Category Archives: Illinois History

Home / Illinois History
67 Posts

Before becoming the nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln spent nearly 25 years practicing law in Illinois. Lincoln worked on cases both big and small which took him to a number of different cities and small towns across the state. Today, many of these sites are open to the public as historical attractions for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of Lincoln’s journey to becoming the leader of the United States.

 To commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the Illinois Office of Tourism has teamed up with the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition to help visitors explore Lincoln’s life as a lawyer, with this two-day trip itinerary through Eastern Illinois:

Day 1 – Charleston

Experience life on a 1840s farm at Lincoln Log Cabin in Charleston.

Morning

Start your day near the city of Charleston, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Sara Bush Lincoln, were among the very early settlers in the Charleston Area. Just a short drive from Charleston, you can step back in time to the rural life of 1840s Illinois at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, where Lincoln would often come back to visit his parents while he was working as a young lawyer in Springfield. Today, you will find a living history farm developed around the two-room cabin owned by the Lincoln family, as well as a Visitors Center full of exhibit galleries to help you learn more about farm life and the Lincoln family.

After soaking in all there is to see at the Lincoln Log Cabin, hit the road and head for beautiful Champaign-Urbana. A first stop as you look for Lincoln the Lawyer is the Champaign County Historical Archives, located at the Urbana Free Library.  Here you will find an extensive historical collection of records from Champaign County, Illinois and the states east of the Mississippi.

From there, head to the Champaign County History Museum. Housed in the historic Cattle Bank, you will be able to look through over 10,000 artifacts related to the people, businesses and organizations important to the County’s history. Just a few blocks from the History Museum you will find the Champaign County Courthouse. While the current courthouse was built in 1901, it sits on the site of the courthouse where Lincoln appeared as a lawyer in his 8th Judicial days. Head inside to explore the special exhibit Abraham Lincoln: A Large Presence in a Small Town, which highlights Lincoln’s lasting legacy within the Champaign-Urbana community.

Afternoon    

Start off your afternoon with a stop at Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet. This spot will give you a glimpse into prairie life in East-Central Illinois in 19th and early 20th centuries through an extensive collection that includes a full exhibit on the story of Abraham Lincoln, the prairie lawyer.

A short drive down the road will bring you to the Piatt County Museum featuring artifacts from throughout the county’s history. Nearby, you’ll find Historic State Street of Monticello which was once a major business hub for central Illinois, including the incorporation of the Monticello Railroad Company.

Monticello is known for its strong, historic ties to the railroad industry and there is no better place to explore that important role than the Monticello Railway Museum.  While Lincoln later became known for expanding the railroads during the Civil War, he often rode the rails through Illinois as he traveled along the 8th Judicial Circuit.  For the true Lincoln experience, you can hop aboard the Museum’s 7-mile ride on a vintage railroad train.

Monticello is also home to Bryant Cottage, a must-visit site for the true Lincoln historians.  According to family lore, on July 29, 1858, Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas met at Bryant Cottage to discuss their upcoming “Lincoln-Douglas Debates” which would go down in history as some of the most important of the Civil War Era. In addition to its Lincoln ties, the cottage is a great place to tour to get a feel for middle-class life in mid-19th century Central Illinois.

Day 2- Danville

Lincoln gave one of his early speeches from the second story balcony of the historic Fithian House in Danville.

Morning

Begin day two of your journey through Lincoln’s time as a lawyer in historic Danville. The Vermilion County Museum is located in the reconstructed early Danville Courthouse where Lincoln tried over 200 cases. Inside, you can make a visit to the Museum’s special reproduction of the law office of Danville attorney, Ward Hill Lamon, who shared the office with Lincoln during his time with the 8th Judicial Circuit.

Also in Danville, The Fithian House was the home of prominent 19th century Danville physician, Dr. William Fithian, and a place visited often by Lincoln. Tour the home to stand at the second story balcony, the very spot where Lincoln was known to have given a speech back in 1858. If you are looking to learn even more about the families that Lincoln came across in his day, plan to stop by the Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society to see local records and access hundreds of thousands of area family histories

Another historical Danville home is The Lamon House, the oldest framed residence in Danville. The original owners were related to Lincoln’s area law partner, Ward Hill Lamon, who also went on to serve as Lincoln’s bodyguard during the Civil War.

Lincoln frequented the Alexander family home in Paris during his time as their lawyer.

Afternoon    

Head to Paris, Illinois to check out the history of the town, starting with the Edgar County Courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse is surrounded by a number of markers telling the stories of Edgar County history and even has the Statue of Justice sitting atop the “wedding cake tower” high above the courthouse.

