Category Archives: Illinois History

Home / Illinois History
64 Posts
craig-hensel-blog-post-feature-image

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

feature-image

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

Route 66 feature image

This is a big year for Route 66, and people around the world are celebrating the historic highway’s 90th anniversary. First designated as a road in 1926, Route 66 – often referred to as The Mother Road of America – is known for its nostalgia, charm and classic American appeal. While driving the route in Illinois, plan to see kitschy murals and monuments, quaint and historic towns, and people who can tell you all there is to know about Route 66.

Route 66 is a global attraction, and to celebrate this historic year, the Illinois Office of Tourism is spreading our love for the Mother Road with events in Germany, the UK and right here in the states.

London, England

To kick off this year’s 90th anniversary celebration, Illinois brought a taste of the Mother Road to London with a street party and pop-up mural. Well-known street artist Will Vibes created a 52-foot mural depicting iconic attractions along Route 66, which starts in Chicago.

The mural was accompanied by a pop-up party in Central London and included a food truck with Chicago-style hotdogs, a blues band and a classic car.

Ofterdingen, Germany

A bit further away in Germany, Route 66 fanfare was in full effect at the first ever Route 66 Festival in Ofterdingen, just outside Stuttgart. Enthusiasts of the Mother Road from all over the globe came to the festival to share their excitement and celebrate this year’s anniversary. Festival goers even got to experience the Illinois stretch of the road through an interactive photo booth with fun props and by speaking with tourism experts about Route 66 in Illinois.

Chicago, Illinois

And right here in the U.S., Bow Truss Coffee Roasters recently opened a new shop right at the start of Route 66 in downtown Chicago! A pop-up party brought the Illinois Route 66 experience to Chicagoans. Here, they sampled the new Bow Truss Route 66 Blend, interacted with authentic memorabilia from the Berwyn Route 66 Museum and watched a live mural depicting classic Route 66 stops in Illinois – like the Gemini Giant and Cozy Dog Drive In – come to life before their eyes.

The event featured a 1944 red Ford Coupe, pictured here, and authentic memorabilia from the Berwyn Route 66 Museum. Visitors could even enter to win an official Route 66 road sign.

There are even more celebrations in the works as we move closer to the Mother Road’s official anniversary date this November, like these upcoming events in Illinois:

Stay tuned to Enjoy Illinois’ social channels for updates so you can join in on the fun! And if you’re looking to start planning your Route 66 trip, be sure to visit EnjoyIllinois.com for inspiration.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Feature Image

Route 66. It’s a road so mythical, you may wonder if it still exists. And yet, cutting through Illinois is a 300-mile stretch of Route 66 that even today captures the imaginations of travelers from around the world. The kitsch, the nostalgia, the people – it’s got all the makings of a road trip that’s just as much about the journey as the destination. The journey down the Mother Road is sure to be one that won’t disappoint.

Summer is the perfect time to pack your bags, roll down the windows and cruise along the legendary road. Below are the must-visit spots along Illinois Route 66 to get your summer road trip plans started.

First up, stop in to Lou Mitchell’s diner in Chicago to fuel up for the journey ahead. This classic American diner has been around for nearly 100 years, serving all the classics, plus freshly baked donut holes when you walk in the door.

Route 66 is known for its assortment of roadside attractions, and Illinois is home to plenty of them. Make sure to snap an Insta-worthy photo at the Gemini Giant statue in Wilmington. And while you’re there, head ten minutes down the road to the Polk-a-Dot Drive In for a burger, fries and chocolate shake.

Gemini Giant

The Gemini Giant in Wilmington

About 1.5 hours into the trip, you’ll come to a quaint town called Pontiac, one of the most famous Route 66 towns along the way. The nostalgia and charm of Route 66 is what this town is known for. Here you’ll find the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum, a tour of hand painted murals around the town, and even the Pontiac-Oakland Auto Museum. This entire museum is dedicated to the Pontiac car.

