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Lambert: Getting Your Kicks on Plainfield’s Stretch of Route 66

A look at the history of Plainfield's gas stations and the people who owned them.

The Inquiry

Following a recent series of columns about the evolution of Plainfield gas stations, several readers asked why the Route 66 years had been omitted. 

The Facts

Established in 1926, U. S. Route 66 crossed the western half of the United States.  Making its way “from Chicago to L.A.” (as the famous lyrics tell us), the roadway quickly gained fame as the most direct, year-round route between the Midwest and the West Coast.  Along its way, the famed highway passed through the legendary landscape of the American Southwest.

Throughout its first decade, the storied route did not wind through Plainfield, but followed a route from Chicago to Joliet and, then, to Gardner, Illinois.  Today, that original section of the route is known as either Joliet Road or Illinois Route 53.

A New Route

The 1937 announcement of a new route for the highway included a ground-breaking ceremony and luncheon that involved many prominent state and local dignitaries. Held in the garage building of the Plainfield Grain Company (present-day Plainfield Signs, Inc.), the event heralded the extension of the famed route westward from Lemont, Illinois, along the old Chicago Road through Plainfield. 

From Plainfield, the new alignment would follow Illinois Route 59 southward to Gardner. There, the new alignment joined the old alignment as the famous road stretched through central Illinois. 

The route through Plainfield was officially opened in late 1939. The alignment established an alternative route for industrial and commercial vehicles—particularly munitions haulers—that by-passed the urbanized neighborhoods of Joliet … just as world conflict began to simmer around the globe.

Route 66 Sites at Plainfield

Although Plainfield is often overlooked in many contemporary Route 66 guidebooks, the road’s impact on the village was immediate and, in many cases, long-lasting. Today, Route 66 is recognized as a national scenic byway. 

Many vestiges of the roadway’s impact on the remain.

The large, concrete grain elevator of the former Plainfield Grain Company looms large over the Plainfield skyline as visitors approach from the east. In addition to the grain elevator itself, two other buildings of the former grain storage compound still stand. The garage building where the 1937 ceremonies were held is, today, attached to the rear of the main production building of Plainfield Signs. The scalehouse and office of the Plainfield Grain Company now serves as the home of the Main Street Museum of the

Just west of the defunct grain company property, U. S. Route 66 intersected with Illinois Route 59. There, two gas stations offered gasoline and automobile repairs to highway travelers heading west beyond Lemont … the closest outlet for automobile services along the route.

During the mid-1920s, Maple View Farm Texaco Service opened at the northwest corner of Main and Division streets (the present-day site of a ). The Maple View Farm station opened with a small café, operated by Ella Klomhaus. In 1963, the café building was relocated along the Lincoln Highway, which—by then—was commonly known as Joliet Road.  At its new location, the structure was expanded and remodeled for the longtime offices of Dr. Frank C. Bender.  Today, the building is the home of Smith Associates Accounting.

About 1940, Alvin Morel abandoned his decades-old Lockport Street gas station and opened a modern Mobil Oil Service Station at the southwest corner of U. S. Route 66 and Illinois Route 59. After operating the station for several years, it was operated as Taylor’s Mobil Service until the mid-1980s. The site is now a drugstore.

One block east of U. S. Route 66, Mabel Keeney, along with her husband Bert, operated The Elms Tea Room on Bartlett Avenue until the beginning of World War II.  The former Keeney home—a locally-recognized landmark within the East Side Historic District—stands at 14930 S. Bartlett Ave.

As the highway continued south along Division Street, Route 66 met the Lincoln Highway at Lockport Street. The convergence of these famed routes—the two longest, paved, transcontinental highways in the world at the time—inspired the name of the late 1970s boutique retail and dining complex known as The Meeting Place.

The Dr. John P. and Maud Browne Residence, one of the buildings of that 1970s-era complex, was designed by Plainfield architect Herbert Cowell.  After the death of his first wife, Dr. Browne married Alice Graves.  In 1927, Dr. Browne died and Alice Graves Browne operated one of Plainfield’s first tourist homes, renting rooms to traveling salesmen and tourists, travelling along Route 66 and the Lincolnway.  

