In the very beginning of our summer road trip to explore the “Land of Lincoln,” we embarked upon Highway 72 in Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, traveled west approximately 50 miles to Decatur, then another 39 miles into Springfield. To say that our 16th president had an immense impact on every asset of the landscape here would clearly be an understatement, as perhaps it is here, more than anywhere else, where Lincoln’s life and legacy are still alive and well.
Where history truly comes alive
Situated only 100 miles from St. Louis and 200 miles from both Chicago and Indianapolis, Springfield—the state capital of Illinois—possesses a population of just over 118,000 people. Yet within such a relatively “small town,” there is a wealth to explore, ranging from history to government, festivals, shopping, dining, recreational opportunities, attractions and a great deal more.
Springfield is also the home of an influential part of US Route 66, moving travelers through hometown neighborhoods and past famous Route 66 landmarks.
There is so much to see and do here that it’s hard to decide what to include and what to leave out, particularly if you’re only here for a few days or week. Yet in the two and a half days I spent here, I was fortunate to enjoy a nice smattering of “a little bit of everything,” which gave me a great overview of all that Springfield and the area has to offer, as well as leaving me with a desire to come back and take in even more.
My sojourn started at the Inn at 835, one of several bed-and-breakfast options in town. The Inn is very popular with not only couples away on a romantic weekend, but also leisure and business travelers, as it offers a nice mix of historic Classical Revival-style with a few modern touches.
The Inn’s beginnings are very interesting, in that it was founded in 1909 by a turn-of-the-century local businesswoman, and still remains today as one of Springfield’s landmarks in more ways than one—structures.
Other accommodations in town include the State House Inn, Northfield Inn Suites & Conference Center, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Branson House Bed and Breakfast, Flagg Farmstead Bed & Breakfast, Best Western Clearlake Plaza, Pasfield House Inn and the Route 66 Hotel and Conference Center, just to name a few.
Walk ’til you drop
One of the great things about Springfield is that many of the city’s major attractions are within a short walk, making it easy to explore in great detail in a short period of time. From the Inn it was just a few blocks walk along Second Street to the city’s visual focal point, the Illinois State Capitol and the Capitol Complex Visitors Center. The latter, located across the street from the Capitol, is a great introduction to the complex entities, which include the state office buildings, library, archives and museum.
The Capitol itself is actually the new state capitol first utilized in 1877 in order to accommodate the immense growth experienced within the state. The architecture here is absolutely stunning and the intricate details in every aspect are incredible, particularly given the technology and machinery available at that time in history.
Out front, you’ll find several sculptures of influential Illinois personalities plus an impressive, towering, bronze sculpture of Lincoln himself at the foot of the regal steps leading into this impressive structure. Additionally, carved on the granite slab behind him is the “Farewell Address” he gave to the city in 1861 before he left after being elected president of the United States.
Be sure to also pay homage outside at the southeast corner of the Capitol at two impressive memorials—the Illinois Police Officers Memorial and the Illinois Firefighter Memorial—both in honor of the men and women who lost their lives in the line of their respective duties.
Only four blocks away iss the Old State Capitol, located on a foot traffic-only plaza with the Korean War National Museum and Lincoln Herndon Law Office. The Old State Capitol is a beautiful historic structure where Lincoln served as an Illinois legislator and delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. It is also where his body lay in state after his assassination.
Inside, visitors can explore a wide array of interesting permanent and temporary exhibits situated in the former legislative chambers and office spaces. Just ascending the Grand Staircase alone makes it worth the visit.
The Korean War National Museum’s mission is to “Educate, Honor, Preserve and Celebrate the ‘Forgotten War,’” by sharing the artifacts, memorabilia and intricate stories of the over 1 million Koreans and 33,686 Americans whose lives were sacrificed during this momentous conflict.
At the Lincoln Herndon Law Office, a docent-led tour takes visitors through this 1840s Greek Revival-style brick building, where Lincoln and his law partner practiced from about 1843 to about 1852. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this three-story brick building encompasses offices, an audiovisual theater, exhibit gallery, old post office and federal court bench.
Just a stone’s throw away is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, a several-square-block, cobblestoned, foot traffic-only area that includes the Visitor Center, Lincoln Home and a handful of other residences situated in this historic Lincoln-era neighborhood, where visitors are free to wander inside to view the various exhibits, each pertaining to distinctive aspects of not only Lincoln’s life, but the life and times of the people who lived and worked here at that time. Some of the structures have placards outside where you can dial to listen to designated sections of the cellphone audio tour
I highly recommend embarking upon a tour of the Lincoln Home first, because prior to (and outside, weather permitting), a Park Ranger leads a five-minute orientation that provides a great overview of all that you can see and learn while here.
For more about Lincoln, there is the “Looking for Lincoln Story Trail,” featuring 215 exhibits in 52 communities throughout Illinois, each offering a unique insight about Lincoln and the people, stories and events surrounding his life and political career.
The downtown Springfield area is home to over 40 of these outdoor interpretive exhibits, all designed to “capture a moment in time for Lincoln and how he was affected by the people, places and events he encountered in his hometown.”
More to come!
We have barely scratched the surface of all that Springfield has to offer. Next time around, we will delve into the centerpiece of the city here, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, and explore the many Afrocentric aspects that helped foster this burgeoning, important American city from its early beginnings and still continue to do so even today.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.
- Capitol Complex Visitors Center: 217-524-6620
- Illinois State Capitol: 217-782-2099, www.ilstatehouse.com
- Inn at 835: 217-523-4466, www.innat835.com
- Korean War National Museum: 888-419-5053, www.kwnm.org/
- Lincoln Herndon Law Office: 217-785-7289, www.illinoishistory.gov/hs/lincoln_herndon.htm
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site: 217-492-4241, www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm
- Looking for Lincoln Story Trail: 217-782-6817, www.LookingForLincoln.com
- Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau: 800-545-3700, http://visit-springfieldillinois.com