Facts, Information and trivia
Elevation: Elevation 696 feet (212 m). Population 8,540 (2010).
Time zone: Central (CST): UTC minus 6 hours. Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5).
The Village of Willowbrook is located in DuPage County, Illinois, see this Map of Willowbrook.
History of Willowbrook
When Route 66 was created in 1926, and until 1960, this area was an open countryside with fields and no urban or suburban buildings. It is located about three miles north of the Des Plaines River.
Des Plaines River
The river is 133 miles (214 km) long and has a discharge flow of 535 cubic feet per second (15 m3⁄s). It runs from southern Wisconsin, western Chicago and then west and south, meeting the Kankakee River to form the Illinois River, which in turn flows into the Mississippi River.
Used as a route by the locan Indians, the French used it too and named it as La Rivière des Plaines (River of the Plane Tree) after the trees along it. They used the word "Plaine" at that time to name the American sycamore and the red maple both of which resembled the European plane tree.
Many dams have been built along it and it meets the Sanitary and Ship Canal in Lockport before flowing through Joliet.
It was at that time part of the town of Hinsdale, on its southern edge. Hinsdale, located 4 miles north of Route 66 was born in 1863 on the tracks of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, on land purchased by William Robbins (who knew the railroad's projected right of way). He platted the town in 1865 which incorporated in 1873.
Not much happened in this farmland. Illinois State Highway 4 was built through the area around 1918, it was paved shortly after and in 1926 the brand new US 66 was aligned along Illinois highway 4.
DuPage County was established in 1839 and was named after the DuPage River, which in turn was named for a French fur trapper who settled there before 1800.
As the area was open and flat, an airfield was built next to US 66 and IL-83 ca.1938, and it was around that time that Irv Kolarik opened his famous Chicken Basket across the road from the airport.
Route 66 would become a four-lane highway in the late 1940s, and in 1960 with the freeway (I-55) being built across the district, the village of Willowbrook was created in the southern reaches of Hinsdale, in its Ridgemoor subdivision. It was incorporated as a village in 1960.
The name: Willowbrook
The village was named by Anton Borse, then president of the homeowners' association, the story goes that Borse had to decide the name on the incorporation documents and looking out of the window he swa wome willows growing next to a creek. The name came to him: "Willowbrook".
Willowbrook: Hotels and Motels nearby
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Where is Willowbrook?
Willowbrook's climate is humid and continental; with very well defined seasons: Spring is cool and wet; summer is hot and frequently humid. Winter is cold and has on average 28 inches (71 cm) of snow, while autumn is very mild.
Temperatures: Average high in Jan (winter) 31°F (-0.3°C) and the average low is 17°F (-8.6°C). Average high in Jul (summer) 84°F (29°C), with an average low of 64°F (17.7°C).
Rain averages 36.82 inch (936 mm) per year and it is heighest - 3 to 4.3 inch monthly (78 and 110 mm) from Apr. The rest of the year has an average of 1.7 in. (28 mm) per month.
Snow: In Willowbrook you can expect snow from October to April, however usually the first snow falls in Nov. and the last happens in April (usually one quarter inch -8 mm).
The region around Willowbrook experiences about 4 tornados per year.
Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk on US 66.
How to get to Willowbrook?
You can get to Willowbrook via Historic Route 66 or former ALT US-66. I-55 Exit 274. Also I-355, I-294, I-57 and I-88 pass nearby as do US 34 and US 45.
Map of Route 66 through Willowbrook, Illinois
See the alignment of US 66 in Willowbrook, on our Illinois Route 66 Map, it has the complete alignment across the state with all the towns along it.
Color key for Willowbrook:
Pale Blue: marks the 1926 - 1939 US 66 and the 1940 - 1977 ALT US 66 alignments.
Gaps in alignment, is I-55, where it overlaps the old alignment after 1950s.
Blue: a 1926 - 60s alignment in Willowbrook.
Green Line: (to the west) 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.
Route 66 in Illinois: Historic U.S. 66 in Willowbrook
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 Willowbrook.
Willowbrook's Route 66 Landmarks and Attractions
What to see in Willowbrook
US 66 in Willowbrook: historic context
There is no reference to Willowbrook in the "Guide Book to Highway 66" published by Jack DeVere Rittenhouse in 1946. In those days what is now Willowbrook was just open fields. The WPA's 1939 guide to Illinois describes a tour along Route 66 ("Tour 17"), but it only mentions Chicago, Cicero, Berwyn, Lyons and Lyonsville (what is now Indian Head Park), marks the western limit of urbanization (Wolf Rd. and Route 66) just east of where modern I-294 and I-55 cross each other.
The WPA writes: "Lyonsville marks the eastern limit of the flat lake plain of ancient Lake Chicago, the forerunner of Lake Michigan. Westward lies the faintly rolling, wooded Valparaiso Moraine...". Its next entry is the state prison at Stateville, just north of Joliet. So it has nothing to say of any attractions between Lyonsville and the prison.
