2014 Hall of Fame Inductees

The Route 66 Association of Illinois is proud to choose a group of special Route 66 heroes each year for induction to our Hall of Fame. They were inducted in a ceremony held on Saturday, June 14, 2014 at Lincoln College in Lincoln, IL.

Read the complete list of our Hall of Fame Inductees, dating back to the beginning, 1990.

The 2014 Hall of Fame inductees include:

Nelch & Son Concrete - Springfield, Illinois

Submitted by John Lucchesi

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Henry Nelson & Son concrete business is located at 900 South 9th Street in Springfield, Illinois (directly on the 1930-1940 Route 66 Alignment, likely a brick road surface during that time supplied by Nelch Company).

While the road surface for Route 66 in Illinois has a connection to the company, it is important to remember that many buildings that housed numerous businesses along Route 66 were constructed with materials from Henry Nelch and Son – not to mention all those parking lots and sidewalks used by the traveler of yesterday and still today.

It’s a family heritage that Rob and Mary Jo Nelch, the brother-sister team now in charge of the company, can see in the buildings, streets, and sidewalks nearly anywhere they go in Springfield. Among the better-known projects that include Nelch handiwork: The Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Washington Park, The Renaissance Hotel in downtown Springfield, the Illinois Bell tower, St. John’s Hospital, the Sangamon County Building, and the Franklin Life building. Several state buildings, including portions of the Executive Mansion, also contain Nelch concrete. Sidewalks poured by the Company founder, Henry Nelch, can be still seen in the Leland Grove neighborhoods. Most of the brick streets created by Nelch and Son have since been paved over.

Henry Nelch, son of German immigrant parents, was born near Beardstown in 1852. He worked as a grocery store clerk and also was one of the city’s first letter carriers. Eventually he took up the brick mason trade that the family had brought over from Germany.

The firm of Nelch, Patterson & Striffler was founded in 1883. It accepted contracts for paving city streets with brick and installing sewer lines and eventually went into construction and building materials work.

In 1896, Nelch went exclusively into the building materials business, founding Nelch and Son. The “son” was Benjamin Franklin Nelch, great-grandfather of Rob and Mary Jo. The original plant was near 10th and Jackson Streets. It moved to the present location in 1906. Throughout the years there has been a Nelch at the head of the firm.

The company building is an icon along Historic Route 66 with its projecting neon sign and familiar Blue and Teal color mixer trucks. It is hoped that in the future the neon sign will be restored and the company’s street scape plan will be approved to restore its prominence for all the travelers of Route 66 to enjoy.

Rob and Mary Jo Nelch have continued the legacy of their family’s business with honesty and integrity and play a major role today in the supply of building materials from the company headquarters on Historic Route 66.

Nelch and Son is thought to be the oldest continuously family-owned operation in Illinois and among the oldest in the country.

Postville Courthouse - Postville, Illinois

Submitted by Geoff Ladd

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The Postville Courthouse was erected in the Village of Postville in 1840, a year after both Logan County and a new Eighth Judicial Circuit were created. It served until 1848, when the county seat was moved to Mount Pulaski.

One of the attorneys who rode the circuit and practiced at Postville was a young country lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.

After the county seat was moved from Postville, the former courthouse was sold to
Solomon Kahn for $300. Over the decades the building was used as a store, post office, and private residence.

Interest in the life and career of Abraham Lincoln started growing and in 1914 a former Logan County Judge Timothy Beach purchased the former courthouse. He wanted to preserve it as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. Proposals were made to use it as a museum, a library, or even an American Legion Post, but none of the ideas came to
fruition.

On August 17, 1929 automobile manufacturer Henry Ford purchased the old courthouse
and surrounding block for $8,000. Beginning the next month, his crew carefully dismantled the old courthouse and moved it piece by piece to the new Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. It was reassembled and was there for Ford’s grand opening on October 29, 1929.

With the automobiles came the roads and early Route 66 travelers drove past the Old Postville Courthouse from 1926 until 1929 when it was moved. That same segment of the route through Lincoln was used until 1940.

In 1953 a replica of the original courthouse was constructed on the original site as part of the city of Lincoln’s centennial celebration. The two story frame courthouse sits near the center of a landscaped city block. The first floor has a reception and orientation room, a gift shop, and an exhibit gallery. On the second floor are rooms representing an 1940s courtroom and a county office.

Visitors can view exhibits on the legal system in mid-nineteenth century Illinois and the
experiences of judicial officials and attorneys, among them Abraham Lincoln, who
traveled the Eight Judicial Circuit.

It was noted that the Courthouse is run under the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency but staffed completely by volunteers.

Hi-Way Café and Tavern - Edwardsville, Illinois

Submitted by Cindy Reinhardt

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Frank Catalano came to the United States from Palermo, Sicily, in 1902. His wife, Dora Sansone Catalano, the daughter of Italian immigrant parents, was born in St. Louis. They were married in Beardstown, Illinois, in 1910 and from that time forward
worked as a team in life and in business.

Frank’s business career began in 1904 with a fruit store in Litchfield, Illinois. Around 1917, seeing a broader opportunity, Frank and Dora moved to Edwardsville where they established a fruit store at 226 N. Main Street. In 1922 they bought the building which would be the first of many Edwardsville real estate investments for the young couple.
The family lived above the store in those days.

They sold the fruit business in 1928, selling it to a family member. Frank then ran an
ice cream shop, the bar at Czech Hall on Vandalia Street, and a number of other
businesses that all prepared him for life’s next adventure on Route 66.

In April 1934 the Catalanos set up their new business on E. Vandalia Street as a
combination tavern, café, and packaged liquor store. They called it the Hi-Way Tavern and it was an immediate success. The country was starting to find its way out of the Great Depression so traffic on Route 66 was on the rise and passing right by their front door. Their business plan was simple, nothing fancy, just home cooked food and reasonable prices. Their opening advertising slogan was “Good Cheer with Good Beer.”

Dora ran the kitchen and Frank worked the bar. As their children grew older, they also worked in the business. In 1950 they decided to expand by buying Ed McLaughlin’s house next door and bringing the front of his lunch room forward in line with the Tavern. Then the entire building was bricked to blend the multiple additions and buildings.

The café was run as a separate business but there was a connecting door so the tavern could take food orders and the café could provide alcohol. The proprietors of the café were relatives of the Catalanos.

Frank and Dora retained ownership of the building after their retirement in 1959. Dora died the next year, six months short of their 50th wedding anniversary.

The Hi-Way Café and Tavern were never upscale places, but there were known for friendly service and good food especially their spaghetti and middle of the night biscuits and gravy. After Route 66 was moved out of Edwardsville, it became a neighborhood roadhouse where ball teams met after a game on a hot summer night, or folks stopped in for something to eat after the bars closed. It was not unlike the fictional “Cheers” in Boston as it became a place where “everybody knows your name.”

In recent decades the café was closed and the tavern expanded into the former restaurant space. The tavern closed two years ago and just recently, the property was sold and has reopened as the Hi-Way Tavern once again.

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Historic Maps

Highway GuideWatch Route 66 evolve into The Mother Road  with maps and highway guides from 1917-1992 courtesty of the official Illinois Digital Archives.