I love museums. The bigger and more famous ones are wonderful, but some of my most memorable experiences have been at smaller ones; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, and now the museum complex of Pontiac, IL.
Pontiac is, in a way, itself a museum. It was a stop on Route 66 when the road carried more traffic than it does today and many of the buildings in the town are historic landmarks. The town has all sorts of interesting things to look at inside and out and is home to museums dedicated to a diverse range of subjects in addition to Route 66; the Pontiac car, the Gilding Arts, and mural art. I never did find out how this small town came to be home to museums honoring so many quirky subjects within a four-block radius.
Because we were in a town on Route 66, we started with that museum. The artifacts are arranged by state and have been donated by people from all over the country. Although Route 66 is the main attraction, we unexpectedly spent the majority of our morning at the Livingston War Museum, which honors veterans of Livingston County. I have described this visit in a previous post. After spending so much time at the War museum, we were hungry, so we had lunch at a homey Italian place.
Energized by great food and friendly service, we walked a couple of blocks to the Pontiac-Oakland Museum. It is interesting enough to pique the curiosity of non-car enthusiasts. For example, did you know that Pontiac started as a company that made buggies and that there are only two of them left in existence? This museum has one. We also saw a 1973 Grand-Am Station Wagon “One of One” Prototype. I couldn’t believe I was looking at something that truly was the only thing of its kind that exists in the world today. This museum really brought home for me the phrase “America’s love affair with cars”.
The Museum of Gilding Arts is a small museum devoted to the history of the art of gold leafing in architecture. They have lovely samples of the craft as well as a diorama of a work station from when the craft was at its height in the 1800s.
We didn’t make it to the International Walldog & Mural Art museum, whose purpose is to promote and educate on the art of mural advertising. But instead did our own walking tour and found 18 of the 20 murals which decorate the downtown area. They were so intricate and carefully painted, true works of art.
In addition to the wonderful museums, Pontiac is the only town in Central Illinois with three swinging bridges. They span the Vermillion River and were originally built so the people could get to work. I’m sure they have some practical use today, but I just thought they were fun to walk across. After several museums, 18 murals, and 3 bridge crossings, we were ready for some sustenance. It was hot, our feet hurt and because we had seen signs for Dairy Queen, that was to be our final destination.
Revived by air conditioning and Peanut Buster Parfaits, we decided to make one more stop. We drove a few miles out of town to the Old Log Cabin Inn, a restaurant that, when Route 66 was reconstructed to run along the back of their establishment, was lifted and rotated 180 degrees so that their front door once again faced the main road.
We arrived to an empty parking lot and a “Closed” sign. While we were taking pictures and reading the historical marker, a couple of cars drove up. One of the couples invited us in to have a look around, saying that the restaurant was closed for a party honoring their 50th wedding anniversary. They were so pleasant, and their celebratory mood was contagious, that we accepted.
As we were checking out the memorabilia, we talked with other arriving party guests. One 74-year-old gentleman told my JD that he wanted to drive the entire Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles on his Harley Davidson trike. My JD is also a Harley enthusiast, and so they had a great chat, creating that future fantasy when they would hit the open road and drive all the way to California on their Harleys.
As we were leaving, one of the party organizers approached me and said, “If you’re going to look around, you have to sign the book.” I gladly signed the guest book, my heart filled with warmth at the generosity of this town at its people.