Springfield to Litchfield, IL
Had to handle one email and a phone call, but apparently your intrepid travelers are having no trouble disengaging from work. Getting ready this AM I thought, “I forgot to take Monday’s pills.” Then I realized TODAY is Monday. Life is good!
The day was clear and cooler (actually breezier) than yesterday. Still we were able to leave the top down almost all day. The bright sun added special prominence to colors of the trees. This isn’t the northeast, but the colors were vivid, varied, and fascinating. It was a beautiful day!
Ate at “The Cozy Dog,” a long-time Route 66 business in Springfield that claims to have invented the corn dog. Don’t know about that, but lunch was good. The original owner was something of a Route 66 historian. He wrote a large series of informative post cards about the Road, its businesses, and its history. Of course The Cozy Dog also had its share of other Route 66 paraphenalia.
Drove around Springfield and saw the Dana-Thomas House, a Frank Lloyd Wright structure built in 1902-04. Marian saw it from a distance and said “that has to be it.” Beautiful.
We then went to Lincoln’s home, which is preserved by the National Parks Service. I remember going there when I was 13 but it was even more interesting this time.
Fascinating to see where the President lived, and the times he lived in.
The Parks Service has a great film on Lincoln’s years in Springfield. He arrived as a single man carrying all he owned in two saddle bags. Twenty-fours later he was a very successful lawyer with a wife, family, and a house that would comfortably hold them all. He also went from a storyteller liked by the community to a national political figure, elected President in order to try to end slavery as well as save the Union. That part of his life is fascinating and something I want to read more about.
From his writings and speeches, clearly Lincoln was a “man of faith,” to use Marian’s words. That part of his life isn’t mentioned much in movies or stories. But clearly his beliefs gave him direction, prompted his actions, and steadied him for his tremendous task.
The best part of the day, however, was going to the north end of town to the Lincoln Tomb. I didn’t see this years ago, as I certainly would have remembered it. We spent about 40 minutes walking around and in the Tomb, seeing the castings and reading the words of our 16th President. Sorrowful. Moving. Inspiring still.
After Springfield we headed south on OLD 66, the route that was in place from 1926-30. Far from the interstate, it was a travel back in time. Part of the route ran through a residential area and the roadway wasn’t 40 feet wide! There is an early stretch of 66 further north that is one of the earliest portions of the road. It is only accessible by foot. We missed it Sunday, but there is another pristine early part of Route 66 in Oklahoma we hope to visit.
Establishing a unitary numbering system was a great advancement in travel. The early motorists had to have been adventurers. They traversed relatively unmarked roads, some paved and some not, zig-zagging across unfamiliar and mostly rural land. Making good time was almost impossible. Getting lost was almost inevitable. We have good maps and GPS and navigating the old Road is still no easy task.
On Old Route 66, we went through dozens of small farm towns. Most of them had a large central square–like the one shown below–complete with a large gazebo, covered tabernacle, or band-stand for community gatherings.
The major economic driver of these towns–agriculture–hasn’t changed at all from the early days of Route 66–really from Lincoln’s day. Technology and mechanics change, and a farming family today can (and must) cultivate vastly more acreage than before. But agriculture is still scratching the Earth, trusting that it and its weather will produce a bounty capable of sustaining a family and helping them stretch toward the American Dream.
Seeing those farmers today, and seeing their teen aged children gathering at the town square being kids and just “hanging out,” reminds me that the Dream, both then and now, has two parts. One part is the idea of building something that lasts in the place we are, something that will benefit ourselves, our family, our community. The other part of the Dream is looking down the road, wondering what else might lie there, just past the next community or maybe at the end of the Road itself.
Driving old Route 66, at a speed the Old Road will bear, allows one time to think of the Dream and how precious it is. And driving 66 out of Springfield reminds me how grateful we should be for a backwoods man who believed in that Dream and who made it closer to a reality.