The great thing about moving to a new area is that you can to have new adventures while exploring local areas! A few months ago we moved to Illinois so I decided to take my toddler out one day and go exploring. I’d actually had the old Joliet Iron Works District on my “explore list” for a while now so I decided to head down that way and check out the area. Funny thing is that I never actually made it to the historic Iron Works area – when you’re taking a toddler you’ve got to go on their schedule! I absolutely want to go back though because there is SO much to see and do!
Things to do in Joliet:
Joliet Iron Works Historic Site
I love exploring old ruins and this one is open to the public. There’s just something hauntingly serene about it, and this location is packed with history. The Iron Works district is an old iron manufacturing facility from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It was once the second largest steel mill in the United States. You can walk through foundations of the blast furnaces and other structures from the dismantled factory. You can also loop into the I&M Canal Trail here too. There are interpretive signs that explain the process of making iron and steel and the specific skills of the workers.
Joliet Area Historical Museum
Before heading down there I actually purchased a family pass at the Joliet Area Historical Museum on Groupon. I had read there was a lot of Rt. 66 exhibits at the museum and since I got married on Rt. 66 anything to do with that is always on my list! In fact in a year or so we’re driving the whole route! I really should have worn the Route 66 Shoes that I made!!
I have learned from past experience that historical museums are actually REALLY amazing! I always thought they’d be a bit of bore but every single one I’ve been to has incredibly top notch exhibits and fantastic displays. Even my kids know this now and love going! The Joliet Area Historical Museum, although smaller, is definitely worth a trip! You can climb on an old trolley car, walk in the bottom of a canal replica, and kick back and sit in old vintage car seats! They even had an entire room for kids to color, do puzzles, and make crafts! They do have free days that you can check out here.
Route 66 Diner
After the museum we stopped in at the Route 66 Diner just down the road on Clinton Street. Walking in is like a blast from the past – everything is wood paneled! But the food was decent enough and the employees were extremely nice.
Rich & Creamy on Broadway
There’s nothing better on Route 66 in Joliet than stopping in at the Rich & Creamy on Broadway – a historic ice cream shop with all sorts of goodies!
Old Joliet Prison Park
We then headed over to the old Joliet Prison which isn’t open to the public for inside tours but they welcome anyone to come explore outside the gates. They’ve got 8 interpretive signs up that are pretty informational and we spent a few minutes walking around the prison admiring the structure and wishing we could go inside! It’s actually been used in a lot of movies & TV films such as “The Blues Brothers”, “Public Enemies”, and more recently “Prison Break”. There has been talk in the past of opening it up for tours so I hope it happens!
You can see broken windows, rusted gates, barbed wire hedges, and extremely thin windows and doors to prevent prisoners from squeezing out. I can only imagine how incredible the inside looks and the stories that can be told about this prison.
On the way out of the prison, just down the road, I drove past Dellwood Park, actually located in Lockport. After a quick Google search I discovered it had some pretty awesome “hidden” ruins to climb through so I decided to stop in. I didn’t get to spend much time there because my toddler was pretty tired but I HAVE to go back!! What I saw was awesome! Believe it or not the Chicago & Joliet Electric Railway Company began to build Dellwood Park in 1905 to increase the number of railway riders. This use to be THE PLACE to be back in the day and was quite an attraction.
Now you can take the trails and meander on and past a creek and ruins of an old dam, bridge, and other structures in the park. If you’re walking around on or near structures just watch you’re footing as there are some high areas and holes! It’s not bad – I had my toddler there. Just be mindful.
Other Places to Check out in the Joliet Area:
Also within driving distance you can eat lunch in Teddy Roosevelt’s rail car Bull Moose or touch the wardrobe that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit here!