a new alignment built through Plainfield, it became ALT US 66 and remained so until 1977.

1928 Illinois State roadmap

1928 Illinois State roadmap

US 66 1940 to 1977

As traffic grew along Route 66, the highway was realigned to a shorter and straighter course. In 1939 a new road was built north from Braidwood to Plainfield and from there NW towards the older US-66 alignment near Romeoville.

The 1928 Illinois state roadmap shows the original US 66 and the other highways in the region. Braidwood is in the lower left part of the map.

The new "MAIN" US 66 is marked with a Green Line in the google map further up.

This "new" highway also continued south (westwards) from Braidwood all the way to Gardner running on the western side of the railroad.

ALT US 66 1940 to 1977

The old road from Romeoville through Joliet, Wilmington, Braidwood, Braceville and Gardner became ALT US 66; the Pale Blue line marks these 1926-39 US 66 and 1940-77 ALT 66 alignments.

US 66 final years: 1958 - 1977

In 1958 US 66 was moved further west to a brand new freeway that bypassed all the towns including Plainfield, Braidwood and also Gardner. US 66 and I-55 shared the freeway.

Alternate US 66

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) created the "Alternate" designation in 1959. Its purpose was to designate a route that branches off from the main highway, passes through given towns or cities and then connects again with the main numbered route. The idea is to accommodate a high traffic demand. When the Alternate and Main highways followed a similar course, the shorter and better built highway would be marked as main and the other as alternate.

By 1945, Route 66 north (east) of Braidwood, all the way to present Wellco Corners had been designated as ALT 66.

And Route 66, the main highway now ran along a new highway parallel to the old one, on the western side of the railroad, between Braidwood and a point just north of Braidwood. Here it turned sharply and took a straight course northward, crossing the Kankakee River and passing by "Blodgett", then it crossed the Des Plaines River and intersected US 6, passed by "Birds", intersected US 52 and finally reached Plainfield where it met US 30 and turned with a northeastern course towards Cicero and Chicago. It met the ALT 66 at Wellco Corners.

There were only three places along Route 66 where an Alternate alignment existed: this one into Chicago, one in Oklahoma City and the one leading into Los Angeles CA.

US 66 Alignments South of the Kankakee River

The original Route 66 alignment followed this course (this was later ALT US 66) Map 1926-39 US 66. It later became the ALT 66 alignment from 1940 to 1977.

The later US 66 alignment from 1940 to 58 ran parallel to it south of Braidwood: map.

Then, from 1958 to 1977 US-66 shared the roadbed with I-55, along the current freeway.

Drive from Braidwood to Godley on Route 66

It is only 2.7 mi from Braidwood to Godley, see this Map with directions.

> > See the previous segment Plainfield to Braidwood (east)

> > See the next segment Godley to Braceville (west)

Sources

Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.

Banner image: Dead Man's Curve, Laguna New Mexico by Perla Eichenblat.