Coal Mining Towns Along Route 66

Braceville, Illinois

Braceville General Store

W.C. Sheppard’s was one of two grocery and dry goods stores operated in Braceville. The store was located on Mitchell Street.

The village of Braceville was actually once a thriving city with 3,500 residents at its height in the 1870’s. By the late 1880’s the town sported six general merchandise stores, two banks, a hotel, two restaurants and 18 other retail businesses.

Braceville thrived until the summer of 1910 when the miners of the Braceville Coal Company went on strike. Fed up with the whole affair, the coal company simply closed and within just a few months the town was all but abandoned leaving behind an opera house, a large frame school and many empty businesses. Of these today, there is no sign other than a few slag heaps along the old highway. However, the Braceville area still supports some 800  residents. Braceville is home to Mazonia/Braidwood Fish & Wildlife Area, which features quality sport fishing lakes stocked with largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, crappie, channel catfish, and bullhead as well as areas for waterfowl hunting.

Gardner, Illinois

Gardner Riviera

The Riviera Roadhouse in Gardner, IL, 2004. Destroyed by Fire in 2010. Click for prints, downloads and products.

The next town on this coal mining ride is Gardner. Right after crossing the Mazon River, two miles before reaching the small town of Gardner, is the location of the once popular Riviera Restaurant. The historic roadhouse, sadly, burned down in June, 2010. This historic Roadhouse was built in 1928 when a South Wilmington business man, named James Girot, moved the buildings from both Gardner and South Wilmington to form the structure. Reportedly, movie legends Gene Kelly and Tom Mix used to regularly stop here and it was a favorite out-of-the way joint for Al Capone during his heydays. During Prohibition the old roadhouse offered both liquor and slot machines to discrete travelers. Perhaps the booze was even provided by the infamous bootlegger, Al Capone himself.

Behind the Riviera once stood an old horse drawn Streetcar Diner that is well over 100 years old. In 1932 George Kaldem purchased the streetcar and moved it to Gardner. Soon it became a simple diner providing good food with just a small sign in front to identify it. For a while, it even became an unofficial stop on the Greyhound bus line before the diner closed in 1939. In 1955 Gordon Gunderson, James Girot’s son-in-law purchased the streetcar and moved it to its present location behind the Riviera. The streetcar diner was used by the Riviera mostly as a storage space until the Illinois Route 66 Preservation Committee discovered it and restored it to its original Route 66 appearance.

Thankfully, the Streetcar Diner was spared from the fire that took the roadhouse. It has since been moved into Gardner.

Keep on kickin’ asphalt as you head on down the Mother road to the small towns of DwightOdell , and Pontiac, and as always, enjoy the ride!

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2015.

Braidwood-oldstation

This art deco ceramic tile station is still doing business as Kelly Tires in Braidwood, Illinois, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, October, 2010. Click for prints & products.

Gardner,IL Downtown

Gardner, Illinois quaint downtown area, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, October, 2010.

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