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In addition to the Lincoln Highway, Illinois offers a number of other historic and scenic roadways most of which can be easily accessed via the State’s 2,163-mile Interstate highway network. PHOTO: Lincoln Highway and U. S. Route 66 Banners, side-by-side, along stretch where the two roads meet and run together along Illinois Route 59 in Plainfield, Illinois. Photo Courtesy of the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition.

A journey along these roads, which are often off the beaten path, can be an “historical adventure trip” in itself, connecting the visitor to the pre-interstate highway era of automobile travel. Along these routes there is often scenery untouched by history as well as many historical sites and museums where local and national history is interpreted and on display. Furthermore, there are numerous opportunities for entertaining distractions such as events and festivals in communities along the way.

The remainder of this section will provide more information about Illinois’ Other Historic Roads and the history of the “Land of Lincoln.” 


Premier among Illinois’ scenic and historical roadways are the Illinois roadways recognized by the U. S. Department of Transportation’s National Scenic Byways Program. This federal government program, administered by the U. S. Federal Highway Administration, has designated 126 distinct and diverse roads in the United States as “All-American Roads” or “National Scenic Byways.” Selection is based on a road’s possession of one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. Illinois is the home of no fewer than one All-American Road and six (6) National Scenic Byways. MAP: Illinois’ All-American Road and National Scenic Byways. Courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.  Return to Top


When Joseph Schriver crossed Illinois in 1828 to survey the land for the construction of the National Road, he noted that he passed only two roads and saw two houses between the Indiana line and Vandalia, Illinois. In his time, Illinois was part of the western frontier; wild, and for the most part, untouched. Yet the area within the fledgling state's boundaries had already seen a lot of history.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site celebrates this history. Come here to see the remains of the most sophisticated Indian civilization north of Mexico, preserved within a 2,200-acre tract. The city of Cahokia was inhabited from 700 to 1400 AD, during which time it became a regional center. Through signs and a visitor center, visitors can see an old stockade, many burial mounds, and traces of a horizon calendar, known as Woodhenge.

Contemporary with Schriver were the Franciscan monks who established the Catholic Church among the American Indians and pioneers from the eastern U.S. To learn about these early inhabitants of Illinois, visit the Franciscan Monastery Museum. Begun in 1858, the building originally served as the home of Franciscan friars. Today the Monastery houses a museum of artifacts from the region's first settlers, as well as the Franciscan Fathers. You'll see relics of toys, kitchen utensils, farming equipment, Bibles in many languages, vestments, and furnishings. All provide pieces to a puzzle that tells what life was like for these early settlers.

The construction of the National Road in Illinois made life easier for these westerners. The Road brought manufactured goods from the eastern U.S. and facilitated travel. The Road connected Illinois to the rest of the United States, facilitating the exchange of ideas, mail, politics, goods, and new peoples and cultures.

The immensity of the National Road -- all it encompasses, represents and surrounds -- culminates at the Eads Bridge at the terminus of the route, on the Mississippi River.

Built by the self-taught engineer, James Buchanan Eads, the Eads Bridge was the first bridge to span the great Mississippi River. The bridge was built with a 50-foot clearance to accommodate riverboat smokestacks and a center span of an incredible 500 feet, thought impossible at this period in history. Still used today, the bridge stands as a monument to Eads, a man who thought well beyond his time. PHOTO: The Eads Bridge crossing the Mississippi River along the Historic National Road. Photo by Lyle Kruger. Courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.

Even before the inception of the National Road in 1828, much had occurred in Illinois. From American Indian settlements to presidential neighborhoods to man-made wonders, travel the National Road today to trace the evolution of a state and people.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE HISTORIC NATIONAL ROAD – ILLINOIS: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: National Road Association of Illinois at (217) 849-3188 Return to Top


In sheer size and importance, the Mississippi River has few equals. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used it for trade and travel, with the Hopewell Indian culture becoming the most advanced society in early North America. The French sent trappers down its banks after coveted beaver fur. For years, it served as the western boundary of America, providing the next western frontier as the United States acquired new lands. Western settlements expanded along the river, with their rugged pioneers doing their best to tame the mighty river country.

