Whether unique, historical or just plain weird, Illinois is full of sights worth pulling the car over during your next road trip. If you only have time for a quick snapshot or if you need to get out to stretch your legs, here are a few roadside attractions across the Land of Lincoln that are free and worth the detour.
De Immigrant Windmill
111 10th Ave, Fulton
On a flood control dike along the Mississippi River sits an authentic Dutch windmill in the heart of Fulton. While the De Immigrant Windmill may seem out of place in rural Illinois, Fulton takes pride in its Dutch heritage. Manufactured in the Netherlands, the windmill was delivered and assembled in the small city in 2000.
Fully operational, the windmill manufactures a variety of stone-ground flours including buckwheat, corn, rye and wheat. Visitors can purchase these flours at the Windmill Cultural Center and Fulton Meat Market while supplies last.
Please note, the windmill and cultural center have been closed to visitors due to COVID-19. Be sure to check its Facebook page for updates. When opened, entrance to the windmill is free, but donations are appreciated. While in Fulton, also enjoy the Fulton Marina, views of the Mississippi River, Heritage Canyon and the Dutch Days Festival held each spring.
Exhausted Paul Bunyan
1 University Pkwy, University Park
While this American folk hero is often the depiction of strength, the statue of Paul Bunyan in University Park shows a different side of the giant lumberjack. Titled “Paul 2006,” this fiberglass statue was created by artist Tony Tasset and stands in the middle of a field. He’s hunched over, axe dragging on the ground with a look of pure exhaustion on his face.
This sculpture is just one of 29 scattered across more than 100 acres of prairie landscape at Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park on the grounds of Governors State University. The park is open dawn to dusk and can be enjoyed year-round. Parking and admission to the park are free. Access to the statue is an easy walk on a paved pathway off University Drive. If visiting, please note that pets are welcome but must be leashed, and do not climb on the sculptures.
Purple Martin Highrise
201 W Quincy St, Griggsville
This stop is for the birdwatchers. Griggsville claims to be the “Purple Martin Capital of the Nation.” According to audubon.org, the Purple Martin’s population is declining, and almost all nest in birdhouses made for them. Communities like Griggsville help with conservation. While the streets are lined with birdhouses, the main attraction, besides the Purple Martin itself, is the Purple Martin Highrise located in the center of town in the median on Purple Martin Blvd. This high-rise consists of 562 apartments intended for the Purple Martin.
Although not truly purple, each blueish-black bird is said to eat 2,000 mosquitoes a day. With Griggsville’s proximity to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, the area can be ripe with mosquitoes, so it is the perfect place for this swallow to thrive. Stop by, snap a photo of the high-rise and grab your binoculars for a sighting of the Purple Martin.
Main St, Arcola
To enjoy unique public art while stretching your legs, stop by Arcola. A dozen oversized brooms brightly illustrated with Arcola history and broom related puns are scattered throughout the downtown area. Each broom was painted by a different artist with the majority being from Illinois.
Why brooms? Arcola prides itself as the “Broomcorn Capital of the World” with its history of broomcorn broom production. While visitors can get swept away with the broom art, they can also enjoy much more in this small community. It is home to America’s Hippie Memorial, more than a dozen Walldog murals, and it’s the birthplace of the creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy. If you’re planning a road trip in September, stop by the town’s Broomcorn Festival held annually the weekend after Labor Day.
World’s Largest Mailbox
19 W Main St, Casey
For oversized, everyday objects, swing by Casey. This is a community of roadside attractions with a dozen items hailed as the “world’s largest” and more than 20 other big things.
The World’s Largest Mailbox measures a whopping 5,743.41 cubic feet. On top of it all, it is fully functioning. Visitors can get inside the mailbox by climbing the stairs located in the post and mail letters or postcards of their own. There’s even a red flag that can be raised to notify the U.S. Postal Service that letters are ready to mail.
With more than 30 giant stops scattered throughout the town, this won’t be a quick detour as there’s much to see. Other sights include the 54-foot-tall wind chime, the 56-foot-tall rocking chair, the 82-foot-long functional teeter totter and the 60-foot-long pitchfork.
2401-2599 Progress W Dr, Vandalia
If you’re looking for a fire-breathing dragon, be sure to make a pitstop in Vandalia for the Kaskaskia Dragon. While the 35-foot-long metal dragon is free to view, you’ll have to pay one dragon token to make it spit fire. Each token costs $1 and can be purchased from Kaskaskia Supply (the hardware store down the road that owns the dragon) or from the liquor store across the street. Powered by propane, each token will buy 10 seconds of fire-breathing action, so make sure your camera is ready.
While in town, check out the Gateway Arch Replica, the Madonna of the Trail statue, the Kaskaskia River and the Vandalia Statehouse, the oldest existing Illinois capitol building.
World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
800 S Morrison Ave, Collinsville, IL 62234
While you can see a smiley face in Atlanta, Watseka or Makanda, a baseball in Ellsworth, a basketball in Hebron, or a golf ball at Rend Lake, Illinois’ most unique water tower is the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville. For more than 70 years, this 170-foot-tall condiment has stood next to Route 159 near Collinsville’s downtown.