Good Food and Plentiful Gas

For three blocks south of Lockport Street, both U. S. Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway shared a common alignment.  Plainfield is the only place in the nation where the two, nationally-designated, scenic byways share a common route.  Plainfield, also, is only one of two places—nationwide—where the two highways cross one another.

The shared alignment was a boon to local businessmen of the era.

Plainfield’s last curbside gas pump was removed in 1947, after more than two decades of operation.  The pump once stood in front of the John “Bert” and Sylvia McCulley home at the southeast corner of Lockport Street and U. S. Route 66. After World War II, the lucrative site was purchased by the Standard Oil Company which began construction of a modern, full service station with two, enclosed service bays and a small lunch counter cafe. Opened in 1948, the single story, brick Standard Oil service station was operated, first, by Paul Reichert and, later, by his brother, Sam L. Reichert, Sr.  The café was operated as Mom’s Coffee Shop by Beatrice (“Bea”) and James (“Jim”) Chobar.

Further south along the shared alignment, Robert (“Bob”) Worst opened a Phillips 66 service station in June 1940. When Bob Worst was called to service at the outbreak of World War II, the station operations were assumed by Roy Sebby. Today, the building at Illinois Route 59 and Ottawa Street continues to serve as an auto-related business as the home of Plainfield Automotive.

With the opening of the new route, service stations that had been constructed during the heyday of the Lincoln Highway experienced a “boost to their bottom line.”  Those stations at the south end of the shared highway alignment prospered with the new surge of highway traffic through Plainfield.

As the Cold War tensions blossomed during the mid-1950s, the interstate highway system was inaugurated and Plainfield’s stretch of U. S. Route 66 was decommissioned.  However, before the new Interstate 55 opened, Ray Breckling erected a service station at Renwick Road (a present-day Gas Station). Within a short time, a new drive-in ice cream stand and short-order grill—Plainfield’s Dari Castle—was established just north of the Breckling’s station.

From that intersection, U. S. Route 66 passed through miles of farm fields before reaching U. S. Route 52 at Troy, Illinois (present-day Shorewood).

When the interstate highway system was inaugurated, traffic was diverted from downtown Plainfield. However, many travelers continued to follow the old highways through Plainfield.  New service stations continued to be built, including the new Sebby’s Phillips 66 on the Lincolnway in 1959 (present-day Western Landscape) and a Sinclair Service Station at Illinois Route 59 and Roberts Avenue that was, in the early 1960s, operated by Levi Brockway. 

Plainfield’s Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame Inductee

For nearly 25 years, Samuel (“Sam”) L. Reichert, Sr. relied on U. S. Route 66 as much as its travelers relied on him. First, Reichert worked as a Greyhound Lines bus driver along the route. Later, he operated service stations along the legendary highway for more than 20 years. 

Sam Reichert, Sr. first worked at Walt Russell’s Standard Service Station at the northwest corner of Illinois Route 59 and Commercial Street (present-day offices of Peter Muraglia, DDS). After 1953, Reichert took over his brother’s Plainfield station. Over 20 years, Sam Reichert operated numerous service stations along U. S. Route 66 as it passed through northern Will County. No other individual operator of service stations maintained a longer presence along U. S. Route 66 in the Plainfield area. 

Undoubtedly, Reichert was “the face of Plainfield” to thousands of motorists during the heyday of the historic route.  For his longtime association with historic U. S. Route 66, Samuel L. Reichert, Sr. will be inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame at a special ceremony to be held at Lincoln College, Lincoln, Illinois on Saturday, June 9, 2012.

Next Week: Quality Hill

Have a question about Plainfield’s history?  Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.  

Karen Sorensen (Editor) June 07, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Really interesting column, Michael. I'd always wondered why there were two routes.
Michael Lambert June 07, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Thanks, Karen. Glad you are still following Plainfield's history!

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