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A beautiful little slice of Illinois

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 10/17/2013, 1:59 p.m.
We began the first part of this adventure to explore the “Land of Lincoln” in Decatur, Ill., located along Highway ...
Props go out to the Local Cheese & Beer Tasting Plate at Big Grove Tavern.

We began the first part of this adventure to explore the “Land of Lincoln” in Decatur, Ill., located along Highway 72 in the central part of the state, approximately 46 miles from Bloomington to the north and 39 miles from Springfield to the west. Our next stop is just 50 miles to the east to visit Champaign.

Champaign County actually encompasses both the city of Champaign and its adjacent neighbor Urbana, which most people refer to by both names—Champaign-Urbana. With a population of just over 203,000 people, the county is a beautiful little slice of Illinois and the proud home of the University of Illinois (located in Urbana).

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Among the focuses at the Museum of the Grand Prairie is the area’s early African-American history.

The university is a great place to start our exploration of the area, and of Abraham Lincoln, as it is here that you will find the Lincoln Hall, where legend has it that if a student rubs the nose of the bust of our 16th president on the way to an exam, good favor will fall upon the test results!

The university is also home to some of the area’s most impressive cultural entities, including the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony that features a wide array of music, dance, opera and theater performances, as well as the Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion. Recognized as the second largest fine arts museum in the state, the museum’s collection of Asian, African, European and American art number more than 10,000 pieces, while 6,000 years of world culture is the focus of the comprehensive fine art collection in the pavilion.

The Spurlock Museum here is also a big draw for its close to 45,000 artifacts, designed to share and celebrate our shared humanity “by collecting, preserving, documenting, exhibiting and studying objects of cultural heritage.”

The life and times of Lincoln are well represented in Urbana. One of the most famous statues of him in the country, named “Lincoln the Lawyer” by Lorado Taft, is located in the city’s Carle Park, where it has stood since the early 1920s. At the Champaign County Courthouse, you will find a 1850s courtroom and exhibits close to where Lincoln began his legal career. And if you’d prefer to walk in the same steps that our president once strode, there’s the “In Lincoln’s Shadow Pastcast Tour,” on-demand, self-guided, downloadable, audio and video walking tours where visitors can “see images and hear sounds from the past on the actual spot where history was made.”

A little bit of bubbly indeed

Sure, this is a play on words of the name “Champaign,” but I think it’s an accurate description of the sparkling, youthful yet sophisticated energy that palpably influences not only the ambience, but the arts and culture scene here as well.

Downtown Champaign is a very welcoming, eclectic area chock full of art galleries, expressive outdoor works of art, unique boutique shops, specialty stores, restaurants, bars and the like. And because the downtown area is only a few square blocks, it’s easy to get around on foot.