Longinquity| länˈjiŋkwətē | (noun) Remoteness in space or time.
The reason I go out of my way to stop at roadside attractions in general, and Route 66 attractions specifically, is not necessarily the destination itself. Deciding to take the exit slows you down, it pulls you away from the generic expressways and fast food chains and into the small towns that dot the Mother Road. It’s just more interesting, and you never know what you will discover in the parts of our country that time has forgotten.
Road trips were different when Route 66 was established. Roomy gas-guzzling sedans required frequent stops, as did their passengers since driving was a bit more of an athletic endeavor before cruise control, power brakes and power steering. As America’s burgeoning middle class discovered freedom and hit the open road, the small towns along the way boomed with restaurants, gas stations, motels and diversions, both varied and unique.
Our recent road trip to Michigan was our longest trip to date with the new camper in tow, so we planned to stop overnight even though it was only a 13-hour drive. Like the travelers of old, we have learned that pulling a camper is a slower, more fatiguing, proposition. Thanks to Harvest Hosts, we ended up boondocking in Atlanta, IL, in the Atlanta Public Library parking lot. If you have a camper or RV and haven’t checked out Harvest Hosts, I highly recommend it. There are hundreds of free places to park overnight, most of which are wineries, breweries, farms, museums or tourist sites. A library, however, was a new one for us, so we decided to check it out (pun intended).
Built in 1908, the library is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of Illinois’ few octagonal-shaped public libraries. Since it was after hours (and the age of COVID), the library was closed, but we could glimpse its gilded rotunda and oak woodwork by peeking through the front door.
The most interesting feature, however, was the 36-foot clock tower located in front of the stone library. The clock tower was built in the 1980s to house the original 1909 Seth Thomas hand-wound clock that was moved to the library grounds from Atlanta’s high school. It sounds the hour with an ancient, and pretty reliable, mechanism. But it is only reliable because of the local volunteers who comprise the “Keepers of the Clock.” They take turns on a weekly basis hand-winding the historic timepiece. It takes 55 cranks three times per week to keep the clock chiming on schedule. That’s dedication.
The library and clock tower are located across the street from the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum, proving there is truly a museum for just about everything. As the sun set over the town’s smiley face water tower, we wandered the museum’s self-guided walking tour and learned a little something about grain elevators and grain transport.
But wait; there’s more. Atlanta, like most other small towns along the Mother Road, has sought to capitalize on its Route 66 roots. Overlooking main street, like a mid-century sentinel, stands a 25-foot tall Muffler Man, awkwardly gripping a giant hot dog rather than a muffler. He’s not originally from Atlanta, but rather hails from the town of Cicero, outside Chicago, where he stood outside a the “Bunyon’s” restaurant for nearly 40 years. When the restaurant closed, several towns vied for the processed-meat-wielding giant, but Atlanta landed him and has displayed him prominently since 2003.
If history rather than nostalgia is your thing, Atlanta is also a stop on the National Park Service’s “Looking for Lincoln” trail.
For a town with only 1,600 residents, we thought Atlanta had a lot to offer and would highly recommend adding it to your next road trip destination!