Elkhart community unveils a new Route 66 landmark

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[October 16, 2017] 


On Saturday afternoon, a new Route 66 roadside attraction was unveiled in the community of Elkhart. The 36 feet long by 8 feet tall mural, mounted on the side of the buildings owned by Peter and Andrea Niehaus, celebrates the history of the town with tributes to each of 22 landmarks within the community.

Gillett Ransom

Peter Niehaus

The official ceremony began with welcoming remarks from Gillette Ransom, and then comments by Peter Niehaus. Niehaus said that the mural was actually the result of conversations that had begun at least two years ago. The conversations were about doing something to make Elkhart a Route 66 stop for those who travel the Mother Road each year. The idea had finally come to put together a mural that would show Route 66 as part of the town’s history, and at the same time, note the many historically significant areas in and around the community.

Renee Sisk and her sister Andrea Niehaus worked many months on the project, with Renee being the primary artist, and Andrea working under beside her. Niehaus said one of the more challenging aspects of the mural was its size. In order to make something large and noteworthy, the mural had been done in four-foot sections. The artwork had been done in the Niehaus home, and the artists could fit only three, four-foot sections into the work area at a time.

The difficult part he said was making sure that though the sections were done individually, the end product would need to come together with precision. He noted that in his opinion at least, the ladies had done a fantastic job of it.

Later in the day, Andrea Niehaus would give the lion’s share of the success to her sister Renee. She said that Renee had arranged the layout and done all the drawing and much of the detailed painting. Andrea laughingly said, “I painted a lot of trees and hills.”

During the Route 66 Fall Festival held Labor Day weekend, the sections of the mural were set up on the sidewalk and community members were invited to add some of the finishing touches to the painting.

On hand for the reveal event on Saturday was Mark McDonald of the popular PBS series Illinois Stories. McDonald was asked to join Andrea Niehaus in the ceremonial removal of the red ribbon, signifying the mural was now available for viewing by the public.

The Saturday afternoon event was an invitation only ceremony. When the ribbons had been removed, everyone present lined up in front of the mural for a commemorative photo, then were invited inside to the Wild Hare Café for refreshments and fellowship. A large buffet of finger foods was set out and a variety of wines were uncorked for the reception.

Guests enjoyed visiting and talking about the mural, and also taking a moment to speak personally with McDonald. As the afternoon came to a close, each attendee was given an oversized full color postcard of the mural accompanied with a paper print with a key identifying each of the notable landmarks on the mural.

Items on the mural:

The CroHurst Mansion – home of Jessie D. Gillett, built in 1836

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Oglehurst Mansion – home of Governor Oglesby – built in 1892

Spring Bluebells and other wildflowers

Elkhart Grain Company – first silo built in 1954

John Parke Gillett Memorial Arch – built in 1950

Elkhart Public Library –built in 1904

The Hunter House Restoration Project by the Elkhart Historical Society – built in the 1890’s

Gillett Chapel – built in 1890

United Methodist Church – built in1863

Downtown Elkhart – Incorporated in 1855, several of the current buildings date back to 1899

Elkhart Historical Society Tour Wagon

Elkhart Christian Church - built in 1867

Doughboy Memorial Statue World War I

Old Gillett Mansion – home of John D. Gillett

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church – built 1864

Acknowledgment of American Native presence in the Elkhart area

Acknowledge of wildlife native to Elkhart, particularly the Elk for which the town was named

Edward Trace, originally known as Old Trace

Texaco Gas Station – 1940’s (owned by and recently renovated into offices for Elkhart Grain Company)

Short Horn Cattle – developed by J.D. Gillett in the 1870’s

The location of the original Country Bumpkin owned by Elizabeth Drake in the 1950’s

Route 66, which arrived in Elkhart in September of 1945

In addition to members of the community and Mark McDonald, others on hand for the event included Geoff Ladd of the Route 66 Scenic Byways, Cris Wibben of the Logan County Tourism Bureau, and Hal Smith from Congressman Darin LaHood’s Springfield office.

[Nila Smith]

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