“The Pontiac Museum has been a wonderful addition to the attractions found here in Pontiac. It’s the second most popular attraction and is slowly gaining on the Illinois Route 66 Museum,” said Ellie Alexander, director of Pontiac tourism. “Having the Pontiac-Oakland Museum here has led to dozens of car clubs coming to town, some of them multiple times.”

As you continue your journey, you’ll come to an even smaller town – Atlanta. This little town packs a big punch in Route 66 history. Make sure to grab a bite, or at least a slice of pie and coffee, at The Palms Grill Café. Head across the street and snap a selfie with the Paul Bunyon Hotdog statue, another Muffler man.

Paul Bunyon Hot Dog

The Paul Bunyon Hotdog Statue in Atlanta, next to The Palms Grill Café

Keep driving and you’ll come to Springfield, known as the home Abraham Lincoln. But did you know Springfield is also home to the Cozy Dog Drive In? This classic Route 66 diner is the originator of the corn dog, or “Cozy Dog.” Stop by for a true Route 66 experience. And just outside Springfield is a stretch of the original hand-laid brick road.

Doc’s Soda Fountain in Girard was originally a pharmacy built in the 1880’s, and the soda fountain was added to the business in the 1950’s. Stop in for an old-fashioned treat or ice-cream.

Doc's Soda Fountain

Doc’s Soda Fountain and drug store museum

The Ariston Café in Litchfield is one of the oldest along Route 66 and placed on National Registry of Historic Places. Stop in for a bite to eat and then head across the street to the Route 66 Welcome Center to see memorabilia and history from the Mother Road.

Ariston Cafe

The Ariston Café in Litchfield, across the street from the Route 66 Welcome Center

To end your Route 66 journey through Illinois, get a final photo at the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville.

Whether you follow our guide or choose your own adventure, a trip down Route 66 is one that you will be looking back on with a smile for years to come.

– Illinois Office of Tourism

 

Illinois Presidents Feature Image

Illinois has a history as rich as its food – and if you don’t believe us, just take a trip to Springfield and grab a horseshoe sandwich! Illinois is home to some of the United States’ most famous presidents, and history buffs can find information about these American leaders in all corners of the state.

But, if quirky facts are more your style, take a look below at a few little known details about these great American leaders.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, 1861-1865

Likely the mostly widely recognized Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln is more than just a former president: he is a state icon. But, Honest Abe is not just known for his policy. With his large frame and long limbs, the tallest president of the U.S. is also enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. According to history.com, Lincoln has an impressive track record of only being defeated once in nearly 300 matches.

Learn more about Lincoln at one of these exciting Springfield attractions:

MiniAbe Big Ten

Mini Abe knows he’s number one!

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, 1869-1877

Think you know what to call the 18th Commander in Chief of the United States? Guess again. Due to a mistake by a benefactor on his application for West Point, Ulysses S. Grant is widely known under the wrong name. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, the “S” in this president’s name actually stands for nothing.

Take a walk through Galena and get a glimpse at a day in the life of this American leader:

Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, 1981-1989

Ronald Reagan has left a lasting impression in American history books and on the silver screen, but among former peers and colleagues, President Reagan is known for his sweet tooth. This former Commander in Chief began eating jelly beans to help him quit smoking during his run for Governor of California. This continued into his presidency, and a crystal jar of jelly beans was always available during his Cabinet meetings.

Get off the beaten path and take a look at Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon.

Ronald Reagan boyhood home

Stop by to learn more about Reagan’s transition from this white house to one in Washington, D.C. and everything in between.

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States, 2008-2016

Too much of a good thing can sometimes be just that: way too much. Our nation’s current president reportedly worked for Baskin Robbins during his youth, and it’s left quite the impression. He now jokes that he still can’t eat ice cream to this day after spending one too many summers scooping ice cream in Honolulu.

Be sure to stop by the Obama Family Home in Hyde Park on your next trip to Chicago to learn more about the life of President Obama, and stay tuned for the Obama Presidential Library coming to Chicago!

For more trip ideas, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism