Joliet, originally named Juliet, was founded in 1833 with its first post office. The source of the name Juliet is uncertain: the settlement may have been named for a settler’s female relative, or perhaps it was a version of Jolliet, after explorer Louis Jolliet, for whom the village was eventually renamed. In any case, not long after Juliet was established, a nearby settlement decided to make a droll play on its neighbor’s name and called itself Romeo. In 1845 the Illinois legislature changed Juliet’s name to Joliet and shortly afterward, Romeo became Romeovlille.
The two towns grew up together, and in the early days, both economies were bases on the same two things: traffic along the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the area limestone deposits. The limestone was used in major buildings, including the Illinois State Capital, the Lincoln Monument, Rock Island Arsenal, the US Marine Hospital, the Illinois State Penitentiary and numerous others. By 1900, however, canal traffic had dropped of and the demand for limestone, dried up soon after that. Romeoville began to fate, while Joliet forged ahead. An abundance of soft coal had been found in the Joliet area, providing perfect conditions for iron and steel manufacturing and spurring further economic growth for the city. Today Joliet has five times the population of Romeoville.
Joliet’s first steel mill was built in 1869 and soon the city was a well known for its iron and steel as it was for its limestone. The Joliet Iron & Steel Works was once the sixty years before closing in the 1930s. Beginning in the 1990s, the Will Country Forest Preserve District undertook the challenge of developing the factory ruins as the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site, which opened in 1998. A 1.5 mile walking trail leads through the ruins and interpretive sign describe the factory’s historic significance. The trail, which follows part of the I&M Canal, has been further improved inrecent years. Additions include restrooms, water fountains, and picnic facilities. .
Another, more unusual historical site in Joliet is the birthplace of classis American institution the Dairy Queen. Few people have heard of John F McCullough, but millions have enjoyed his creation. In 1938 McCullough approached Kankakee ice cream shop owner Sherwood Dick Noble with his newly concocted tread, and Noble agreed to sell the product on the trial basis. He sold more than 1600 servings the first day. Noble and McCullough became business partners and opened the first Dairy Queen in Joliet two years later, launching a multimillion dollar business. The original shop, a nondescript old storefront now used as a church, was granted historic landmark status in 2011.
In addition to its historic sites, Joliet has developed a thriving entertainment industry. Two riverboat casinos and two car racing facilities, the Chicagoland speedway NASCAR racetracks, and the Route 66 Raceway Indy Car tracks, have yielded millions in visitor dollars.
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