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Illinois Travel Tips



Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln" as Abraham Lincoln had lived in Springfield for 24 years, practiced law here, married here, and is buried here, making Springfield the richest place for exploring the life of our sixteenth President. Lincoln-lovers will be delighted with the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Lincoln Law Offices where young Lincoln practiced law, the Lincoln family pew at the First Presbyterian Church, the Lincoln Ledger, showing Lincoln's actual bank account, the Old State Capitol preserved as in the days of Lincoln with costumed interpreters playing roles of actual contemporaries of his. There are also the Lincoln Gardens, the Lincoln train depot where Lincoln made his famous farewell speech before departing to take the helm of the Presidency in Washington, DC, and finally Lincoln's Tomb the final resting place of the Great Emancipator. In addition to an abundance of Lincoln historic sites -- every one of them worth a visit (most are free) -- the city offers a wildlife sanctuary, walking/biking trails, botanical gardens --with the world's third-largest carillon, a zoo, a telephone museum, and one of the first (some say the finest) Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style home ever built. Everything is easily accessible in Springfield. Its parks, tree-lined boulevards with gaslight lampposts along the sidewalks, makes it feel more like a friendly neighborhood than a capital city.

Illinois State Museum (217) 782-7386
Three floors offer three different areas of exploration. The lower level is "A Place for Discovery," a hands-on exhibit where children of all ages can touch a moose, examine skeletons and pry into the private lives of insects. In the "Natural History Hall" on the first floor visitors are face to face with the actual skeleton of a mastodon, the enormous icon of the Ice Age. From there, a pack of wolves, black beer, white-tailed deer (State Mammal), birds, fossils, and other creatures of the wild are displayed in their habitat. Upstairs, the second floor features: a contemporary art gallery containing Illinois art; a "People of the Past" exhibit, showing life-sized dioramas of the lifestyle of the American Indians from this area, as well as artifacts from these earlier days in Illinois; across the hall is "At Home in the Heartland," showing the family life of early settlers, from the French in the 1700s to the American emigrants of the 1800s, all the way to 1978. The exhibit focuses on home life . . . buying furniture, equipping kitchens, and feeding and clothing a family. Visitors participate in a guessing game of "what would you buy?" The display gives visitors a choice of what one could buy with a predetermined amount of money in that time period. Select A, B, or C. Then lift the card to find out what the real-life person purchased. Fun.

Check it out . . . The Natural History Hall, has something we've never seen before (other than the mastodon skeleton): a display of different bird's eggs and nests. It's fascinating to see the different sizes of eggs and different ways they're hatched.

Statehouse (217) 782-2099
The sixth Illinois State Capitol (the third in Springfield), is an 1888, three-tiered Neoclassical Renaissance structure topped with a mansard roof and crowned with a 361-foot silver dome (shouldn't it be copper, since Lincoln's countenance is on every copper penny?). A large front portico is supported by delicately carved Corinthian columns with two smaller silver-domed towers on either side. A statue of Abraham Lincoln and behind him, a statue of Stephen Douglas, welcome visitors to the front entrance. On either side of the statues are two large fountains and smaller statues of famous Illinoisans.Grecian urns full of flowers add to the calming appeal of the exterior grounds. The interior, designed in the shape of a Latin cross, has four corridors shooting out from a large rotunda in its center where a bronze statue, "Illinois Welcoming the World" stands, a relic from the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The grand staircase leads up to a vaulted stained-glass skylight. Encircling the second floor rotunda is a frieze of Illinois history that looks like copper but is actually plaster painted to look like bronze. Large statues of famous Illinoisans are also displayed on podiums around the room. An interesting feature is the doorways throughout the interior of the building. Enormous wooden doors with stained glass transom windows and beautifully carved pediments add a rich depth and strength to the hallways.

Note: The Illinois capitol was the prototype used for the Iowa capitol. The tour guide from Iowa (State #30) told us that when they found the original plan from their archives it was entitled "Illinois Capitol" with a line going through the word "Illinois" and "Iowa" written over it. If the tour guide hadn't told us we would never have guessed. The architect used many of the same elements, yet made each Capitol look so different.

