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Illinois Route 66 Museum marks 10th anniversary Saturday June 3, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, Museums, Towns.
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It’s hard to believe, but the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac already is marking its 10th anniversary Saturday.

According to a news release from Pontiac Tourism:

To commemorate this milestone, the museum will hold a special open house on that day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be free refreshments and other special offerings during the celebration. All visitors to the museum during the open house will be invited to register for some Route 66-related door prizes.

According to Jim Jones, the museum’s tour director, “The Route 66 museum has been through an amazing evolution. It started as just an idea brought to the City of Pontiac by Pontiac’s first tourism director, Betty Estes, and is now known throughout the world for the quality and quantity of its displays.”

Prior to 2004, the Illinois Route 66 Museum was a hallway at the Dixie Truck stop in McLean, Illinois. There were a few photos, but not much more. When Betty Estes learned the Route 66 Association of Illinois were considering a new home to tell the story of historic Route 66, she sat down with Pontiac city officials and proposed the city offer the Association the then unused old 1900 Pontiac Fire House. After a short while, Pontiac’s offer was accepted by the Association and subsequently, the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum opened.

A bit of background: Illinois Route 66 aficionados felt compelled to move the small Route 66 museum from the Dixie Truckers Home after it went bankrupt in 2001 and a former operator barely escaped prison time for not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel taxes. Rhode Island-based Phoenix Management Group bought out the Dixie Truckers Home in 2003. Before that sad saga, the Dixie had been locally owned and operated on Route 66 since 1928.

At the time, the move caused a bit of consternation among a few Route 66 fans who hated to see the break in tradition from McLean and wondered whether Pontiac would be good caretakers. But there’s little doubt now the move was profoundly beneficial for overall. Pontiac consistently is praised by Route 66 travelers for its hospitality and attractions.

And, yes, Estes deserves a ton of credit for her faith and foresight. She died a few years ago, but not before seeing the museum taking flight and becoming the major attraction in Pontiac.

According to the news release, the museum has hosted more than 80,000 travelers from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. And the museum sparked a big downtown revival — the Pontiac-Oakland Auto Museum and the International Walldog Sign Art Museum moved a few years after the Route 66 museum arrived.

(Image of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac by Nicholas Kaeser via Flickr)

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