Today, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway incorporates riverside roads in six of the ten states that border the Mississippi: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. From the river's beginning in the lakes of Minnesota down to the historic Vicksburg region of Mississippi, the natural beauty and cultural heritage along the Great River Road is as varied as the regions it passes through.

Visitors can explore the Hopewell Mounds that line the Mississippi through several states, visit river towns unchanged since the 18th Century, and participate in interactive museums that display life along the Mississippi from past to present. The forested hills and striking bluffs provide a constantly changing view, and visitors can view the successful restoration of the American Bald Eagle in its riverside habitat.

Whether learning about the vast river history or watching a peaceful sunset reflected in a mile of inland water, visitors to the Great River Road National Scenic Byway will leave with a greater awe and appreciation for one of America's greatest natural wonders. PHOTO: Sunset on the Mississippi River along the Great River Road Scenic Byway in Illinois. Photo by Chalae Cox, 1998. Courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE GREAT RIVER ROAD – ILLINOIS: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: Western Illinois Tourism Development Office at (309) 837-7460 or (877)-GRR-7007 Return to Top


One road has come to symbolize the nostalgia of the American Highway: the internationally recognized Route 66. John Steinbeck named it The Mother Road, an apt description for the first completely paved road linking Chicago and Los Angeles. Route 66 revitalized rural communities, with complex filling stations, roadside restaurants, and motorist lodging springing up in places formerly isolated from the rest of the nation.

Historic Route 66 in Illinois celebrates the beginning of the Mother Road, uniting the sophisticated urban cityscape of Chicago with the pastoral countryside of Illinois' heartland. As it leaves Chicago, Route 66 showcases the artistry of Buckingham Fountain and the architectural genius of Michigan Avenue before passing beneath the giant Sears Tower.

As Route 66 enters rural Illinois, it presents memories of an era in the development of the American highway through carefully restored and preserved attractions. Each community along the route has something to contribute. Just north of Wilmington, the Gemini Giant statue, with its futuristic spaceman holding a rocket, reminds visitors of America's fascination with space during the 1960s. Classic drive-in diners with generations of service line the route, some with beginnings as humble as the back of a school bus.

As tourism increased during the post-war era, so did motorist businesses along Route 66. Filling stations became ever more impressive, adding multiple services, such as tire stores, to their business. PHOTO: Shea’s Gas Station Museum, Historic Route 66 in Illinois Scenic Byway. Photo © 2002 by Steve Hinrichs of 11 Acres Studio. Photo courtesy of the Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project, Inc.

Motels offered visitors places to stay while traversing the Heartland. Above all, the famous signs of Route 66 entertained visitors while becoming the international icons of American culture.

Through its collection of classic American roadside stops, Historic Route 66 in Illinois reminds visitors of what it is to "motor west." Your trip down Route 66 provides a break from the tedium for the cross-country explorer. Give yourself a week or so to fully experience the byway, and resist the temptation to think of the end as your goal. Every city along Route 66 offers a little slice of Americana and each mile bears the evidence of kindred adventurous spirits who blazed the trail before you.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HISTORIC U. S. ROUTE 66 IN ILLINOIS: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: Central Illinois Tourism Development Office at (217) 525-7980 or Illinois Route 66 Heritage Project at: or (866) 378-7866  Return to Top


The Illinois River Road Scenic Byway preserves the natural river country along the banks of the Illinois River, allowing modern visitors to travel the same route as the early French explorers: les Voyageurs. The Byway parallels the Illinois River Country Nature Trail, a chain of over one hundred linked nature sites that offer outdoor recreation in the Illinois River Valley.