Executive Mansion (217) 782-6450
Built in 1855 this glamorous home of the Illinois Governor and his family is the fourth-oldest continuously-occupied Governor's home in the country (after Virginia, Mississippi, and Iowa). Seven U.S. Presidents have been received here, including Lincoln and Grant. The three levels open to the public feature: four formal parlors, a state dining room, ballroom, four bedrooms (including the Lincoln Bedroom) and an elegant library handcrafted from native American Black Walnut.

Check it out:
1) In the Grand Entryway, notice that the doors are bowed out to allow women with hoop skirts to pass through easily. Also notice the two "Petticoat Tables,"on either side of the doorway. The "Petticoat Table" is so named because the tables have mirrors underneath them so women can pass by and quickly check their hems for any petticoat embarrassments.

2) On the second floor landing are two 19th century hand-painted wooden planters, one on each side of the door. At one time there existed only one planter until almost 100 years later Governor Thompson saw its duplicate in a New York antique store and purchased it to make a matched set. Also on the second floor is a beautiful table made of 20,000 pieces of wood inlay, showing scenes of Lincoln's career. It table was hand-crafted by an Illinois man and given to Lincoln a few days before the President was assassinated.

Old State Capitol State Historic Site (217) 785-7961
Designed by Springfield resident John Rague, the Old State Capitol reflects the architect's penchant for Greek Revival architecture. The building served as the Illinois statehouse from 1839 to 1876, dominating Springfield's community life. Concerts, dances, and civic affairs, as well as political rallies and conventions were held here. Several of the rooms evoke memories of Abraham Lincoln's pre-presidential Springfield years. Lincoln was completing his fourth and final term in the state legislature when the House convened for the first time in the "new" Capitol. While serving in the state legislature and afterward, Lincoln practiced law across the street, pleading more than 300 cases in the supreme court on the Capitol's first floor. But many who knew him said his favorite place was the court library and clerk's office where storytelling and game playing took place well into the night. The last time the Old State Capitol saw the countenance of its favorite son was on May 3, 1865 when Lincoln's body was brought here eighteen days after his assassination. His body lay in an open casket on an elaborate velvet-covered catafalque in Representative's Hall while 75,000 grieving people filed in to pay their last respects.

Tip . . . The best time to tour the Old State Capitol is on a Friday or Saturday when the building is filled with interpreters dressed in period clothing, portraying actual characters from the 1850s, many of whom were contemporaries of Abraham Lincoln. These characters are locked in time and can only answer questions based on facts known up to, but not beyond the year 1850. It's fun to try to trip them up.

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site (217) 785-7289
The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices have been restored to appear as the rooms may have looked when Lincoln practiced law here as a senior partner with a younger man, William Herndon, his junior partner. The third floor corner office occupied by Lincoln was a prime location. On the second floor, immediately beneath them was the federal courtroom, (we were told that the trap door from Lincoln's floor and the courtroom's ceiling was often pried open a crack so Lincoln could eavesdrop on some of the cases and perfect his skills). The first floor contained the U.S. Post Office. The building itself was kitty-corner to the State Capitol (now the Old State Capitol) which housed the Supreme Court, the Clerk's office, the state library and state law library and where all state business transpired. Reprints of legal documents initiated by Lincoln are scattered about the office as if he and his partner just left for lunch and will return forthwith.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site (217) 492-4241, Ext. 221
A couple of blocks from the Old State Capitol stands the only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned. The house was built in 1839 and purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln in 1844. The Greek Revival house at that time was one and a half stories of rough-sawn oak with hand-hewn oak sills. Pine was used on the exterior, Walnut on the interior. In the 1850s the Lincoln's improved upon the house by enlarging it to two stories and building a brick retaining wall and fence around the yard. Today the house is located in a four-block historic neighborhood of houses that had been the homes of friends and neighbors of Mr. and Mrs.Lincoln. The entire neighborhood is cordoned off from any traffic. It's wooden sidewalks and gas lantern streetlamps along a street without any automobiles has a powerful effect of transporting the visitor back in time.

Tip: Tours are open from 9AM to 5PM. Try to take the early morning or evening tour, when the crowds are thinner and the house and neighborhood is cast in subtle tones.

