A Look at McCook

The following article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of The 66 News, the quarterly periodical of the The Route 66 Association of Illinois. ©2006 David G. Clark

Cook County Township Map of McCook

From the Township Maps of Cook County, published by the County Department of Highways, 1974. 66/Joliet Road runs diagonally across the center, from top left to lower right. The Santa Fe railroad is shown below Joliet Road, and southwest of 55th St. 3 of the quarries later owned by Vulcan Materials are also noted.

Five miles west of Chicago, 66 follows Joliet Road through the Village of McCook. At 55th Street, you are greeted with “Road Closed” signs and forced west, then south onto East Avenue, bypassing one mile of the Mother Road. McCook’s closed section of 66 is unique among the 2448+ miles of our beloved highway—arguably the only mile of 66 to boast having been part of (1) a Native American Trail and (2) the first public highway in Cook County, and home to (3) quarries and (4) an airport. It is possibly unique in a fifth way—it could be the only section of the road ever closed due to the allegedly destructive activities of a commercial entity along its path.
Saban's Restaurant

Saban's Restaurant has survived on the western dead-end of the closed section of 66 in McCook. They opened for business in 1962, and have been cut off from through-traffic since 1998.

  1. The land mass that is currently McCook was once marshy wetland within Illinois’s vast tall-grass prairie. A native-American path, known to pioneers as the “high-plains trail,” traversed the area southwesterly, following a stony ridge—the direct overland route connecting the Chicago River to the navigable waters of the Illinois River below Ottawa, Illinois.
  2. According to Milo Quaife in Chicago’s Highways Old and New, in April 1831, “[The County Board of Commissioners] made provision for marking out the first two county highways of Cook County…One of these highways followed the high-plains trail.” For fifty years, the area that is now McCook would see passersby, but no known settlers. After 1852, the highway was called the Joliet Road.
  3. Closed section of Route 66

    Looking northeast along the closed section of 66 in McCook. An A&W Root Beer Stand once stood to the right, opened in 1966 and still in business after 1976.

  4. History and Progress: Village of McCook states that by 1883 the Chicago, St. Louis & Western Railroad had come through and named the local depot “Limestone.” “Stone and sand were shipped from the quarries in the area… Mexican laborers were brought in to maintain the tracks and right-of-way, and were housed in bunk cars along the sidings.” The depot name changed to “Wentworth” and then “McCook” after officials of the Santa Fe railroad, which bought the CSF&W in 1888. The area was mined for crushed stone as soon as the railroads became available for hauling out the product. Today, Vulcan Materials owns the quarries north and south of Historic 66 in McCook.
  5. Quarry at site of Stinson Airport

    Looking north from 66, the current quarry where Stinson Airport once stood.

  6. From the 1920s through 1958, Stinson Airport was located north of Joliet Road at East Avenue. “Arthur Killips, a Hudson-Essex automobile dealer on Ogden Avenue [early 66] in Lyons, and an aviation enthusiast, stunt flier and ‘barnstormer,’ is credited with the founding of the airport…In the days before television and extensive radio coverage, planes took off from the Midwest Flying Service at Stinson with long aerial sky banners. These advertised everything from shoe cleaners, beer, and sun tan oil, to swim suits.” The navy trained pilots here for World War II, and the field had daily flights for the U.S. Weather Bureau. (History and Progress). A September 1, 1956 article in the Chicago Tribune stated, “the quarry company which owns the land [under Stinson] has informed the airport operators that they have ‘another two or three years of operation at least,’ before excavation of stone closes the field.” The quarry closed the airport in 1958.
  7. Road Closed Barricade on Route 66

    Looking northeast from just east of East Ave., the barricades and chain-link fence close off the damaged section of the Mother Road.

  8. In 2001, the Illinois Department of Transportation filed suit against Vulcan Materials Corporation, seeking injunctive relief and damages. The road was closed in May 1998, according to McCook Mayor Patrick Gorski, “because the road basically split in half and was actually moving, therefore causing certain sections of the roadway to sink, causing areas to crack, and concrete jersey walls to explode from the pressure of the movement” (Route 66 Federation News, Autumn 2002).

The court proceeding of IDOT against Vulcan Materials is still pending in Cook County Circuit Court.