Driving Route 66 in Willowbrook a City Tour
We will describe Willowbrook's main landmark, the Historic Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket:
Historic Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
645 Joliet Rd., Willowbrook
If you are driving along I-55, use Exit 274 to reach the Chicken Basket. These are the maps with directions:
Erwin "Irv" Kolarik opened his gas station in what was then farmland south of the town of Hinsdale, in the late 1930s. He not only had gas and a garage, but also a small lunch counter where he sold fried chicken using the recipe of two local farm women, which they had given him in exchange for his promise to buy their farms' chickens.
Traffic grew and his location was excellent (Hinsdale airport was across the street) so he modified his two-door garge into a larger dining area. In the mid-1940s, he bought the plot of land next to his diner and built a completely new building: the current restaurant, built in 1946.
Designed by Eugene F. Stoyke it had a flat steel roof and large windows. It was also a stop of the Blue Bird (a regional bus service) and in 1956 a lounge wing was added.
Kolarik sold out in 1959 when he learned about I-55 was to be built through the area. The new owners went broke as traffic did stop flowing with the freeway's completion (1962).
Delbert "Dell" Rhea bought it in 1963 and kept it going, it is still in the family.
Vintage photo of Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois
Except for those fabulous 1950s cars, not much has changed at the Chicken Basket:
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket nowadays in Willowbrook, Illinois
The classic neon sign is still there, part of the Historic Place:
The Neon Sign of Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois
Across the street from the historic restaurant was Hinsdale Airport, diners would watch the planes taking off and landing as they ate at the Chicken Basket:
On the NW side of Route 66 and Illinois State Highway 83. According to this website by Paul Freeman, the airport was established between 1937 ad 1939 as a general aviation airport. It was, as you can see in the image further down, located in the middle of the countryside.
In the late 1950s or early 1960s (at the time that Willowbrook was founded), Will St. Germain bought the airport. He ran it until he passed away in the early 1970s. Then his widow sold the valuable property and the airport was razed and an Industrial Park (The Willowbrook Executive Plaza) was built on the site in 1975.
Aerial photo of Hinsdale airport in 1939 in Willowbrook, Illinois
The image above (from Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:Illinois: Western Chicago area, is a 1939 aerial photo of Hinsdale Airport. What is interesting for Route 66 historians is the corner marked with the Red arrow.
In this 1939 image it is vacant, but it was at that time that the Chicken Basket was created (perhaps the building beyond the wooded area to the right of the arrow is the original gas station where Kolarik began his restaurant).
This is the end of the very brief "city tour" through Willowbrook you can head south along I-55 into Braidwood or use IL-126 to reach Plainfield on the 1940-1958 US 66 alignment. Another option is to drive along IL-53, which is the 1926-39 Route 66 (later ALT 66) into Joliet.
Historic Route 66 in Willowbrook, Illinois
Route 66 was created in 1926. It ran along the newly paved State Hwy. 4 south of Hinsdale and then turned south going through Romeoville, Joliet, Wilmington and Braidwood. In 1940 it was aligned west through Plainfield (Green line in the map above) and then south to Gardner bypassing the old alignment which became ALT 66. In the late 1950s, I-55 was built and Route 66 was aligned along the freeway until its demise in 1977.
The old alignment in at Dell's which was not covered by the freeway is shown in Blue in the Google map.
Route 66 into Chicago
The 1928 Illinois State Roadmap shows no urbanization along US66 heading north into Chicago east of Joliet (which overlapped State Highway 4 and US "T"45) all the way into Lyons, the first town on the alignment. To the north lay Hinsdale and Lagrange, but the first town was Lyons, followed by Berwyn, Cicero and Chicago.
By 1945 (according to the Illinois state's official Highway map), things had changed, not oly had US 66 moved to a new alignment through Plainfield, now "Romeo" (yes, not "Romeoville") appeared on ALT 66 north of Lockport on the former 1926-1939 US 66 through Joliet. The urban sprawl reached Lyons, which appeared next to Berwyn and Cicero. To the west no other towns until Plainfield.
The 1954 map shows the same picture but now US 66 from Berwyn to IL-53 and then south as ALT 66 through Joliet and all the way to Wilmington was a "Four Lane Pavement" the main US 66 west of this point, through Plainfield and Braidwood was merely a "Two Lane Pavement".
The state highway map of 1959 shows changes: US 66 south of its fork with ALT 66 is now an "Expressway" with "highway separation" (overpasses and limited access). It has also bypassed Plainfield, leaving the old 1940-58 US 66 aligmnent to become IL-126 and IL-59.
During the 60's, the urban sprawl from Hinsdale is growing south along I-294. The 1969 state highway map (pictured below) has I-55 and US-66 running together until the exchange with I-294, where they split, I-55 running further south and US-66 north.
1969 Illinois State Roadmap
Drive from Willowbrook to Plainfield on Route 66
> > See the previous segment Countryside to Willowbrook (east)
> > See the next segment Plainfield to Braidwood (west on Main 66)
> > See the next segment Romeoville to Joliet (west on ALT 66)
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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.