Check it Out . . . The carpeting in some of the rooms is extremely loud, and clashes with the flowery wallpaper. The tour guide says it was a popular concept back then, called "harmony through contrast."

Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site (217) 632-4000
Twenty miles outside of Springfield is a reconstruction of the old town of New Salem where a young Abraham Lincoln lived from 1831-1837, before becoming a Springfield lawyer and legislator. The only original building still standing is Onstot Cooper Shop where Lincoln studied law at night.The town is fully reconstructed as it would have been when Lincoln lived there, complete with shops, timber houses, a carding mill, a school, a sawmill, gristmill and the Rutledge Tavern. Here Lincoln developed from a self-confessed "aimless piece of driftwood" to a merchant, surveyor, postmaster and captain of the local militia. It was here that Lincoln studied law by candlelight in his own self-imposed night school.

Check it Out . . . Interpreters dressed in period costume play the part of real-life neighbors of Lincoln's and retell stories of the goings on in town at the time. Our favorite was the clerk tending to customers in Lincoln's General Store. (Lincoln was a storekeeper for a while, but failed in business. Or, as Lincoln explained to a friend, the store "winked out.") In the store, we learned all about roasting coffee beans, broom-making, fabrics of the time, and got a peek into the account books of Lincoln and his partner -- a delightful way to see what people at that time bought on a daily basis.

Lincoln Tomb (217) 782-2717
Abraham Lincoln was buried in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery at the request of Mrs.Lincoln. The monument was designed by sculptor Larkin Mead. Surrounding the tomb are statuettes depicting Lincoln during his career and bronze tablets containing the words from Lincoln's farewell address to Springfield, the Gettysburg address, and his second inaugural address.This is the final resting place for Abraham, Mary Todd, Tad, Eddie and Willie Lincoln. The eldest son, Robert Lincoln, is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Trail (217) 529-1111
Five miles of trails with names like Witch Hazel Lane, Hickory Path, and Prairie Trail show the natural beauty native to Illinois. Throughout the gardens are wooden park benches, inscribed with quotes from Abe Lincoln, written in his handwriting and signed in the unassuming way he signed everything, simply "A. Lincoln."

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary (217) 544-5781
A one-mile nature trail begins and ends at the 1857 historic house that once belonged to Margery Adams who donated the house and land to the Illinois Audubon Society. Trails pass through woodlands into a restored prairie. This entire area was once a thriving farm with cornfields, vegetable gardens and orchards of 1400 fruit trees. It's a wonderful way to see how quickly a farm can turn into a wilderness. In just 70 years trees, groundcovers and prairie grasses wildly claimed the land that was once cleared and tamed for farming.

Check it out . . . at the back of the old house is a bird-watching area: an enclosed porch with large windows overlooking a bird and butterfly garden. Guests can sit and watch birds and butterflies unnoticed and without disturbing their habits.

Washington Park Botanical Gardens (217) 753-6228
This is one of central Illinois's major horticulture centers. The gardens contain a the domed indoor conservatory filled with tropical foliage and seasonal floral displays, a formal rose garden and perennial, scent and texture gardens.

Oliver Parks Telephone Museum (217) 789-5303
A collection of 117 antique telephones, including wooden wall phones, candlestick models, and early coin-operated phones.

Dana-Thomas House (217) 782-6776
In 1902 local socialite, Susan Lawrence Dana, hired a rising young architect from Chicago to remodel her family home. Today it stands as one of Frank Lloyd Wright's finest Prairie-style homes. The furniture, art glass doors, windows and light fixtures are all original.


Mr. Lincoln's Campground, Springfield (217) 529-8206
This quiet campground has only 42 sites surrounding a common green area. Sites are close to the laundry room and showers that are clean, roomy, and very private. Each shower unit contains its own toilet, sink, vanity, shower, hair dryer (free) and coin-operated heat lamp. Inside the laundry room (open 24 hours a day!) is a sauna and outside is a hot tub (out of order while we were here). All campsites have a fire ring and plenty of private picnic space. The atmosphere is pleasant and neighborly. A modem hook-up is available in the office. Close to downtown Springfield and all Abraham Lincoln historical sites.

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