MIDWEST ROADS: A Photographic Essay (13 Photos).

MIDWEST ROADS: A Photographic Essay is an ongoing visual project. New photographs are added regularly. Please check back for UPDATES!


1-Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is 22 miles southwest of downtown Chicago at 645 Joliet Road in Willowbrook, Illinois, at the intersection of Route 83 and Interstate-55. Irv Kolarik started the business in 1926 as a gasoline service station on the brand new Route 66. In 1939 it began to serve its delicious fried chicken. The one-story brick commercial building seen here was built in 1946 by architect Eugene F. Stoyke next to the original gas station/lunch counter. The full-service restaurant was well-timed for the great post-World War II boom in business and leisure travel on Midwest roads. Dell Rhea’s window bay of nine original, single light glass and wood canted windows defines its northwest front façade. A cocktail lounge was added to the south in 1956 while a fireplace anchors the north wall. In front of the building stands the original neon and metal sign. When, in 1962, a new expressway took traffic away from Route 66, the Chicken Basket’s declining business was bought in 1963 by Chicago businessman Dell Rhea who reinvigorated the eatery for a new era. The popular Chicken Basket is still owned and managed in 2016 by the Rhea family where their fresh and tasty fried chicken is cooked to order and is definitely one of Chicagoland’s best!

MIDWEST ROADS: A Photographic Essay.

Photographs and Text by John P. Walsh.


This is a contemporary photographic essay featuring people, places, and things I have found interesting along America’s Midwest roads today. I have a long affection, if by simple affiliation, for the American Midwest. I grew up here, in Chicago and its suburbs, and went to school here. I enjoyed summer vacations here and got married and settled down here. I continue to enthusiastically travel this vast region that’s been called “The Heart of America.” The happy memories of the Middle West’s sights, sounds, smells, and tastes – whether in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, etc., – are the mother’s milk of my life. Over many hot summers, multi-color autumns, deep, frosty winters, and wild-flowered springs I have sojourned literally tens of thousands of miles on Midwest roads and can report that in 2016 the Midwestern adventure carries on. It teems with human stories, diverse and awesome natural beauty, timeless nostalgia, and, if those things aren’t enticing enough, even an unexpected curiosity or two. For those who love it, the Midwestern terrain possesses what Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) in The Sangamon identified as “magic in that soil, in the plains, the borders of forest, the oak trees on the hills.” The poet was sure that “if you should drive through (this region)…strange dreams would come to you, and moreover those dreams would tally with mine.” The region still offers the sightseer such magical things and much more including impressive remnants of an American Indian mound-building culture and encounters with animals and birds, wild and domesticated. Edgar Lee Masters understood too that it is the Midwestern people – individualistic, hospitable, industrious, good willed, courageous and independent – who will always bestow to this central part of the country its greatest distinction. It is this populace which today, as well as in the past, built what may be frequently photographed on Midwest roads: the canals, roads, barns and farms, houses, towns and cities. But there are new things appearing on the 21st century Midwest road such as cellphone towers and wind turbines, and old things, such as barns and farms, disappearing at a regrettably rapid pace. Some of American History’s most famous cultural figures have at one time or another traversed the Midwest roads, including James Monroe (in 1785), Charles Dickens (in 1842), John Muir (starting in 1849), Henry David Thoreau (in 1861),  Antonín Dvořák (in 1893), Winston Churchill (in 1946) – or were born and lived here, including Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Edgar Lee Masters, Walt Disney, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (“Mark Twain”), Jane Addams, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Barack and Michelle Obama,  Frank Lloyd Wright, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Jesse James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Dinah Washington (“Queen of the Blues”), and so many, many more. Yet it is Abraham Lincoln whose memory is most linked to these Midwest Roads for he loved to travel them as a lawyer on the Eighth (Judicial) Circuit riding his horse, “Old Bob.” It is to this Midwestern spirit of America’s greatest president that this photographic project is dedicated.



for photograph 1-Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket. http://www.chickenbasket.com/; https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/dell_rheas_chicken_basket_hinsdale.html .

INTRODUCTION – Masters quotes from The Sangamon by Edgar Lee Masters with Introduction by Charles E. Burgess, University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago, 1988 (first published 1942), p.6.



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