Just one block from the courthouse, make a stop at Paris Arts Center. Located in the historic Alexander home, Lincoln visited this exact spot many times in his day, as he served as the family’s attorney. The final stop on your trip along Lincoln’s time on the 8th Judicial Circuit, is the Edgar County Historical Complex. This complex includes the historic Arthur house, built by Henry Clay Moss. Here you will find a variety of genealogical resources, including many related to Mr. Lincoln.

To learn more about more than 200 Illinois sites that make up the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail and begin planning your trip, visit LookingForLincoln.com and EnjoyIllinois.com.

– Illinois Office of Tourism

Route 66 and Abraham Lincoln are both iconic pieces of Illinois history. Although the “Mother Road” wasn’t established until decades after Lincoln’s lifetime, the route travels through a number of important Lincoln destinations from Bloomington to Alton and many places in between. To commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the Illinois Office of Tourism has teamed up with the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition to give visitors a road trip itinerary to go “Looking for Lincoln” that includes the perfect mix of classic Route 66 stops and amazing Lincoln sites:

Day 1 – Springfield

View artifacts and stories from Lincoln’s life at the Lincoln Heritage Museum.

Morning

After breakfast, start your day at the world-class Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Located on historic Route 66 in Springfield, the presidential museum is a gem along the “living museum” that is Illinois Route 66. Here you will travel from the humble beginnings of a young pioneer to the halls of the White House, as the story of Lincoln comes to life as captured through original artifacts, special effects theaters with high action and ghostly images, and so much more. Afterward, step outside where you can look for Lincoln in the many authentic historic sites and stories told throughout the city.

Just a short walk from the Museum is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Here you’ll step into the daily life of the Lincoln family as you enter the only home the Lincoln’s ever owned. A stroll through the lovely historic neighborhood surrounding the home will give you a rare glimpse of Mr. Lincoln as a husband, father, neighbor and friend.

Lunchtime means a stop at the iconic Cozy Dog Drive In – one of the most famous stops along the entire stretch of Route 66. This classic Route 66 drive-in diner is named for the famous hot-dog-on-a-stick, or ‘Cozy dog,’ found at state and county fairs around the country – but invented here. Established in 1949, Cozy Dog is also home to a smorgasbord of Route 66 memorabilia and souvenirs.

A final stop as you head north toward more of Route 66 in Lincoln country must be Oak Ridge Cemetery and the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site. The second most visited cemetery in the U.S., behind only Arlington Cemetery in our nation’s capital, Oak Ridge is home to a majestic monument that is the final resting place for our 16th president, his wife and three of their four children.

Grab a bite and learn about Lincoln at the Palms Grille Café in Atlanta.

Afternoon    

Time to hit the open road! Next stop is Lincoln, the only city in the United States that was named for Abraham Lincoln before he became president. It’s not a surprise that it contains a perfect mix of Lincoln history and Route 66 nostalgia. Here you will find a great Lincoln/Route 66 photo op at the giant Railsplitter Covered Wagon – a tribute to the city’s favorite son and the iconic kitsch that is Route 66.

Down the road, step back in time to Lincoln’s day for a glimpse into the life of Lincoln the lawyer, with a visit to the Postville Courthouse State Historic Site. Imagine yourself arguing a point of law in this rugged, brown-frame building – a replica of the building that served as the Logan County government from 1840-48. You will find exhibits that tell the story of the 8th Judicial Circuit, where Lincoln honed his skills as a successful prairie lawyer.

You won’t want to miss a remarkable collection of Lincoln-related artifacts and documents at the Lincoln Heritage Museum, on the campus of Lincoln College. Treasures include dishware, books and mourning clothing that belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln, as well as original letters from President Lincoln and information about every member of his cabinet and Civil War military leaders.

Just as we preserve the legacy that is Abraham Lincoln, communities all along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles are trying to preserve that iconic legacy of America’s Main Street, and the city of Lincoln is no exception. Before you head out of town, check out The Mill on Route 66, a recently saved and restored original Route 66 restaurant now featuring a museum that tells the story of the county’s ties to the legendary road.

As you head to Bloomington for your overnight stay, be sure to make a stop in Atlanta – Illinois, of course! – for pie and coffee or a late afternoon bite at the famous Route 66 diner, the Palms Grille Café. While you’re there, check out the Lincoln exhibits upstairs for a glimpse into his influence on this small, rural town. Across the street from the Palm’s, be sure to get your photo taken by the giant Paul Bunyon Hot Dog Statue. If there’s time, a stop a few miles north at Funks Grove Maple Sirup will be well worth it for some delicious homemade Maple syrup and candy.

