There’s no better place to learn about the nation’s 16th President than Illinois, the Land of Lincoln! There are many ‘Honest Abe’ stories to be uncovered along the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail that runs through the 42-county area of Central Illinois designated by Congress as The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. Lincoln spent almost 30 years of his life in Central Illinois and through a series of more than 200 sites and wayside exhibits in more than 50 communities, visitors will find the stories of Lincoln’s life and times in Illinois.
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 taste of how they can travel Illinois to go “Looking for Lincoln,” starting with a three-day trip through Bloomington and Springfield:
Day 1 – Bloomington
Start your day at the magnificent David Davis Mansion, once owned by Lincoln confidante and close friend, Judge David Davis. Tour this stately 19th century mansion and its beautiful grounds to get a glimpse of artifacts and technologies from the 1800s and to learn more about the social and political life Lincoln knew.
Next, stop at the McLean County Historical Museum, located inside a beautiful old courthouse on the town square. Here you will find many stories of the rich history of McLean County, including the many stories of the local residents who were Lincoln’s contemporaries as he rose from prairie lawyer to the man who would be president. Don’t miss the Visitor Center on the first floor where you’ll find more information on the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, as well as the Illinois Route 66 National Scenic Byway.
Time to hit the road for a short trip south to Lincoln, Illinois; the only city named for Abraham Lincoln while he was still living. Here you will discover a remarkable collection of Lincoln-related artifacts and documents at the Lincoln Heritage Museum, on the campus of Lincoln College. Treasures include rare artifacts from the Lincoln’s home, including dishware, books and mourning clothing that belonged to Mary Todd Lincoln. The museum also has an original correspondence from President Lincoln and information on every member of his cabinet as well as Civil War military leaders.
For a look into the life of Lincoln the lawyer, visit the Postville Courthouse State Historic Site. Step back in time as you imagine yourself arguing a point of law in this rugged, brown-frame building – a replica of the building that served as the seat for Logan County government from 1840-48. Visitors will see exhibits that tell the story of the 8th Judicial Circuit, where Lincoln honed his skills as a successful prairie lawyer.
A visit to Mt. Pulaski Courthouse State Historic Site will take you to one of only two remaining 8th Judicial Circuit Courthouses standing on their original site. A frequent stop along the circuit traveled by Lincoln, the courthouse is restored, furnished and interpreted as a 1850s courthouse to give visitors a feel for how Lincoln truly knew it.
As you head toward Springfield, in the heart of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, consider a stop at the Palms Grill Café in Atlanta. Not only is this an iconic stop along Illinois Route 66, but visitors will also find a great Lincoln exhibit upstairs that tells the story of Lincoln’s influence on this charming community.
Journey on until you arrive in Illinois’ capital city of Springfield. This is the city Lincoln and his family called home for more than 25 years and is the final resting place for Lincoln, Mary and three of their children. Check into your hotel and enjoy a relaxing dinner at any one of the 200 restaurants in the historic downtown area.
Day 2 – Springfield
A perfect first stop on your Lincoln journey in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. From the humble beginnings of a young pioneer to the halls of the White House, the story of Lincoln’s life is captured through original artifacts, special effects theaters with high action and ghostly images, and so much more. After exploring all the museum has to offer, step outside to 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, visitors step into the daily life of the Lincoln family as you enter the only home the Lincolns 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.
After your visit, choose from a variety of downtown restaurants offering everything from a quick soup and sandwich to a full midday meal. A walk through the historic streets will also take you to a number of unique boutique stores, antique shops and galleries.
In the center of downtown, you’ll find the Old State Capitol State Historic Site. Here, you can stand in the very spot where Lincoln made his famous “House Divided” speech, as well as where he argued cases before the Illinois Supreme Court and spent countless hours discussing the issues of the day with his colleagues. It was also at this site that Lincoln served as an Illinois state legislator and was laid in state before his burial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Close to downtown is the Edwards Place Historic Home, the 1850s home of Lincoln’s friends, the Edwards Family. Within the home you can find the famous “Lincoln courting couch,” on which Lincoln and Mary had many conversations while courting, and where a number of their wedding guests sat as they watched the future President and First Lady exchange their vows.
For a step forward in time, be sure to check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House. Originally planned as a remodel project of a Lincoln-era Victorian mansion, this home is one of the finest Wright-designed homes anywhere in the United States. While Wright grudgingly preserved one room of the original Victorian home, the house is known as one of the most complete examples of Wright’s prairie-style design and includes virtually all of the original furniture, light fixtures and stained glass.
Day 3 – Springfield to Bloomington
As you head back toward Bloomington, on the edge of Springfield, visit Oak Ridge Cemetery, home to the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site. Visitors feel the majesty as you gaze upon the stunning granite monument where Lincoln, his wife and three of their four children are laid to rest. Surpassed only by Arlington National Cemetery, Oak Ridge is the second most visited cemetery in the United States.
A short trip off the main highway along the shores of the Sangamon River is New Salem State Historic Site. Explore the reconstructed pioneer village where Lincoln lived and worked as a young man. Immerse yourself in the daily lives of the villagers as living history interpreters bring the stories of Lincoln the store clerk, postmaster and citizen soldier to life. Beautiful in any season, New Salem will take you back to the days of Illinois’ earliest pioneers. A quick drive north will take you to Petersburg, the quaint small town where ancestors of many of the original New Salem families still make their home today. It’s worth a stop to visit the delightful shops, restaurants and Victorian-era homes.
Along the way back to Bloomington, consider making a quick stop in Athens at the Long Nine Museum, or pick up delicious homemade Maple syrup or Maple candy at the famous Funks Grove Maple Sirup, located just off Illinois Route 66, to complete your journey.
– Illinois Office of Tourism