For years, the Illinois River has served as the main artery for life in this part of Illinois. Several species of migrating waterfowl and other wildlife make their home in the wetland and forest habitats along its banks. Natural areas such as the Wildlife Prairie State Park and the Emiquon TNC Preserve and National Wildlife Refuge provide a varied and beautiful habitat for several of the species that have come to characterize the American frontier experience, such as buffalo, wild geese, and the American bald eagle. These nature areas also contain miles of hiking and biking trails, allowing visitors to listen to the songbirds, enjoy the brilliant autumn colors, or participate in winter sports such as cross country skiing and snowmobiling.

Humans have been living along the banks of the Illinois since the end of the last ice age, when retreating glaciers carved out the geological formations of the area. Over twenty sites along the Byway chronicle this history through archeological exhibits open to the public. The Dickson Mounds Museum, a nationally renowned archaeological site, provides visitors with over 15,000 square feet of exhibits, discussing the past from the prehistoric Paleo-Indians down to the Mississippian people's culture eight hundred years ago.

Today, the river continues to sustain a distinct culture. As America expanded its borders, her rivers became main transportation arteries, and in turn, as trade grew, settlers expanded the waterways. The completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal that connected Lake Michigan with the Mississippi river watershed put the small town of Chicago on the map as a trade center. It also boosted the population and economies of numerous other Illinois towns and cities such as Peoria. PHOTO: Glass Art Display, Peoria RiverFront Festival, Peoria, Illinois along the Illinois River Road: Route of the Voyageurs. Photo by the Peoria RiverFront Association. Courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.

The natural, archaeological, and historic heritage along the Illinois River Road shows Byway visitors the nature of life along the riverbanks.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ILLINOIS RIVER ROAD: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at (309)-676-0303  Return to Top


The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route provides an expansive view of the floodplain where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois River join together to flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Rich in historic significance and natural beauty, the junction of these mighty rivers demonstrates both American river culture and American pioneer spirit.

Rivers were the main transportation arteries for both Native Americans and early European settlers, and the historic town of Alton contains a record of both of these groups. Early French explorer Father Jacques Marquette discovered a large pictograph on the bluffs along the Mississippi that represented the Piasa bird, a monster in Native American folklore. Learn the legend of the Piasa bird at the Alton Museum of History and Art, and then follow the Route southward to see a modern artist's rendition of the pictograph on the side of the cliff. PHOTO: Pere Marquette State Park Lodge in Illinois along the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway. Courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.

The Wood River Region at the north end of the Route commemorates the beginning of Lewis and Clark's famous expedition to the Pacific. The Camp River Dubois State Historic Site has several exhibits, including a restored campsite of the Corps of Discovery and a cross-section replica of the expedition's keelboat, allowing you to experience the expedition first-hand.

Alton played a pivotal part in events leading up to and during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held their final debate in the race for U.S. Senate here in Alton, with the entire nation watching as they contended over the issue of slavery. Life-size bronze statues now stand in Lincoln-Douglas Square to commemorate the event. Just outside of Alton lie the remains of a federal prison, as well as a sobering monument marking the mass grave of Confederate prisoners that died there during the Civil War.

Cyclists will find challenge and beautiful scenery along the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail. The trail parallels the Mississippi, running past rocky bluffs and through several historic towns. The town of Elsah is one of the only towns to be put on the National Historic Register in its entirety, as it has remained virtually unchanged since the 19th Century. The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route allows visitors to discover the natural and historical heritage of southern Illinois.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MEETING OF THE GREAT RIVERS SCENIC ROUTE: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau at (618) 465-6676  Return to Top


Winding its way across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Ohio River Scenic Byway tells the story of the great river that has shaped the landscape, people, and economics of the region since its beginning 10,000 years ago, when glaciers diverted existing rivers. The Ohio River has provided sustenance and transport for countless people, from native prehistoric cultures to the children of the Information Age. Since pre-colonial days, to the opening of the West, to the great age of industry and the frenetic 21st Century, all things in the region find their roots in the Ohio River.