Day 2- Bloomington

Explore the impact Lincoln had on McLean County at the ‘Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66’ exhibit.

Morning

For your first stop, visit the McLean County Historical Museum, located inside a beautiful old courthouse on the town square. In the first floor visitor center, you will find out all about the rich Route 66 history in McLean County as well as all the information you need for discovering the Lincoln story along Illinois Route 66. Upstairs in the Museum, you will find many stories of the people and landscapes of McLean County through the years, including many local residents who were Lincoln’s contemporaries as he rose from prairie lawyer to the man who would be president.

 Afterward, visit the magnificent David Davis Mansion, once owned by Lincoln confidante and close friend, Judge David Davis. This stately 19th century mansion and its beautiful grounds will give you a glimpse of the social and political life Lincoln knew. History credits the influence and support of Judge Davis as an important factor on Lincoln’s success in becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency. You’ll also want to make a stop at the Sprague Super Service Station for some iconic Route 66 photos in Bloomington.

Afternoon

Next stop: Pontiac, arguably one of the most famous towns along Route 66. In this charming slice of Americana, you’ll find the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, including the International Wall Dog Mural and Sign Art Museum, the Bob Waldmire Exhibit, as well as a tribute to Mr. Lincoln with the Music of the Civil War exhibit.

Stroll around the town square to take in all of the spectacular Murals on Main Street and be sure to stop by the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum & Resource Center to see some of the world’s finest, and rarest, examples of the former Pontiac autos.

These are just a few of the stops you can make along Route 66. For more trip ideas and places to explore Lincoln’s life right here in Illinois, visit LookingforLincoln.com and EnjoyIllinois.com

– Illinois Office of Tourism

It’s that time of year again—time to wish one of this country’s most well-loved presidents a happy birthday! There’s no better time to plan a trip around Illinois and the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area than to celebrate Abe Lincoln’s 208th birthday. From storytelling to free museum tours to special annual celebrations, there is no shortage of festivities happening around the state. Gather the family and plan your trip to celebrate Illinois’ incredible Lincoln heritage!

Head to Lincoln Log Cabin in Charleston to enjoy a birthday party hosted by Lincoln’s family members. Historical actors will be on-site to share personal anecdotes and stories about life with Lincoln on Saturday, February 11. Bring the whole family to tour this 19th century living history farm and take part in story time and other activities to learn more about the former president’s life.

Children listened to stories about Lincoln at last year’s birthday celebration at the Lincoln Log Cabin in Charleston.

The David Davis Mansion State Historic Site in Bloomington is also hosting a special celebration for Honest Abe on February 11. Stop by the home of Lincoln’s close friend and former campaign manager to hear tales from costumed characters as they recall their encounters with Lincoln during his time in Bloomington. Be sure to stay and enjoy a special birthday cake and punch to celebrate. You may even catch a glimpse of President Lincoln himself!

Make a trip to Danville on February 12 for a special open at the Vermilion County Museum, built as a replica of the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law. Spend the afternoon exploring the Museum complex, which includes a replica of Lincoln’s law office as it looked in the 1850s and view hundreds of birthday cards for the president from Danville-area fourth- and fifth-graders.

Visitors of all ages will enjoy Lincoln’s Birthday Celebration at Mt. Pulaski Courthouse.

Not only is Lincoln’s family hosting a party, but his friends are celebrating his birthday, too! Visit Mount Pulaski Courthouse State Historic Site on February 11 to hear from Lincoln’s former teacher Mentor Graham and sample Abe’s favorite dessert—apple pie with rum sauce! Bring the whole family and let the kids meet Lincoln himself and reenact what it was like to be a student during Lincoln’s childhood.

Enjoy free admission at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield on February 12.

In Springfield, the city Lincoln called home for many years, a number of important attractions will be hosting special birthday events. Enjoy free admission to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on February 12 to see special artifacts and items from Lincoln’s life, including his stovepipe hat and Mary Todd Lincoln’s 28-diamond necklace. Both artifacts will be on display during the month of February. Historical actors from the Civil War period will also be on-site to chat with visitors and answer any questions.

For an in-depth look at Lincoln’s life and times, both the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Old State Capitol State Historic Site will be hosting a special lecture series on February 11 and 12. The George L. Painter Looking for Lincoln Lecture Series at the Lincoln Home covers a range of topics, from Lincoln’s childhood and upbringing to all of his accomplishments throughout his career and presidency. The Abraham Lincoln Association will also hold its annual symposium at the Old State Capitol on February 11 and 12, featuring special presentations from notable authors on Lincoln literature.