The tower was built in 1949 to supply water to the Brooks catsup plant, and it was decided that the tower should be shaped as one of the plant’s catsup bottles. A decade later, Brooks Foods merged with another company, and the bottling operation moved out of town. However, the catsup bottle remains and displays the Brooks logo to this day. In the 90s, a group of volunteers restored the catsup bottle, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
Popeye and Friends Character Trail
10 Bridge Bypass Rd, Chester
If you love Popeye the Sailor Man, then you better stop by Chester. This small city is the birthplace of Popeye creator Elzie Segar, and it honors that history with granite statues of Popeye characters scattered throughout the community. Start your journey at the Chester Welcome Center where you can find a bronze statue of Popeye that has been overlooking the Mississippi River since 1977.
The Popeye and Friends Character Trail was established three decades later. Wimpy was the first statue erected after Popeye in 2006 at Gazebo Park with Olive, Swee’Pea and Eugene the Jeep debuting in 2007 at the Randolph County Courthouse. Every year since, a new character has been added to the trail. While there, be sure to stop by the Popeye Museum and Spinach Can Collectibles located on State Street.
Superman Square, Metropolis
With a name like Metropolis, of course there’s a strong Superman presence in this city, which makes it a great stop for any superhero fan. Since 1993, this comic book icon has stood proudly in downtown Metropolis. The 15-foot-tall, 4,000-pound Man of Steel is actually made of bronze, and in fall 2020 he received a fresh coat of paint. After a photo op with the statue, be sure to visit the nearby Super Museum and don’t go home without Superman souvenirs.
At the end of July, don’t miss the annual Superman Celebration, which has been occurring for more than 40 years. The four-day extravaganza includes a comic art gallery, films, races, games, music, contests and much more. Check out Datebook on page 12 for more details.
Boo Castle Park
31 Homewood Dr, Carbondale
With sculptures of wizards, dragons and other mythical beasts, this playground will take you out of this world and into a magical medieval era. Kids of all ages can enjoy all the sights as well as the large castle maze.
This is a great stop on a road trip for anyone with kids who need to release some pent-up energy. Please be mindful of the park’s rules. No alcohol, drugs, smoking or firearms are allowed on the premises. Pets must be always leashed and cleaned up after. Minors must be supervised at all times, and please be respectful of the grounds and clean up after yourself.
Also known as the Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park, it was built in memory of Jeremy Rochman who died in a car accident. The park is on private property and open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to sunset, but closes for inclement weather. While admission is free, donations are appreciated to help with upkeep.
Leaning Tower of Niles
6300 W Touhy Ave, Niles
You don’t have to go to Italy to see a leaning tower. Niles is home to a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At 94 feet tall and 28 feet in diameter, the Leaning Tower of Niles was built in the 1930s as a water tank to supply water to outdoor pools in the former Ilgair Park. Since then, the area has seen a lot of change, and the tower started to show signs of aging. In the past several years, the tower underwent renovation and will be open to the public soon. In 2020, the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors are welcome to photograph the tower as well as enjoy picnics nearby. While in town, visit the Niles Veteran’s Memorial Waterfall and Robert Amling’s Memorial Bike Route.
An iconic roadside attraction is the Muffler Man. In the 1960s, hundreds of fiberglass Muffler Men were scattered across the nation along roadsides and used as advertising. Businesses closing, incidents caused by nature and man, and the wear and tear of time have caused most of them to disappear. Today, there are about 20 giants standing in Illinois, several just along Historic Route 66. There’s the space themed Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Paul Bunyan holding a hot dog in Atlanta, the Lauterbach Tire Muffler Man in Springfield, Vikings acting as high school mascots in Springfield and Nauvoo, and the rare Uniroyal Gal in Peoria and Livingston. You can see them as you drive by, or stop for a quick photo op.
1022 S Pine St, Gays
If you’re looking for a bathroom break, maybe make a pitstop before arriving in Gays for the Two-Story Outhouse. While the double-decker outhouse isn’t open to the public for its traditional use, you can marvel at the oddity from the road or take a closer look from the quaint pathway. The outhouse was originally built behind a general store in town, and the second level was attached to the upstairs for easy access to apartment tenants. While the original building is no longer there, the outhouse was preserved. You can learn more about its history from the informational board nearby.
Will B Rolling
S Main St, Port Byron
A 30-foot statue of a cyclist wearing a blue jacket, bowtie and bowler hat on a Victorian bicycle called a Penny Farthing has overlooked the Mississippi River since 2013 in Port Byron. While there, be sure to snap a photo with the giant mutton-chopped man and enjoy views of the river. The statue is located along the Great River Trail, a 60-mile biking path between Rock Island and Savanna. You can even participate in the weeklong, 300-mile bike ride in October along the Mississippi River from the Will B Rolling statue to its red-coated brother Ben Bikin’ in Sparta, Wis.
Chain of Rocks Bridge
4205-4207 Chain of Rocks Rd, Granite City, IL 62040
While this pedestrian bridge may be a little off the beaten path, Chain of Rocks Bridge is a must for anyone traveling to St. Louis or taking a Route 66 road trip. You can walk or bike across the mile-long bridge over the Mississippi River to Missouri. Enjoy the views of the river and marvel at the odd 30-degree bend midway across the bridge. Parking is only available on the Illinois side. To access the bridge from I-270, take Exit 3 and turn left onto Lewis and Clark Blvd and then turn right onto Chain of Rocks Road. Follow the road for 2 miles on Chouteau Island, and you’ll find the parking lot and bridge entrance at the end of the road.