Tag Archives: Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket

Midwest Roads, U.S.A.

Photographs and text: John P. Walsh


Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is 22 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. Its address is 645 Joliet Road, Willowbrook, Illinois. It first opened in 1926 as a gas station/lunch counter on a brand-new Route 66. In 1939 the original owner, Irv Kolarik, served fried chicken for the first time. That was 80 years ago. The one-story brick commercial building was built in 1946 by architect Eugene F. Stoyke next to the original building, It became a full-service restaurant just in time for the post-World War II travel boom. Dell Rhea’s window bay of nine single-light-glass-and-wood-canted windows is original as is the neon-and-metal sign in the photograph (it was replaced by a replica sign in 2017). While a fireplace anchors the north wall, a cocktail lounge to the south was added in 1956. In 1962 a new expressway (I-55) took traffic away from Route 66. In 1963 the Chicken Basket was bought by Chicago businessman Dell Rhea who reinvigorated the eatery for the new era. The popular Chicken Basket is still owned and managed by the Rhea family where their fresh and tasty fried chicken is cooked to order and definitely one of the best.


These are some of my photographs featuring the people, places, and things I have met along today’s American Midwest roads. I feel a personal affection for the American Midwest. I grew up in Chicago and its suburbs, and went to grade school, high school and university here. In the Midwest I enjoyed friends, family, diverse outings, engaging jobs, and, later, married and started a family here. I continue to enthusiastically travel this vast region that’s rightly called “The Heart of America.”

Happy memories of the Middle West — its sights, sounds, smells, and tastes — especially in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa — are the mother’s milk of my life. In steamy summers, multi-colored autumns, ice-bitten winters, and flowery springs sojourning the miles on Midwest roads spelled adventure — and still does today.

The American Midwest teems with human stories, diverse and awesome natural beauty, timeless nostalgia, and, when those things aren’t enticing enough,  unexpected curiosities. For those who already 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 more including impressive remnants of an American Indian mound-building culture and encounters with animals and birds, wild and domesticated. Edgar Lee Masters understood 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 that today, as in the past, built what is frequently photographed on Midwest roads: its canals, roads, barns and farms, houses, towns and cities. But new things also debut on a 21st-century Midwest road trip such as cellphone towers and wind turbines — and the old things, like barns and farms, disappear at a rapid pace.

Many famous Americans and others cultural figures have traversed the Midwest roads –James Monroe (in 1785), Charles Dickens (1842), John Muir (1849), Henry David Thoreau (1861),  Antonín Dvořák (1893), Winston Churchill (1946)—or, like me, were born and lived here, such as Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Edgar Lee Masters, Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Jane Addams, Harry S Truman, Dwight 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 many, many, many more.

It is Abraham Lincoln whose memory is most famously linked to Midwest Roads. Over the Eighth (Judicial) Circuit riding his horse, “Old Bob,” he loved to travel them as a defense lawyer.  It is to this Midwestern spirit culled from America’s sixteenth president that this photographic essay is dedicated.

1968 Chevrolet Corvair

1968 Chevrolet Corvair, DuPage Co., IL, August 30, 2018.

the pick-off july 15 2018

The Pick-Off, July 15, 2018. DuPage Co., Illinois.

OUT at Third, July 15, 2018.

Force at Third, DuPage Co., IL, July 15, 2018.

Asian Garden (Man), July 2018

Man in his garden, DuPage Co., IL, July 1, 2018.

Harley-Davidson 2018 Milwaukee WI

1932 Model G Servi-Car Side Valve V-Twin, Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee, WI, June 9, 2018.

Illinois Farm (Bureau County IL) June 5, 2017.

Farm, Bureau Co., IL, June 5, 2017.

Crucifix and wind turbine (Bureau County IL), June 5, 2017.

Crucifix/Wind Turbine, Bureau County, IL, June 5, 2017.

Tell 'em I'm from Chi-town!

Tell ’em I’m from Chi-town!, Chicago, IL, June 12, 2018.

Lake Wedding Wisconsin June 3 2017

Lake Wedding, Waukesha County, WI, June 3, 2017.

working farm 5.31.17 jpw

Farm, Walworth Co., WI, May 31, 2017.

Tuesday Taco jpwalsh

Sunday Bloody Mary/Tuesday Taco, July 31, 2017. Northern Illinois.

red barns jpwalsh

Barns, July 31, 2017. Northern Illinois.

Honor Guard, Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Dixon, IL - June 5, 2017. FSB finish sharp crop DSC_0744

Honor Guard, Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Dixon, IL, June 5, 2017.

Midwest Roads.

Wide Load, Walworth Co., WI, June 1, 2017.

Midwest roads.

Barn, Stone and Wood, Walworth Co., WI, June 1, 2017.

Midwest roads.

Mother and Child, DeKalb Co., IL, October 9, 2016.  

Midwest Roads.

Silo, Barn, and Weather Vane, Grundy Co., IL, September 18, 2016.

Midwest Roads.

Old House, Kendall Co., IL, September 18, 2016.

Midwest roads.

Redhead, Grundy Co., IL, September 18, 2016. 

Midwest Roads.

Bovine Portrait, LaSalle Co., September 4, 2016.  

Midwest roads.

Octogenarian, Tazewell Co., IL, September 4, 2016. 

Midwest Roads.

Barn and Wagon, LaSalle Co., IL, August 31, 2016. 

Midwest roads.

River Valley, LaSalle Co., IL, August 31, 2016.

Midwest roads.

Electrified Barns, Grundy Co., IL, August 31, 2016. 

Midwest roads.

Barn, Grundy Co., August 31, 2016. 

Midwest roads.

Downtown Mural, Ottawa, IL, August 31, 2016.

Midwest Roads.

Patriotic Barn, Northern IL, August 29, 2016. 

Midwest roads.

Blue Barn, Oswego, IL, April 2, 2016.

Midwest roads.

The Lane, Schaumburg, IL, March 29, 2016.



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.