Springfield, Illinois’ scenic capital, is a modern city brimming with attractions and recreational opportunities that is inextricably associated with the life of America’s most beloved president, Abraham Lincoln.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum is the largest presidential library complex in the US 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.
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 New Salem, 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.
Catch 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, visit to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. 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 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 you 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.
Still in Central Illinois, Champaign County boasts art, sports, historic districts and plenty of visitor attractions to be explored.
The Spurlock Museum, in Champaign County, 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. The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden, located on the Museum grounds, boasts beautiful beds of peonies, irises and various perennials.
Other gardens and parks of note include the Anita Purves Nature Center, an environmental education facility open to the public in Urbana’s Crystal Lake Park; Busey Woods, a forest preserve with a boardwalk loop and seasonal ponds right next door; and Meadowbrook Park, also in Urbana, that 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.
And, kids of all ages love Champaign’s Orpheum Children's Science Museum. Located in the 1914 Orpheum Theatre, 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.
Northern IllinoisRockford, Illinois’ second-largest city is just an hour’s drive west from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and combines the amenities of a big city with the friendliness of a small town.
Known as “the City of Gardens”, Rockford boasts outdoor wonders like Anderson Japanese Gardens. 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.
Rockford has also become a stop along the “dinosaur alley” in Illinois. You can see Sue, the world's largest T.Rex in Chicago, and can also see Jane, the world’s most complete juvenile T.Rex, and Homer, a juvenile Triceratops, at Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford. Next door is the Discovery Center Museum, named the number four children’s museum in the nation by Child Magazine, with more than 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 1900’s.
ObamaniaThe Illinois Bureau of Tourism has added a Trail devoted to President Barack Obama to its collection of Presidential Trails. The Presidential Trails highlight Illinois’ rich culture and history through the experiences of four presidents – Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama – who lived and made their mark in Illinois. The Obama Trail includes:
• The Old State Capitol, Springfield, where Obama announced that he would be running for President and announced Joe Biden as his Vice Presidential candidate.
• The Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, where Obama gave many speeches in the Illinois Senate.
• Grant Park, Chicago, where Obama gave his victory speech to more than a million supporters.
• University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, where Obama taught constitutional law from 1992 to 2004.