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  Wilmington, Illinois & the Gemini Giant

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Wilmington, Illinois calls itself home to a little more than 5,000 people, but it's most photographed "citizen" isn't a person at all. Rather it is the Gemini Giant, a large fiberglass "muffler man" of the 1960's era. It was during this time that these colossal men could be found all over America, holding all manner of "tools" in their hands from mufflers, to hot dogs, to axes, and more. In this case, the Gemini Giant sports a rocket ship, a remnant of our fascination with outer space. Most of these very tall men lost their lives as America began to move faster and faster. But here in Wilmington, the large green man hangs tight, along with several other historic icons of the past.


Wilmington was born when, in 1834, Thomas Cox acquired 400 acres of land from the government and built a sawmill. He later added a corn cracker, a gristmill, and a carding machine and the enterprise took on the name Cox’s Mills. Patronized by settlers from as far 50 miles away, pioneers brought their corn and wheat to Wilmington to be ground.


The Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois

The Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois, October, 2010, Kathy Weiser-Alexander. This image available for photographic prints HERE!


In the spring of 1836, the enterprising Mr. Cox laid out the town of Winchester and began to sell lots. One such home, built of stone by Daniel McIntosh near Forked Creek, still stands today just south of Route 66. Another building built during this first year also stands -  that of the Eagle Hotel, which also became a stage stop. Later it would be used as part of the Underground Railroad in the days before the Civil War.


The hitching yard was located on Main Street between Baltimore and Jackson where wild horses were driven to be sold. Adjacent to the hitching yard was the Westbound Stage Depot. The early stage that ran between Chicago and Pontiac was routed on Kankakee Street between River Road and Baltimore.


In 1837 a post office was established in the new community and church services were held in Peter Stewart’s barn. A year later the town’s name was changed to Wilmington. Before long other entrepreneurs laid out new additions, a man named Elias Brown opened another hotel, and Henry Brown opened a new store.


In 1839 a public school was established and, soon after, a small school building was erected. The next year saw the building of the town’s first church.


When the Chicago and Alton Railroad pushed through town on July 4, 1854, it brought with it, added prosperity to the city. In no time at all, land prices increased three-fold and Wilmington was incorporated as a village.


Later many of the family homes in the area became depots for the Underground Railroad prior to and during the Civil War. Fugitives were hidden in attics, barns, wood piles, hay stacks, or anywhere else that they might remain undetected.


The 1870s saw several manufacturing facilities built in the burgeoning town including flour mill, a butter and cheese factory, and a paper mill.


By the time Route 66 pushed through, Wilmington responded with services for the many travelers of the Mother Road. The Eagle Hotel, having served the stagecoaches of the past, now served those traveling on the new trail to the west. In 1937, the Mar Theatre opened at 121 S. Main Street containing 500 seats. The Dairy Delight would open in the late 1950's, and would later become the Launching Pad Drive-In, which at first sold only hot dogs and ice cream, but has long since expanded to a full service menu. It is at the Launching Pad Drive-In on 810 E. Baltimore Street that the vintage large green Gemini Giant stands welcoming travelers to the restaurant. All three of these vintage icons can still be seen in Wilmington today.





The Eagle Hotel fell into serious disrepair by the late 20th century and the City of Wilmington was considering demolition until it was purchased by Bill Scales, a man with a real estate and building background. This old hotel is the oldest on all of Route 66, first catering to riverboat and stagecoach travelers when it was built in 1836. Thanks to Scales, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and other preservationists, there are plans for the old hotel to be restored so that it can continue to cater to travelers for generations to come. The old hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located at 100 Water Street.


In fact, it appears that all of Wilmington is dedicated to preservation as you cruise through this pretty little town with its historic buildings and dedication to the past. Be sure to visit its many antique stores in the historic downtown area.


Nearby, Kankakee River State Park provides anglers with great fishing opportunities such as bass, catfish, northern pike and walleye. The Park also provides numerous hiking trails, horseback riding and camping.


Another opportunity for wildlife adventurers is the Mildewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Created from more than 19,000 acres and once used by the U. S. Army as the Joliet Arsenal, the land has been returned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to conserve the environment and wildlife. Today it provides numerous hiking trails, wildlife view and limited hunting opportunities on this land being returned to Mother Nature.

Having had a fine time in Wilmington, head on down Route 66 thru the old coal mining communities of Braidwood, Braceville and Gardner.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2013.


Mar Theater, Wilmington, Illinois

The Mar Theater in Wilmington has been doing

business since 1937, October, 2010, Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!


Water Street/Route 66, Wilmington, Illinois

Water Street/Route 66, Wilmington, Illinois,  October, 2010, Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!



Eagle Hotel in Wilmington, Illinois

The Eagle Hotel is the oldest hotel on Route 66, October, 2010, Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!



Return to Route 66 

To Braidwood


Return to Route 66


To Joliet


From Legends' General Store

Route 66 Postcards For Sale at Legends' General StoreRoute 66 Postcards - Legends of America and the Rocky Mountain General Store has collected numerous postcards for our Route 66 enthusiasts. For many of these, we have only one available. To see this varied collection, click HERE!

 Route 66 Postcards For Sale at Legends' General Store


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