Litchfield is the Route Less Traveled
The Illinois town of Litchfield (population 6,800) drew countless travelers during the heyday of historic U.S. Route 66. Although the highway declined in popularity as interstates took over, Litchfield continues to attract fans of the Mother Road.
Litchfield’s Route 66 History
Located along Old Route 66 in south-central Illinois, Litchfield has been helping motorists get their kicks on Route 66 since the 1930s. It marks the halfway point between the state capital of Springfield and St. Louis.
Litchfield continues to attract tourists from all over the world, thanks in part to local landmarks such as the Ariston Café, the oldest restaurant along Route 66, and the SkyView Theater, one of the last drive-in theaters still operating along the historic highway. Both landmarks have become members of the Route 66 Hall of Fame.
Just two years ago, Litchfield residents celebrated the grand opening of the Litchfield Museum & Route 66 Welcome Center. The museum invites tourists to learn and reminisce about the town’s history with guided tours, local artifacts and Route 66 memorabilia. The museum charges no admission, though it welcomes donations.
Directly across the street from the Litchfield Museum, you’ll find Jubelt’s Restaurant & Bakery, a Litchfield institution since 1952. Stop in for breakfast, lunch or a sweet treat.
While in Litchfield, spend a day at Lake Lou Yaeger, a 1,400-acre public recreational lake with fishing, boating, hiking, camping and horseback riding opportunities. A full-service equestrian campground opened this year. Fishing enthusiasts revel in the lake’s abundant supply of largemouth bass, white bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish.
Soak up the sun at Lake Lou Yaeger’s Milnot Beach, a fun family destination in the summer with a large sand area, swimming area, high and low diving platforms, snack bar, shower house and restrooms. It opens Memorial Day through Labor Day, weather permitting.
Nature lovers shouldn’t miss a stop at the 266-acre Shoal Creek Conservation Area with its picturesque woodlands, prairies, ravines, ridges and cliffs. More than 700 species of plants and 70 kinds of butterflies live in the conservation area, and visitors can embark on an easy-to-hike, self-guided nature trail.
If music interests you, the Litchfield Park District sponsors a monthly outdoor summer concert series at Walton Park, located 1.5 miles south of downtown on State Street. Walton Park has a 40-acre lake as well as picnic areas, a softball diamond, basketball court, disc golf, playground equipment, public restrooms and a covered bridge built in 2010.
Historic Downtown Litchfield
Discover the blend of historic places, restaurants and specialty shops that make up downtown Litchfield, a very walkable 12-square-block area. In the center of downtown, the stately 1904 Carnegie building houses the Litchfield Public Library. It has more than 34,000 books, DVDs and other resources, as well as a furry mascot named Stacks, the library’s live-in cat. (Stacks achieved national fame in February 2010 when Cat Fancy magazine featured her.)
Directly behind the library, Veterans’ Memorial Garden stands as a beautiful tribute to local soldiers who fought for our country. Dedicated in 2007, the garden includes granite markers with names of soldiers who served from World War I to Afghanistan. Benches along the path invite passersby to stop and reflect for a moment.
The shops and restaurants downtown include Ooh La La and Gianni’s Pizza. Ooh La La carries furniture and home decor, including older pieces refinished and given new life. The family-owned Gianni’s serves authentic Italian pizza, pasta and calzones.
For more information on Litchfield, go to visitlitchfield.com or call (217) 324-8147.