Leaving the Land of
Lincoln at Mitchell
As you near the town of Mitchell
you will begin to notice that you have left the quiet farms of southern
and are entering the suburbs of
St. Louis. However, here on the outskirts of the sprawling metropolitan city, you
will still find numerous peeks of the old
At the time that Mitchell got its start, most
of the area was sparsely settled by hardworking German farmers, who
planted wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, and hay. Two of these settlers were
James Gillham and Andrew Emmert, who would figure prominently in the early
history of this part of southwestern
The community of Mitchell
got its start when two brothers from Chicago -- John Jay and William
H. Mitchell, moved to the area to operate a cattle ranch in 1870.
Purchasing some 4,000 acres, they found most of the land was
unsuitable for cattle or farming as it was too swampy. Not to be
deterred, they drained the land, and began their operation.
At about the same time, the Chicago &
Alton Railroad was making plans to lay tracks from Alton to East St.
Louis. John Mitchell promoted the construction of the railroad and
established Mitchell Station, naming it for himself. The brothers also
laid out a townsite, donating land for two churches and a one-room
school. Of the churches, one became the Presbyterian Church, the other
-- the St. Elizabeth Catholic Church.
Except for its magestic sign, the Bel-Air
been reclaimed by the prairie, Kathy Weiser-Alexander,
This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
Over the next several years, more
railroads, including the Wabash, laid their tracks through the area,
which quickly became a busy center for rail transportation. In the
1882 history of Madison County, Mitchell is described as having two
general stores, one owned by Hinze & Krueger and the other by Henry
Reinemann; a blacksmith shop and a grocery store owned by Henry Quinn;
and a meat market owned by A. Rapp. When the town gained a post
office, Robert Krueger became the postmaster. Another important early
settler was a doctor named D. E. Smalley.
After the turn of the century, many other
railroad companies operated in the Mitchell area, and some built rail
yards. The railroad industry attracted a number of workers from
Kentucky and Tennessee, some of whom stayed at the two boardinghouses
in the area, one owned by a woman named Mrs. Whyer and the other by a
Mrs. Netheringham. During this era, the community also sported two
grocery stores, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, two hotels, a garage, and
When Route 66 was created, it ran right through Mitchell, creating yet
more businesses, one of which was the Luna Café, built in 1924. Always
a small town, Mitchell was never incorporated. Today it is called home
to about 1,400 people. It is located at the junction of Interstate 270
and Illinois Route 203, part of former U.S. Highway 66.
As you near Mitchell,
begin to watch for the old Bel-Air Drive-In sign on the right side highway
just after crossing Route 111. Opened in the 1950's, this old theater
played to travelers along
Route 66 up
until 1987. Over the years, its old screen has long fallen down and
its parking lot reclaimed by the prairie, but the sign still stands
as testimony of more prosperous times.
Beyond the Bel-Air you will pass a number
of old motels on the left before coming to a
classic – the Luna Café. The "café" was said to also host a
gambling operation in the basement, and provided "ladies of ill-repute”
upstairs. According to local legend, if the cherry in the martini
glass on the neon sign was lit, the ladies upstairs were open for
business. Like many other places along
ribbon of the
Mother Road, the café was
once said to have been visited often by Al Capone, as well as a host
of other mobsters. At one time, the café was a "fine dining
establishment” and so expensive that most law-abiding citizens
couldn’t afford to eat there. The original building sported an enormous neon moon
was on the top of the building; however, it was taken down and destroyed when the
building was re-roofed.
With help from Friends of the
Mother Road, the neon moon
sign has been restored to its former luster.
After almost nine decades, the Luna Café
is still in business, though, today, it is more of a working persons'
establishment, catering to the locals and a new generation of
The Luna Cafe has been serving up great
more than 60 years!
This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
Chain of Rocks Bridge vintage postcard
Beyond the Luna Café, old
split, with one alignment headed into the central city of
via Granite City, Madison, and Venice. This alignment, most
often referred to as City 66, then passes through some "seedy”
and confusing neighborhoods in East St. Louis,
which today is a rough part of town that you might want to avoid.
The other alignment, referred to as the
used to cross the Mississippi River via the old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The bridge, constructed in 1929, was financed by tolls. In 1967, a
new bridge along I-270 was constructed over the river and the old bridge
was closed. After sitting abandoned for more than three decades, it
was restored and is now the longest strolling and biking bridge in the
world. This alignment passed through the north edge of the city,
then turned south through Kirkwood, rejoining City 66 at a point 26
miles from the Chain of Rocks Bridge. Today,
dead ends at the Chain of Rocks Bridge, where you will have to backtrack
to the new overpass on I-270 to continue your journey along the
St. Louis, you can reconnect to back to Route 66 by exiting in
Louis and traveling along Tucker Boulevard. This way you won’t
miss some of the city’s fascinating sites such as the Gateway Arch,
historic Union Station, and the famous
icon – Ted Drewes, as you begin to move on into the suburbs.
Missouri! Enjoy the sites and flavors of the
Show Me State!
Chain of Rocks Bridge near
September, 2004, Kathy Weiser.
of America, updated August, 2013.
Norton, W. T., ed. Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois, and
Its People, 1812-1912. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1912.
of Local History
Legends' General Store
66 Postcard Coloring Book - If you love
Route 66, enjoy
coloring, and like to share with others, this book is for you! The Route
66 Postcard Coloring Book contains 20 postcards of various places along
America's Mother Road, each ready for your own artistic touch. Then after
you color, remove each and send as a postcard. Complete with stamp
placement on the back and information on each location. Or, keep your
finished work as a reminder of fun times traveling Route 66.