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Much of the fame of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Highways comes from its location: along side the Mother Road. Since its dedication in 1959, the statue of Mary watched over US Highway 66 until its decertification by the State of Illinois in the late 70s, and has become a part of the road's lore, being featured in numerous articles, books and TV specials about the famous roadway. Tom Teague, founder of the Route 66 Association of Illinois, wrote about caretaker Francis Marten and the Shrine in one chapter of his book Searching for 66, and Michael Wallis, who voiced the Sheriff in Pixar's 2006 Route 66-themed film Cars, covered Marten and the Shrine when he wrote one of the most definitive books on America's Main Street, Route 66: The Mother Road. When the Route 66 Association of Illinois inducted its very first class into its Hall of Fame in 1991, Marten and the Shrine were one of the five honored by the group.

The Shrine lies along a stretch of the road used from 1930 until the road's demise. Illinois originally routed the highway between Staunton and Springfield by way of State Highway 4, sending 66 through towns such as Carlinville, Virden and Chatham. The intent from day one, though, was to send the highway further east, and in 1930 the Mother Road started visiting Mount Oilve, Litchfield, Farmersville and Divernon instead. Originally a meager two lane passage, in the 1940s the State began upgrading much of US 66 to a four-lane speedway, bypassing towns to quicken the flow of traffic between Chicago and St. Louis. Most of the highway's route through Montgomery County remained the same, following 3rd Road along section lines almost exactly north-south until close to Litchfield [1] where it curved west to graze the western border of the city. After Interstate 55 stole most all the Mother Road's traffic (this portion of I-55 was the last to be completed in Illinois,) old 66 was reduced just to a two lane frontage road as the former southbound lanes now straddle the west side of the expressway. While the northbound lanes were lost to the interstate, an old remnant of either 3rd Road or the original 1930 two-lane alignment that later served as a rest area [2] remain at the Shrine at the driveway that leads into the residence, and more complete artifacts can be found about eight miles north at the south entrance to Farmersville.

Along with the Shrine, numerous Route 66 landmarks are found along the highway in the Montgomery County area. Just to the north in Farmersville is Art's Restaurant and Motel, a classic Mother Road stop that operates to this day. To the south in Litchfield are two other Hall of Fame members, the Ariston Cafe and the Skyview Drive-In, both of which remain open after years of service. Further down the road in Macoupin County you can find the Mother Jones Monument and Union Miners' Cemetery in Mount Olive, as well as Russell Soulsby's Shell Station which dates back to 1926; Soulsby entered the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame at the same time as Francis Marten.

Route 66 Resources:
Route 66 Association of Illinois
Historic 66
Route 66 Magazine

Route 66 News

Route 66 University
Digital Route 66

[1] Montgomery County is divided up into townships and sections like most of the State of Illinois. County roads follow these section lines very precisely, particularly in its north and southeastern portions where geographic features allow, and Route 66 followed a section line that runs north-to-south three miles from the west border of the county (thus, 3rd Road.) Closer to Litchfield in the south of the county, 66 curved in towards the city, but for much of its journey through Montgomery travelers were greeted with a ruler-straight trip they could set their compass with.

[2] Conventional Route 66 wisdom, as well as Stefan Joppich's excellent dated alignment maps, consider the frontage road to be the northbound lanes with the flat grass and remaning pavement stubs in Farmersville and rural Raymond to be the southbound lanes. However, the topography of the region to the south near the I-55 Carlinville exit shows no possibility of pavement existing there as recent as the 1970s, and, as described in the previous footnote, Route 66 is straight as an arrow through the panhandle region of Montgomery County. Additionally, maps in the Montgomery County Courthouse in Hillsboro show the four lane alignment east of a truncated frontage road running approximately just south of Goby Avenue (2300 N) to the location of the modern I-55 Coalfield Rest Area. In an interview with Shrine caretaker Lee Marten, who grew up on the Shrine grounds, he said that to the best of his recollection the four lane alignment was built entirely east of the remaining pavement by the Shrine grounds, that a portion of that pavement was retained as a rest area that sat just north of the current Shrine location, and the current frontage road is the old southbound lanes with the northbound lanes buried under grass and the southbound lanes of Interstate 55. Whether or not the old two-lane alignment was just an old county road or was used as Route 66 is in question, but it isn't logical for Illinois to have built a new two-lane road aside the county road in 1930. Also, whether the road curved east to the south to avoid the hilly, tree-laden topography is unknown.

Sky-View Drive-In,

Art's Motel & Restaurant,

Soulsby's Shell Station,
Mount Olive

Old Two Lane Alignment,

Ariston Cafe,

Mother Jones Monument,
Mount Olive