Along the Byway you can find prehistoric burial mounds, mostly from the Hopewell culture, indicating the river's importance in ancient patterns of migration. As the wide river's waves wash over the years, we move forward to European settlement of the area.

Fort Massac in Illinois presents an interesting timeline: Originally built in the mid-1500s, in time the fort site passed through the hands of the Spanish, French, British, and finally fell to the U.S. during the Revolutionary War. Troops were last stationed there during the Civil War, and in 1908 the site became Illinois' first state park.

Today you can tour the fort and hike, fish, or camp at the state park. Stop by the fort's museum in Metropolis, Illinois, to experience the tale of the fort's history with actual artifacts, archive photographs, period costumes, and a short interpretive video presentation. Other parks along the route include Hoosier National Forest in Indiana, Barkcamp State Park in Ohio and the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. PHOTO: A Waterfall in the Shawnee National Forest feeds the Ohio River along the Ohio River Scenic Byway. © 1998 by U. S. Forest Service. Photo courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.

The Ohio River corridor was a hotbed of abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity prior to the Civil War as escaped slaves desperately tried to cross the river to free territory. At this time, the northern side of the river literally shone like a beacon of freedom as town residents signaled a place of safe harbor by burning lights in their windows. Members of the Underground Railroad protected fleeing slaves from bounty hunters and slave owners. One way to keep this light of goodwill and freedom shining is to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, in Cincinnati. Or visit the home of John Rankin in Ripley, Ohio. One of the most active leaders in the Underground Railroad, Rankin helped thousands of slaves reach freedom.

The Ohio River has always called people to its shores and waters. From prehistoric American Indian occupation to its diverse, modern residents, the route traverses 462 miles of historic, cultural, scenic, and naturally abundant landscapes. From Cairo, Illinois, to East Liverpool, Ohio, the area shares many similarities in its people and their pastimes, industries, and historical development. All the while, the Ohio River flows gracefully alongside the Byway, beckoning the visitor on, weaving a seamless, meaningful experience.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE OHIO RIVER SCENIC BYWAY IN ILLINOIS: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau at (618)-833-9928  Return to Top


In 1912, the idea of roads as fast transportation did not exist in America. Dirt roads spread out from settlements at random, some not leading anywhere, and travelers found it easier to take the train to the next town over. Dust blew over the roads when the weather was dry; when the weather was wet, vehicles bogged down and couldn't move. But all that would change when Carl Fisher conceived and promoted the first paved transcontinental highway in the United States. To promote funding, he named it after a great American hero, and the project became the Lincoln Highway.

The Lincoln Highway in Illinois follows the original route of that ambitious project, with several historic sites along the road. Fisher paved sections of road called "seedling miles," designed to entice contributors by showing the superiority of paved roads over dirt. These original sections remain a part of the Byway, along with several carefully preserved original navigation markers, allowing visitors to get a sense of the original journey.

Illinois history is connected in strange ways, and several sites along the Byway link local and national events. A great statue of Black Hawk towers over the river near the city of Oregon, commemorating the original inhabitants of the land. Another statue in Dixon shows Abraham Lincoln in uniform, commemorating his involvement in the Black Hawk War. Dixon would later be the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan, and his statue is featured in front of the site.

The Arche Fountain for weary “road warriors” of an early era, erected at the crossroads of the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway in Chicago Heights reamins there to refresh traveleres today. PHOTO: Arche Fountain, a rest stop for travelers at the junction of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, Chicago Heights, Illinois. Photo © November, 1999 by Cynthia Ogorek. Courtesy of the National Scenic Byways Program of the Federal Highway Administration.

The Lincoln Highway connected America, and today, Lincoln Highway in Illinois connects visitors to the fascinating national, natural, and local history of Illinois.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY ILLINOIS: Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact: Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition at (866)-455-4249 Return to Top


The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States. Since 1992, the National Scenic Byways Program has provided funding for almost 1500 state and nationally designated byway projects in 48 states. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation recognizes certain roads as All-American Roads or National Scenic Byways based on one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.

