Springfield, Illinois’ scenic capital, is a modern city brimming with attractions and recreational opportunities. It is inextricably associated with the life of America’s most beloved president, Abraham Lincoln. More than one million people come to visit the city’s many Lincoln sites annually. And there’s never been a better time to visit: the two-year-long celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial kicked off in February.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum is the largest presidential library complex in the U.S. and a perfect first stop on a tour of Springfield’s many Lincoln sites. The library houses an extensive collection of documents and artifacts, including handwritten copies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, while the museum offers a spectacular collection of immersion-style galleries, theatres and special exhibits that allow visitors to journey through important places and events in Lincoln’s personal and political life.
Clients can walk through the Illusion Gallery, a gauntlet of yelling images arguing for and against slavery; visit the President’s Office during a cabinet meeting; view a 13-metre-wide Gettysburg Mural as it pans from battlefield action to the aftermath of death, from a mass burial ground to the dedication ceremony and Lincoln’s famous speech; hear Eight Soldiers’Stories and learn the fate of four Union and four Confederate soldiers who fought at Gettysburg; witness the final moments of the President and First Lady together at Ford Theater; and pay last respects to President Lincoln at the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
Just outside of Springfield is NewSalem, where Lincoln spent six years of his early adulthood. Here he clerked in a store, enlisted in the Black Hawk War, served as postmaster and, in 1834, was elected to the Illinois General Assembly. Today this recreated village has 23 authentically reproduced buildings to view.
Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech at the Old State Capitol on June 6, 1858, and it was here that the assassinated president’s body lay in state in 1865.
Clients can get a glimpse of Lincoln’s life as a Springfield lawyer at the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, where he practiced from 1843 to 1852. And for a taste of the great man’s home life, a visit to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site is a must. The only house Lincoln ever owned, this was his family’s home from 1844 until the move to Washington in 1861. It is filled with period furnishings, including some pieces original to the Lincoln family.
Lincoln left Springfield on a train bound for Washington from what is now known as the Lincoln Depot on February 11, 1861. The depot offers re-created waiting rooms, historic photographs and a lively slide show depicting Lincoln’s 12-day train journey to Washington and his inauguration.
The slain president was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, and travellers can visit the Lincoln Tomb. Each Tuesday evening from June through August, the 114th Reactivated Civil War Infantry Unit performs a flag retreat ceremony, presenting the flag to an audience member.
In February 2009, the Illinois State Museum will launch an interdisciplinary and interactive exhibition in honour of the bicentennial. The 279-square-metre Lincoln’s Illinois will invite visitors to explore the State of Illinois in the years that Lincoln lived here. The exhibit will engage visitors by telling stories of real Illinois people and its use of varied objects such as furniture, quilts, tools, art and historic photographs, as well as Native American ethnographic collections and archaeological artifacts from the Springfield neighbourhood where the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library now stand. Together this object-rich exhibition will explore the social, cultural, historical and environmental contexts of Illinois during the Lincoln era (1830-1861).
For more information, visit www.visit-springfieldillinois.com.
Illinois’ second-largest city is just an hour’s drive west from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and 90 minutes from downtown Chicago. It combines the amenities of a big city with the friendliness of a small town.
Rockford is known as “the City of Gardens,” and for good reason. The city was given the America in Bloom award both in 2005 and 2007. Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of outdoor wonders here such as Anderson Japanese Gardens, rated the number one Japanese garden in North America in 2004 by the Roth Journal of Japanese Gardening. Designed by world-renowned landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu, the property boasts pond-strolling gardens, waterfalls, an authentic teahouse, and a large wooden gate where visitors are asked to leave their cares behind before they enter the garden.
Outdoor enthusiasts can also visit Klehm Arboretum, Rockford's “living museum,” and Sinnissippi Gardens, located along the Rock River.
Rockford is a great place to bring the family, too. The region offers two waterparks – one indoors and one outdoors – where families can splash the weekend away. Opened early last year, the CoCo Key Indoor Water Resort offers a variety of slides, play structures, wave pools and restaurants the whole family will enjoy. Magic Waters Waterpark features a variety of waterslides, including the Abyss and the SplashBlaster, and a wavepool.
Rockford has also become a stop along the “dinosaur alley in Illinois. Visitors can see Sue, the world’s largest T.Rex in Chicago, and can also see Jane, the world’s most complete juvenile T.Rex at Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford. Burpee also just added their newest find, Homer, a juvenile Triceratops, to their dinosaur exhibit list. Next door is the Discovery Center Museum, named the number four children’s museum in the U.S. by Child Magazine, where they can learn about science in over 200 interactive exhibits. And only a few minutes away is Midway Village & Museum Center, an outdoor Victorian-era village with authentic buildings from the early 1900s.
Rockford is home to a large cultural scene. Clients can take in Broadway and Rockford Symphony performances at the stunning Coronado Performing Arts Center, a baroque-style theatre with ornate decor and a false-star sky; see a musical number under the stars at Starlight Theatre under its retractable roof; or catch a live musical performance at a downtown nightclub or one of the many community theatres.
For more information, visit www.gorockford.com.
Another great destination beyond Chicago is Champaign County. The city of Champaign is just shy of 200 kilometres south of Chicago, and makes an ideal base from which to visit the surrounding area.
The Spurlock Museum celebrates the people of the world with featured galleries of Africa, Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania, the Americans, and the Ancient Mediterranean.
The Early American Museum has an extensive collection interpreting 19th and early 20th century life in East-Central Illinois. Two floors of exhibits present architecture, trades and occupations, decorative arts, and childhood and domestic life of the time. In honour of the Lincoln Bicentennial, the museum and Champaign County are jointly constructing an exhibit area at the courthouse that will be completed in 2009. This space will not only chronicle Lincoln’s legal work while in the County but also serve as an educational resource for school children.
Champaign County is home to several gardens. The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden, located on the grounds of the Early American Museum, boasts beautiful beds of peonies, irises and various perennials. The Anita Purves Nature Center, located in Urbana’s Crystal Lake Park, is an environmental education facility open free to the public. Next door is Busey Woods, a forest preserve with a boardwalk loop, seasonal ponds and more.
Also in Urbana is Meadowbrook Park, which includes the Windmill Garden, modeled on a farmstead kitchen garden; the Hickman Wildflower Walk, planted with colourful native wildflowers; a herb garden tended by the Champaign-Urbana Herb Society; Walker Grove, a prairie savanna that is a restoration in progress; and the Wandell Sculpture Garden.
The county offers plenty of family-friendly options. Kids of all ages will love the Curtis Orchard, an 1870s Centennial Farm where visitors can pick apples, peaches or pumpkins according to the season; take a pony or farm wagon ride; visit a petting zoo or attempt a corn maze; and Prairie Farm, a replica turn-of-the-century farm complete with barns, farmhouse and animals, pond, pasture and garden that is open to the public from Memorial Day to Labour Day.
Another favourite is Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Rantoul, where a herd of Alaskan reindeer plays host to visitors. The ranch, a Christmas tree farm, offers an autumn corn maze, hay rides and a Western-themed banquet hall.
Champaign’s Orpheum Children's Science Museum is another favourite. Located in the 1914 Orpheum Theatre, considered one of the finest buildings in downstate Illinois, the museum offers guests the opportunity to learn science at their own pace in an informal setting. Exhibits include a miniature castle, scaled castle complete with drawbridge, dragon's lair, and moat. As the royal engineer, kids can move water through the land with pulleys, gears, levers, and wheels.
For more information, visit www.visitchampaigncounty.org.