What there is to see on Route 66 in Illinois! I could have spent weeks more driving along “The Mother of Roads” and discovering small and large towns and their stories. This trip was just full of surprises, like in Joliet, where I suddenly found myself quite unexpectedly in a fascinating lost place: the Old Joliet Prison.
Joliet, the Heritage Corridor and Route 66
Our very first stop from Chicago, where the famous Route 66 starts, was Joliet, just a few kilometers away. Joliet is part of the Heritage Corridor, an area around the Illinois and Michigan canal that connects the Great Lakes from Chicago to the Mississippi River. The Heritage Corridor is primarily a popular recreation area with many opportunities for outdoor activities. By the way, the Joliet Area Historical Museum and its Route 66 Welcome Center, which showcases the history of the area, are a great way to get in the mood for a drive along Route 66.
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Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!
Lost Place: The insider tip Old Joliet Prison
But the real attraction – and really only recently officially open to visitors at all – is the old Joliet Correctional Center (also: Illinois State Penitentiary), a prison built in 1858 that was still in operation until 2002, believe it or not. Then the new prison opened across the street, inmates and guards moved. What remained was an abandoned building, left to decay – and now a dream for all photographers in search of atmospheric lost places.
The old jail in Joliet – How to get in?
Entering without permission is, of course, strictly forbidden, but in the meantime the city administration has given in to the increasing interest and offers guided tours.
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Old Joliet Prison & Hollywood
The Old Joliet Prison, however, was a popular setting even when it was in operation, not only for photos, but also for major Hollywood movies and series! Our tour guide proudly showed us John Belushi’s cell from Blues Brothers, and we were not allowed to go any further without first having a photo taken of us in the cell. But the Old Joliet Prison is also a popular filming location in more recent productions!
If you have watched the series“Prison Break“, the prison facility will look familiar to you: The Old Joliet Prison served as the set here too! In the series, the prison was given the name“Fox River State Penitentiary“, where one of the two main characters, Lincoln Burrows, is wrongly serving a prison sentence, while his brother Michael Scofield does everything he can to free him.
Old prison – many stories
You can still sense an oppressive atmosphere in many places. Many cells are still in their original condition as they were left, with bars and the cold, metal sanitary equipment still there. A shiver ran down my spine by the thought that 20 years ago prisoners have still been incarcerated here.
The atmosphere throughout the facility is gloomy, and I wouldn’t want to know how many creepy stories these thick walls have witnessed.
Old Joliet Prison: Is it worth it?
Unique as a photo backdrop anyway, the visit to Joliet Prison was absolutely worth seeing. Due to the dilapidated condition and the unclear further use of the huge area, be sure to inquire about the current state of affairs beforehand. And: Don’t get any stupid ideas to visit the prison on your own, the area is monitored by the local police. You don’t want to end up in the other prison across the road :)
More about Route 66:
- Illinois, USA: Old Joliet Prison on Route 66
- The Route 66 in Pontiac, Illinois: Meet my hero Bob Waldmire.
- Best Things to Do in Springfield, Illinois
I was invited on this research trip to Illinois by Enjoy Illinois.