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Site of the Streetcar Diner

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The village of Gardner is located on both Route 66 and the later ALT 66 highways. It's attractions include the Historic two-cell Jail, the Route 66 Hall of Fame inductee Historic Streetcar Diner, the site of the now gone Riviera Restaurant, a 1930s Former Gas Station and the Christian Christiansen Memorial (the guy who helped eliminate the Nazi nuclear program).

Gardner Illinois

The Alignment of Route 66 in Gardner

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Braceville ¦ Godley ¦ Braidwood



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Gardner IL

Facts, Information and trivia

Elevation: Elevation 585 ft (178 m). Population 1,463 (2010).
Time zone: Central (CST): UTC minus 6 hours. Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5).

Gardner is a village in Grundy County. This is a Map of Gardner.

History of Gardner

Human beings have been living in Illinois for at least eleven thousand years, when the ice sheets of the last Ice Age retreated. Later, farming groups established themselves along the southwestern part of the state. The northern and central parts of Illinois were peopled during historic times by several tribes: Shawnee, Winnebago, Fox, Miami, Sauk and Potawatomi, Kickapoo and Illinois.

The French explored the Illinois River in 1673, and incorporated it into their territory of Louisiana. In 1763 it was annexed by the English after defeating the French in the Seven Years' War. During American Independence wars, it became the North west Territory (1783) which was organized in 1809. Its first capital was established in Kaskaskia.

It became part of the Union in 1818, as the 21st state, and it banned slavery. The state capital moved to Vandalia in 1819 and finally (backed by the then state representative Abraham Lincoln) to Springfield in 1837.

Although some settlers were already living in the 1820s and 30s in what would become Grundy County, they were few.

Grundy County was created in 1841 and it was named for US Attorney General Felix Grundy (1777 -1840). The area was known for having coal, and the first economic activity in the area was coal mining.

Like most towns on Route 66 in Illinois, it was the Chicago & Alton Railroad that led to the establishment of the town: a railway chief engineer, Henry Gardner and his partners J.C. Spencer and C.H. Gould had bought the land knowing the course that the tracks would take. They platted a town in 1854 and named it after Gardner.

The name: Gardner

Named after Henry Gardner, the founder of the town.

The surname Gardner comes from the Old French word "gardinier" and taken to England during the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD. It is a person who worked as a gardener.

It incorporated in 1867. A fire razed the business district in 1878 and the town prospered mining coal. Route 66 was created in 1926 and it passed through Gardner.


Gardner: Hotels and Motels nearby

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>> See the RV campground nearby in Braidwood and also in Joliet

The Weather

weather in Gardner, Il

Where is Gardner?

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

The climate of Gardner is a humid continental one with all four seasons distinctly represented; summers are hot and humid, spring is wet and cool, fall is mild and quite pleasant, but winters are rather 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, Gardner 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

Grundy county, where Gardner is located gets around 6 tornado strikes per year.

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

How to get to Gardner?

You can get to Gardner by driving along Historic Route 66, from I-55 use Exit 227 to enter Gardner.

Map of Route 66 through Gardner, Illinois

See the alignment of US 66 in Gardner, on our Illinois Route 66 Map, it has the complete alignment across the state with all the towns along it.

Color key for Gardner:
Pale Blue: marks the 1926 to 1939 US 66 and the 1940 - 1977 ALT 66.
Gaps in alignment, is I-55, where it overlaps the old alignment.
Orange line: marks the 1926-40s alignment south of Gardner in Odell and Dwight.
Green Line: is US 66 from 1940 to 1958. Later it became part of I-55 until 1977.
Black are the sections that are missing.

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

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 Gardner.

Gardner's Route 66 Landmarks and Attractions

What to see in Gardner

US 66 in Gardner: historic context

In 1946, after driving all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles along Route 66, Jack DeVere Rittenhouse published his classic "A Guide Book to Highway 66". His entry for Gardner is:

"Gardner lies to the east of US 66 here [meaning he drove down the main US 66 and not ALT 66] There are gas stations and a cafe on US 66 at this intersection... ", he adds that it is now a farming community.

