Historic Route 66 � A Geographic Journey Written by Helen Mogill, based on an interview with Fred Walk in May, 2007
The inspiration to transform an abandoned stretch of Route 66 into a linear park began when Indian Creek resident and then Normal Community High School teacher, Fred Walk, traveled daily past a closed stretch of that highway alongside the village of Towanda. In 1954, the state of Illinois had updated the original Route 66 constructed in 1926 with a four lane divided highway through Towanda. The south-bound lane of that road was closed with the construction of Interstate 55 in 1977. The closed branch of the highway sat unused for many years until Fred decided that something needed to be done to preserve a piece of this historic road for current and future generations. His plan was to just put up a sign in 1998 identifying the two and one half mile stretch as `Historic Route 66 � A Geographic Journey.' Along with the sign commemorating the "Mother Road" a white oak tree was planted in Steve Liebenow's memory along with various flower plantings. Steve was a former principal of Towanda grade school. From this small beginning, with Fred as the driving force, the project evolved, step by step, until a beautiful and informative historic linear park has emerged. Fred's first step was to involve his Normal Community High School (NCHS) history and geography class students in a service-learning project that would benefit the community. After research and interviews under the guidance of Fred and Todd Koehl, an English teacher at NCHS, they designed and created historical placards with guidance from art and photography teacher Bob Freeman. Informative brochures were created in several languages with assistance from the foreign language department. Eventually, the project became a school wide and a community wide effort, spanning several years and involving hundreds of people. At Normal Community High School the social studies club, the shop, art, English, geography, history, and foreign language classes, faculty, students, and parents contributed ideas and labor. Even students at Illinois State University became involved. Many trees and shrubs have been donated by individuals in memory of loved ones. Greider's Landscaping has also donated and planted trees, and given discounts on trees and shrubs. The state of Illinois and the Village of Towanda provided top soil for the several gardens that have been designed, planted, and maintained by the hard work of Carol and Rick Myers, Mary Lou and Jerry Henderson, Fred and Fran Walk, the Helen Guth family, Towanda 4-H Club, the Towanda elementary School 3rd grade classes taught by Jason Nourie, and others.
Labor for digging, planting, pouring cement, putting up split rail fences, building a bridge and building benches was provided by many, among them: Fred himself, Parke Gillan, Louie Blank, Brian Myers, Larry Meyer, Jim Larson, Terry Strange, Bob Hancock, Mike Cunningham, Pete Spencer, Jim Arteman, Don Rutherford, and Jack Buss. Luke Troyer built bird houses. Indian Creek resident Brant Kaufman's Eagle Scout project entailed building a pavilion with a covered picnic table. Brenton Bittner, also of Indian Creek, took on completion of his Eagle Scout project by doing landscape work near the preserved bridge over Money Creek. Former student Mike Kemp constructed a set of Burma Shave Signs that have been placed along the roadway. Many other individuals have contributed their time and labor in developing the parkway. Murals depicting each of the eight states along 66' were designed and painted by Kim Rutledge, Sarah Smith, Chrissy Graeff, and many other individuals. Three flag poles fly the U. S. flag, the Illinois state flag, and a flag for the village of Towanda, developed specifically for this project. Towanda elementary school 6th grade teacher Alison Darding Hampton, one of Fred's former students, had her students each design a flag. The village board selected the flag to be flown over Route 66. The winning design was by Christine Hogan, daughter of Jim and Vicki Hogan. Grass along the roadway is mowed and maintained by Don and Mary Rutherford, Rick Myers, and the Village of Towanda maintenance personnel. Money to support this project has came from teaching awards given to Fred by State Farm Insurance Company and grants from Beyond the Books Educational Foundation, Corn Belt Electric (with the help of Arielle and Cindy Singley), and the National Geographic Society, and many contributions by local clubs, businesses, and organizations. Additions and improvements to the linear park continue to this day (2007), and will undoubtedly continue for many years to come. The park has been visited by thousands of people from countries throughout the world.
The closed stretch of Route 66
A conceptualization of the vision for the historic park
Constructing a sidewalk along an obliterated section of the road.
One of the historic placards describing a dangerous curve on the original 1926 Route 66 around Towanda.
A tree planted as a memorial to Steve Liebenow
Burma Shave Sign
One of several beautiful gardens along the trail. Brochures are available in the wooden box and visitors can sign their names in the guest registry.
Mural commemorating the Illinois stretch of Route 66
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Illinois State University, Milner Library, Normal, IL, 61790 - for the Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
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