State grant will help put Shea's gas station back on the Route 66 map

Springfield Mayor Misty Buscher gavels in her first city council meeting at the Municipal Building, West on Tuesday, evening May 16, 2023.
Springfield Mayor Misty Buscher gavels in her first city council meeting at the Municipal Building, West on Tuesday, evening May 16, 2023.

The full Springfield city council voted Tuesday to accept a $623,000 State of Illinois grant that will reopen the exterior of a former popular Route 66 site in Springfield.

The idea, said Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau director Scott Dahl, is to make Shea's gas station on Peoria Road an "Instagram-able stop," especially for international travelers.

The project there includes removing fencing in the front, repaving and doing some building work, Dahl said.

More: Lincoln Library director fired

William "Bill" Shea operated a Marathon station from 1955 to 1982 and later converted it into a Route 66 museum, bringing visitors from across the world. A D-Day survivor, Shea died in 2013 in Auburn.

Route 66 Motorheads Bar and Grill recreated the front entrance to the museum, with many items from the original museum.

Ace Sign Co. Museum also includes memorabilia from Shea's. The smaller Mahan Filling Station from Middletown, once part of Shea's museum collection, was relocated to a site at Fulgenzi’s Pizza & Pasta in 2015.

"We're more concerned with opening it up to the exterior, making it another stop, another reason to stop in Springfield, another Route 66 asset opening that's currently closed," Dahl said. "That's important for us moving towards 2026 and the centennial (of Route 66)."

William "Bill" Shea
William "Bill" Shea

Two other components of the grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity are a series of murals extending from Williamsville to Auburn and a string of informative wayside stations running through the artery of the route though locations have not been finalized.

Two other Route 66 experiences are set for completion by June 30, Dahl said.

A "metaverse experience," using augmented reality and virtual reality, will give visitors the sense of what it was like for Black travelers on Route 66 from the mid 1930s to the mid 1960s. The "hyper realistic, immersive and interactive world" is being developed for Route History, the Springfield-based museum and visitors center at 737 E. Cook St.

That was through a $1.17 million State of Illinois grant to Visit Springfield.

At the Illinois State Fairgrounds, the Route 66 Experience, launched by the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway will give visitors a chance to experience the Mother Road and the communities along its route in walkable form using QR codes and story boards.

Kathryn Harris, who will become Lincoln Library's interim director
Kathryn Harris, who will become Lincoln Library's interim director

Library director fallout

After last Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting, Mayor Misty Buscher told media members that some of the city's grants "might require (the Lincoln Library) director be a librarian."

Former director Summer Beck-Griffith, hired by former Mayor Jim Langfelder in early 2022, did not have a master's degree in library science, "so I have to look into that and figure that out," Buscher added then.

Beck-Griffith was terminated Monday. After Tuesday's full city council meeting, Buscher said the grants issue was "something I was going to look into, but I just made a change in leadership."

All of the city directors know when they take those positions, Buscher added, "there is a possibility they could be let go with the change of administration."

Meanwhile, Buscher said Kathryn Harris, who retired as division manager for library services at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in 2015, will take over as interim director. Curtis Mann, who manages the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library and serves as city historian, is the current acting director.

Former Lincoln Library director Summer Beck-Griffith
Former Lincoln Library director Summer Beck-Griffith

Buscher told Harris she would be "honored" if she would be the full-time director.

"She told me, 'Misty, you're going to make me get my alarm clock back out,'" Buscher said, with a laugh.

Buscher told Harris she wanted her to help the mayor and her team search for a new director.

"It was a really exciting conversation (with Harris)," Buscher said. "I did not know when I made the call how important it was going to be. It really touched my heart. I have deep respect for her."

Harris began her more than four decades career in the reference department Lincoln Library in 1971. She later worked at libraries at Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois Springfield) and the SIU School of Medicine. In 1990, she joined the staff of the Illinois State Historical Library, rising to director in 1996. She kept the same responsibility when the Lincoln presidential library took over the collection.

Harris, the SJ-R's First Citizen in 2020, begins June 1.

Gaveling in

Buscher said she "didn't want to mess anything up" gaveling in her first city council as mayor.

In eight years as city Treasurer, she sat feet away from the horseshoe, but Tuesday she had a different view.

"It felt good," she said of the experience. "I do believe we're a team. I do believe we're going to have bumps in the road, but I do believe we want to work together. I hope and pray that that can move forward and I'm going to continue hoping and praying."

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788,,

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Springfield City Council votes to receive state grant for Route 66