Drive US 66 through Gardner

Drive from north to south, coming from Braceville along the 1926-39 US 66 (Later ALT 66).

The first sight is at Mazon River:

Site of the Riviera Restaurant


5650 Route 53 (Location map).

On the southeastern side of the highway, next to Mazon River.

The wood structure that would become the Riviera in 1928, was originally a local church, and a former mining office building from South Wilmington was added to it. A few years later (1932) the now the Historic Streetcar Diner was added to the complex.

During the Prohibition days of the 1930s liquor flowed in the basement -which was decorated as a cave. There was also illegal gambling in the place frequented by Al Capone.

Gene Kelly and Tom Mix were also among its patrons. Eventually it had a "zoo" and a gas station. But a fire razed the place in 2010. It is now, sadly gone.

To the west, beyond the railroad tracks is the now abandoned 1940-1958 Route 66 (more on this below).


Drive west towards Gardner and just after the road turns south to skirt around the eastern side of the town, to your right is an old gas station:

Former Gas Station

401 IL-53. Gardner

A two bay garage, box shaped gas station from the 1930s. Now it is J amp; R a repair shop.

Former Gas Station in Gardner, Illinois

Former Gas Station in Gardner Route 66
Former Gas Station in Gardner, Illinois. Click to enlarge image

Take a right at the corner along E. Washington St. and then, on the fourth street turn left along N Center St. at the next corner are Gardner's main attractions (see This map with directions).

Historic two-cell Jail

SE corner of N Center St. and E Mazon St.

Built in 1906, it housed criminals until 1950. It is a small building, mad of hewn stone, which has two cells on one side, and a small section for the guard with a desk and a stove on the other.

The jail cells are separated by a sheet of steel and the bars face the guard section. The only ammenities in the two cells were a bucket (as a toilet) and a cot.

Two-celled jail

Two-cell Jail in Gardner Route 66
Two-cell Jail in Gardner, Illinois. Pierre Marc

Christian Christiansen Memorial

Next to the Jail, is thie simple memorial with a plaque that explains this man's actions that saved millions of lives.

Christian Christiansen (1859 - 1947). Born in Sandnes Norway, he became a sailor and eventually immigrated to the US in 1880, he was ordained as a minister in 1888 and settled in Gardner as a pastor. During World War II he read a newspaper article about the Nazi Germany's heavy water plant in his Norwegian hometown, which was inexpugnable. But the Reverend knew the fjord and the mountains so he contacted the U.S. Navy and shared his knowledge with Naval Intelligence.

The allies organized a raid, conducted by the British military in Feb. 1943 (Operation Gunnerside) destroying the facilities and preventing the Nazis from building an atomic bomb. The King of Norway acknowledged his actions with a letter.

Christiansen had saved millions of lives. The movie "Herors of Telemark" (1965) starring Kirk Douglas tells the story of the commando raid.

Historic Streetcar Diner

Route 66 Hall of Fame

SE corner of N Center St. and E Mazon St.

The "Betty Boop" sign from the Riviera Restaurant is standing next to it.

Kankakee is a town about 40 miles east of Gardner. The Kankakee Electric Railway Co. began operating a streetcar service in 1891. By the early 1900s, there were two other companies linking the town with Chicago.

But the automobile and buses competed with the streetcars causing it to stop operating in 1931. A bus service raplaced it in 1932 (it finally ceased operations in 1960).

Streetcar at its original location in Gardner, Illinois

Streetcar Diner in Gardner Route 66
Streetcar Diner in Gardner, Illinois. Pierre Marc

The Gardner streetcar was brought from Kankakee in 1932, and it was perfect for a diner.