What does the term America's Byways® mean?

America's Byways® is the umbrella term used for marketing the collection of 126 distinct and diverse roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. America's Byways® include the National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads.

Why "Scenic" Byways?

The National Scenic Byways Program’s definition of "scenic" reaches beyond breathtaking vistas. All of America's Byways® are "scenic", representing the depth and breadth of scenery in America--natural and man-made panoramas; electrifying neon landscapes; ancient and modern history coming alive; native arts and culture; and scenes of friends, families and strangers sharing their stories.

America's Byways® are gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same. The National Scenic Byway's Program invites you to come closer to America's heart and soul...


Visit National Scenic Byways Online at: or Contact:

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byways Program
HEPN-50, Room 3232
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington DC 20590
1-800-4BYWAYS (1-800-429-9297)

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Beyond the seven roads honored by the National Scenic Byways Program, many other Illinois roads, trails and highways have stories of their own which are rich in historical significance. Many are marked by route signs or by wayside historical markers.


The Dixie Highway was the first national road linking industrial northern states to agricultural southern states. Governors of several states met in 1915 to consider an improved road to Miami. States lobbied for inclusion, resulting in eastern and western divisions running through 10 states.

In Illinois, the route started in Chicago, traveled through Blue Island, Homewood and Chicago Heights, where it then followed what is today Route 1 down to Danville. There it turned east to Indiana. By 1923, the Dixie Highway consisted of a network of 6,000 improved roadway miles.

The Dixie Highway Association took over the work begun by the governors. Many counties funded and built the highway in their area; poorer counties required federal aid and private subscriptions. Citizens took paint brushes in hand to paint “DH” in red and white on poles, marking the way for travelers. Gas stations and mechanics were sparse. Motorists carried extra gas and tools. Tourists packed tents or rented rooms. Soon tourist camps, cabins, roadside diners and service garages sprouted. The route played a significant role in both World Wars as a path for carrying supplies.

The Dixie Highway follows one of the oldest and most historic Illinois trails. Native Americans and trapper-traders used a path worn by animals along the eastern Illinois border. In the 1820s, Gurdon Saltenstall Hubbard established trading posts along the route, which is identified as Hubbard’s Trace and Vincennes Trail on old maps.

On March 4, 2006, the Illinois Historical Society helped rededicate the Hubbard Trail Historical Marker located just south of Momence on Dixie Highway (Rt. 1 & Rt. 17). The Hubbard Trail marker commemorates the trail blazed by Gurdon S. Hubbard (1822-1824), which connected the trading posts of the American Fur Company between Vincennes, Indiana, and Chicago. Momence, near the upper crossing of the Kankakee River, is on the trail. Known as the Vincennes Trace, it is perpetuated today as State Highway No. 1. (Courtesy of the Illinois State Historical Society) Return to Top


Rich Carlson, a law enforcement officer in suburban Chicago, has been collecting and posting highway history information to his ILLINOIS HIGHWAYS website for years. He has addressed the annual IDOT Traffic Engineers Conference in Champaign. His website contains a treasure trove of information on nearly every Illinois road, trail and highway.



A rich source of information on Illinois history can be the Illinois State Historical Society. The Society was founded in 1899 to support the Illinois State Historical Library and to encourage research and writing on subjects of Illinois history. Though independent of the State of Illinois and the Historical Library since 1997, the Illinois State Historical Society actively promotes the study of Illinois history. The Society encourages everyone from University scholars to local historians to take an active part in Illinois history. The Society is a not-for-profit organization which depends solely on membership dues, gifts, bequests, and foundation grants to support, preserve, and disseminate the story of Illinois and its people.


Visit The Illinois State Historical Society website: or Contact the Society at: (217)-525-2781


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