The Vandalia Statehouse Historic Site has been helping visitors celebrate Lincoln’s birthday since 1973.

Continue your trip with a journey back to Lincoln’s time at Illinois’ oldest surviving capitol building—the Vandalia Statehouse State Historic Site. The site where Lincoln started his political career has been hosting a Lincoln Birthday celebration since 1973. This year’s events include musical entertainment and refreshments as well as a presentation and stories from the Bond County Historical Society about Lincoln’s in-laws who sided with the South during the Civil War.

Wind down from an exciting weekend of birthday celebrations with a visit the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington for a special viewing of the 1939 classic film “Young Mr. Lincoln” on February 14. Arrive early to view a display of rarely seen historical artifacts and stay during the movie’s intermission to hear  local Lincoln scholar Guy Fraker speak about Lincoln’s connection to McLean County and the lasting impact its residents had on him.

Illinois is full of Abraham Lincoln history, events and ways to honor him. If you are eager to delve even further into the history, visit EnjoyIllinois.com for more places to go.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Illinois is teeming with places to spend time with your family, and there’s also no shortage of history to learn about during pretty much any road trip around the state. We recently partnered with Chicago-based photographer and Instagramer Craig Hensel (@thecraighensel) and his family as they took a road trip around Central Illinois. Along the way, Craig caught some incredible photos as they learned more about Illinois Amish community, took part in some fall activities and learned a bit more about the history of Abraham Lincoln. Below you’ll find a brief look at Craig’s itinerary, as well as a Q&A session the Illinois Office of Tourism had with him upon his return.

craig-hensel-map

A map of Craig’s three-day, Central Illinois road trip.

ITINERARY

DAY 1

The Great Pumpkin Patch, Arthur

The Great Pumpkin Patch has more than 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds from 30+ countries around the world; all grown on the farm at The 200 Acres. Amazing pumpkin towers, beautiful gardens and a petting zoo with goats, pigs, exotic chickens, rabbits, a llama and an alpaca, make this a great family spot.

Located in Arthur,  a town of 2,200 residents, the Great Pumpkin Patch sits  in the heart of Illinois Amish Country, with more than 1,000 Amish families living in the countryside. Established in 1865 by a handful of families, today more than 4,500 Amish live in the town and surrounding rural townships.

Aikman Wildlife Adventure, Arcola

Located between Arthur and Arcola, Aikman Wildlife Adventure is a drive-through park where you can get up close and personal with animals you’ve only seen on television or behind fencing at a zoo. Visitors have the opportunity to see and take pictures of animals walking around directly outside their vehicles while  driving the one-mile long path through the park. Aikman’s also features a separate walk-through adventure with kangaroos, cavies, wallabies and lemurs, and a large petting zoo area.

DAY 2

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, Greenville

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, a proud maker in the Illinois Made program, is a seventh-generation, family-owned farm that specializes in the handcrafted production of artisan and farmstead cheeses. At the creamery, visitors can take a tour and meet the cows, experience the milking parlor, and sample and purchase a variety of cheeses, ice creams and more.

DAY 3

Abraham Lincoln Sites, Springfield

History comes alive around every corner in Springfield, home to more Lincoln sites than anywhere else in the nation. Visitors can explore everything from the historic Old State Capitol to Lincoln’s home, tomb and  his must-see presidential museum.

To take a trip similar to Craig’s, or to plan an entirely new trip, check out our Trip Ideas.

Q&A

Here’s what Craig had to say about his favorite memories of the trip and some of the information he and his family learned along the way.

Q: What were you most looking forward to before beginning the trip?

Craig Hensel: I was most looking forward to my time on the trip with my family and exploring Illinois. As far as a place I was particularly excited to see, that had to be Arthur and the Amish community. That was really unique to me, and I enjoyed watching my kids experience things they’d never seen before.

great-pumpkin-patch-2-craig-hensel

Craig’s daughter running towards a tower of pumpkins at The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: Was there anything that surprised you about the trip?

Craig Hensel: One thing that really surprised me in Springfield was when we went into this shop that had antiques from Lincoln’s days; like an old muzzleloader. I didn’t expect that to be in the town, and I was impressed that the shop had such old stuff.

The other thing that surprised me was our visit to Marcoot Jersey Creamery. Marcoot’s story is incredible – now run by the family’s seventh generation. You don’t see family businesses handed down from generation to generation like that very much anymore, so it was a really special experience for our family.

The big surprise was when we were driving home, we stopped at Lincoln’s New Salem site in Petersburg, and that blew our minds. We felt like we were walking back in time.

old-state-capitol-craig-hensel

Unique angle inside the Old State Capitol State Historic Site in Springfield. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: After you got back to Chicago, had anything changed in your expectations of the trip?