In 1955 it was moved behind the now defunct Riviera Restaurant. It was restored by the Route 66 Association of Illinois in 2001, and inducted that year into the Route 66 Hall of Fame. When the Riviera burned down in 2010, it remained at the site next to Mazon River.

It was moved to its present location in downtown Gardner, next to the tiny jail, to better preserve it.

There is a white marble marker beside it that reads:

"In Appreciation
Thank you to Bob and Peggy Kraft for donting this Route 66 Hall of Fame streetcar to Gardner.
The Krafts provided years of food, fun and nostalgia at their Riviera roadhouse Located on Route 66. The Riviera unfortunately burned down on June 8, 2010.
It is the town's desire that this piece of Gardner history will provide fond memories to all who visit

And this Ends your city tour of Gardner, head south towards neighboring Dwight.

Historic Route 66 in Gardner, Illinois

Pontiac Trail sign

The Pontiac Trail symbol shield,

History: State Highway 4 and the Pontiac Trail

In 1915 the Pontiac Trail became the main road linking Chicago and St. Louis, but it bypassed Gardner, as it went from Joliet to Morris and from there south to Dwight. The trail had been named after the famous Ottawa Indians chief and B.F. Goodrich marked the milage posts, it even had its own shield sign (image).

But it was the state that had to provide adequate roads, so a bond was issued in 1918 to build them. Parts of the Pontiac Trail was to become the SBI 4 (State Bond Issue) highway number 4.

Federal funds were added, and the road was shortened, running in a diagonal line (far shorter than it had been) from Joliet to Dwight, bypassing Morris and now going through Gardner.

The State Hwy 4 was completely paved by 1923. Route 66, when it was created in 1926, shared its alignment.

Route 66

US 66 from 1926 to 1939

The original alignment went through the downtown, and ran along the eastern side of the railroad with a SW-NE course all the way to Wilmington, passing through Braceville, Godley and Braidwood. But by the late 1930s, a straigher and quicker alignment was necessary, and it was built through Plainfield and had a lineal course:

US 66 from 1940 to 1977

This is marked with a Green Line in the map.

The "new" highway from Plainsfield to Gardner became Route 66 (it ran on the western side of the railroad) and also had a "Bypass" alignment that skirted the town along its western side.

ALT US 66 1940 to 1977

The 1926 alignment from Braidwood to Romeoville through Joliet became ALT US 66 and remained so until 1977.

The Pale Blue line marks the 1926-39 US 66 and the 1940-77 ALT 66.

US 66 from 1958 to 1977

In 1958 US 66 was moved to a new alignment which it shared with the new freeway (I-55) it absorbed part of the old US 66 between Plainfield and Blodgett, but bypassed the old segment from there until Gardner (leaving Braidwood, Godley and Braceville on ALT 66). It also bypassed Plainfield as it took a shorter eastern course towards Chicago.

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 Gardner, 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 Gardner 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 are 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.

Lost bridges

The viaduct on the south side of Gadner, that crossed over the Union Pacific RR and led US 66 into Gardner was built in 1928, eliminating a grade crossing and making the road safer. This viaduct was closed in 1998 and a new bridge replaced it in 2000.

North of Gardner, at Mazon River, the former US 66 (1939-57) ends by the river, cut off because its bridge has been removed. See this Street View at the dead end by Mazon River.

Across the river, there was a now gone steel arch bridge over the railroad, built in 1939. This now abandoned alignment is IL-129.

ALT 66 to the east of the abandoned alignment is now IL-53. It crosses Mazon River on a new bridge (1969) which replaced a 1920s? bridge of the original alignment.


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

The US 66 alignment from 1940 to 58 is shown in this map.

After 1958 US-66 shared the roadbed with I-55, along the current freeway.

Drive from Gardner to Odell along US66

It is almost 11 miles from Gardner to Dwight, see this Map with directions.

> > See the previous segment Braceville to Gardner (east)

> > See the next segment Dwight to Odell (west)

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

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