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Normal and Bloomington - Heart of Illinois

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Welcome to Bloomington, Illinois

Welcome to Bloomington, Illinois vintage postcard.


Before entering Bloomington, you will first travel through Normal, Illinois, though over the years the two cities have virtually merged. As you travel Route 66 you’ll have to watch carefully to observe where Normal ends and Bloomington begins.

Normal, Illinois

In 1854 the town of North Bloomington was platted in an area that was commonly known as "The Junction,” at the intersection of the Illinois Central and the Chicago & Alton railroads. This parcel of land belonged to Joseph Parkinson, after whom Parkinson Street was named. Though platted, the town was not developed until three years later when Jesse Fell began to build in an area that lay northeast of the original plat. Fell is referred to as the "founding father" of Normal, as he soon became a central figure in the town’s development. Early industries in the town included nurseries, horse breeders, and canneries.

In 1857, Governor William Bissell signed a bill to create a "normal” school, which was the term used for schools established as teachers’ colleges. Jesse Fell took up the campaign for Bloomington and obtained financial backing for the school. Abraham Lincoln, in his capacity as an attorney, drew up the bond guaranteeing that Bloomington citizens would fulfill their financial commitments. The University first held classes in Bloomington while the campus was being built north of the town.

Old Main, the all-purpose building for the University, was completed in 1861 and the state’s first college was established. Four years later, in 1865, the town was officially incorporated utilizing the name of Normal. It was in this same year that legislation was passed to establish the Civil War Orphans Home in Normal.  Two years later, the Civil War Orphans' Home, later known as the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School, was opened.

The first successful canning business was started in the 1870's and the town became a shipping center for berries, small fruits, and vegetables in the next decade.

On August 4th, 1890 a grocery store caught fire, causing the destruction of several downtown businesses. As a result, much of the downtown area was rebuilt in two-story brick buildings that are still in use today.  This fire, along with another in 1896, led to the purchase of a fire extinguishing equipment and the establishment of a volunteer fire department.

In the 1920's buses began to replace the streetcar lines in Normal and Bloomington and when Route 66 was designated, the area began to sprout up all types of new businesses to accommodate the many travelers of the road. Gus and Edith Belt attached a dining room to the side of their Shell Gas Station and called it Shell's Chicken. However, Gus soon realized that central Illinois had plenty of chicken restaurants and wanted to do something different. With a little help from his friends, Gus began to sell a unique product to the many travelers of the Mother Road - the steak burger. In February, 1934 the first Steak 'n' Shake was opened in Normal, Illinois.



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Normal, Illinois, 1915

Normal, Illinois, 1915, courtesy City of Normal



The first Steak n Shake in Normal, Illinois

The first Steak n Shake in Normal, Illinois, courtesy Steak n Shake



Normal Theater in Normal, Illinois

The Normal Theater in Normal, Illinois has been doing business since 1937,

photo courtesy Bloomington-Normal, Illinois




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From Legends' General Store

Route 66  SignsRoute 66 Signs - Dozens of great metal signs to decorate that office or den. Makes a great gift for Route 66 enthusiasts and car buffs.  See them all HERE!

  Route 66 Roadster Tin Sign  Historic Route 66 Sign   Lewis Route 66 Drive In Tin Sign

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