Craig Hensel: I expected to see the rural towns, but I didn’t expect to see the diversity in the communities, like the Amish County in Arthur. What blew my mind was seeing the Lincoln sites through the historic lens. It was very impressive to learn so much about our state’s history. I felt a deeper understanding of what Illinois is and who we are.

alplm-craig-hensel

Craig’s wife, Jenah, was resting on Lincoln’s cabin at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: Is there one specific memory or experience from the trip that’s going to stick with you?

Craig Hensel: The Lincoln museum was a big one for sure. The era of pioneer history is very attractive. Lincoln’s New Salem Site was probably the most memorable. We had time to walk through the woods and decompress as a family before heading back to the big city. Another good memory is from Marcoot Creamery. My daughter loves animals, and so here’s my kid in the middle of this little barn with about 25 calves that were just born. That visual memory of my kids is awesome. Also, when my daughter was picking up farm dogs and watching three or four dogs surrounding her. Those little memories in my mind are what will stick.

aikman-wildlife-adventure-craig-hensel

An awesome close-up shot of a zebra at Aikman Wildlife Adventure in Arcola. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

Q: Any last advice for other Chicagoans looking to explore downstate?

Craig Hensel: I think people are missing out if people don’t take time to take a three-hour trip. There’s a National Park right in Springfield!

Going downstate, don’t be afraid to take the back roads. Don’t be afraid to follow the brown highway signs. The food and the hospitality are amazing, and anytime you can, take advantage of the farm-to-table dining. If you haven’t already, make a stop in Springfield to visit the Abraham Lincoln sites, and see for yourself what it was like to live back in the 1800s. Experience local restaurants and mom and pop restaurants, which probably have the best food in the Midwest. Try to drive Route 66 if you can and go through the small, historic towns.

great-pumpkin-patch-1-craig-hensel

A beautiful rural road near the Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur. (Photo by Craig Hensel)

– Illinois Office of Tourism

Everyone needs a little “spook” in their lives and October is the perfect time to fill that void. Here in Illinois we pride ourselves on the rich, yet eerie, history that lurks throughout the state. This year we’ve put together a list of some of the must-experience, creepy destinations around. From Alton to Polo, Illinois has something spooky to offer for every member of the family.

Haunted Decatur Ghost Tour

haunted-decatur-at-troy_a_taylor

A haunted stop on the tour. Scared yet? Photo courtesy of @Troy_A_Taylor

Decatur, Illinois is known to be one of America’s most haunted towns and Troy Taylor’s Haunted Decatur is the best way to get the full frightening you seek. These tours are not just a collection of ghost stories, but a true history of how the city became so haunted, including local sites of unsolved murders, strange crimes, gambling parlors and vice districts. Whether you decide to take in a haunted tour by foot or bus, you’ll be sure to get a firsthand look at the city’s vast haunted history.

McPike Mansion Haunted Tours

mcpike-mansion-haunted-tours

Visitors take a tour of the famously haunted mansion.

The McPike Mansion in Alton hasn’t been occupied since the 1950’s and yet curious events continue to stir on the premises. Unexplained balls of light and shadows of those unseen have made their way into many a photographer’s photos, making it a popular destination for paranormal enthusiasts from around the world. Tours run weekend evenings throughout the month of October, where you can explore the mansion and its grounds for the chance to experience a moment with the spirit of Henry Guest McPike and his family for yourself.

Torment at Twelve Hundred

torment-at-twelve-hundred-orion

Relax, they’re just actors. We think…

The Torment at Twelve Hundred team takes their work of scaring the pants off you very seriously, which is probably why they were named one of the top 10 haunts in Illinois by USA Today. Each year, Torment presents a new chapter in its ongoing twisted horror story, sending you on a walking path through dark winding tunnels, outdoor wooded trails, highly detailed mills, hospitals and more.  Located 14 miles southeast of the Quad Cities, tours run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night through Halloween, for those who dare to attend.

Horror Film Series at the Egyptian Theatre

country-corner-at-susurrafonseca

Country Corner warns visitors. Photo courtesy of @susurrafonseca

Country Corner invites one and all to join them for nighttime fun filled with a flashlight maze, zombie paintball and bonfires with dates throughout October. The flashlight maze makes for great “no scare fun” for younger Halloween fans or those who want to get festive without the fear of darkness.

Below are even more eerie events to check out this season:

For more information about where to get scared silly this Halloween season, visit the Illinois Trail of Terror site, here.

-Illinois Office of Tourism