In December, Illinois culminated its bicentennial celebration, and what better way to partake in this event than to visit Springfield, Illinois, and the land of Lincoln. History abounds in Springfield.
Located in central Illinois, Springfield was first settled around the time Illinois achieved statehood in 1818. Originally called Calhoun, Springfield became the third state capital of Illinois in 1839 and remains so today. When Abraham Lincoln moved to Springfield to practice law and later became a politician, he put the city on the map.
Today Springfield has its own zeal and combines its historical beginnings with the new. You’ll find an eclectic array of bars and restaurants as well as modern skyscrapers along the horizon.
If you visit Springfield, you must spend time exploring some of the places that are marked with Lincoln’s legacy. Start with the National Lincoln Monument to get a sense of perspective. The monument—the resting place of Lincoln, his wife, and three of their sons—is reminiscent of the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia. In front of the memorial is a bronze head of Lincoln, and you will notice that the nose is very polished because visitors stop and rub the nose for good luck. Inside the memorial, you will find the bronze version and a prototype for the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. It is interesting to note that the dimensions of the sculpture are the same as the memorial but in inches rather than feet.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum feature interactive exhibits that take you from Lincoln’s young life through the time just before his presidency. A second exhibit showcases his time in the White House.
In addition to the Lincoln exhibits, a special presentation for the Bicentennial is called From Illinois to the White House: Lincoln, Grant, Reagan, Obama. These four presidents each had an affiliation with Illinois.
Lincoln’s Home National Historic Site is another must-see. As you stroll through the neighborhood, you get a sense of Lincoln’s life in Springfield before he became President. Touring the house, you may wonder how a man of his stature ambled through the low doorways. Imagine, also, that the home must have been an energetic environment with four boys and guests continually coming and going.
Visit Springfield—Other Attractions
Perched on a knoll, the new Springfield State Capitol sits higher than all other buildings. Built in 1864, the building and its artwork and décor are worth a visit, especially the beautiful stained glass dome.
As you stroll through Downtown Springfield’s Historic District, make sure to stop at the Old State Capitol. The statehouse was the site of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate and of Lincoln’s famed House Divided Speech. It is also the location where Barack Obama announced his bid for the presidency in 2007.
The Dana Thomas House is also a must-see because the home is one of the best preservations of a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Built-in 1902 for Susan Lawrence Dana, it was the first home the architect built that included electricity and indoor plumbing. The Prairie-designed home features the most extensive collection of Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass windows (over 400 pieces). Many of the details utilize a sumac and butterfly motif. In 1944, Charles Thomas of publishing fame purchased the house, and he and his family maintained it until 1981 when the State of Illinois purchased it. Photography isn’t allowed inside, so you will feel like wandering through the home several times to see all its intricacies, including such details as the butterfly light fixtures hanging in the dining room.
Finally, if you want to explore the Illinois wine scene, take the 25-minute drive to Dannenberger Family Vineyards. Susan Dannenberger makes a dynamite Cabernet Franc, and if you are visiting on the weekend, the winery will be hopping with live music.
To get the feel of Springfield’s downtown community, the centrally-located State House Inn offers a step into the recent past. Originally built in 1961 as the State House Inn, Clarion and Ascend Hotels once owned the property, and today it is part of the Red Collection. With its historic landmark designation, the hotel is a monument to mid-century modern design, and the extensive remodel sends one back to the 1950s.
The State House Inn features 125 rooms which includes 26 suites. There are two executive suites, the Abraham Lincoln and the Mary Todd. The rooms are simply decorated with a combination of modern and midcentury furnishings. My suite featured separate living and bedroom areas and included a microwave, refrigerator, and complimentary internet. The suite was retro yet comfortable.
For those traveling with dogs, the State House Inn is pet-friendly. I had a dog in tow, and there is ample green space around the hotel to walk your dog.
The hotel is within walking distance of the State Capitol and historic downtown area. Parking is easy.
For those who do not want to do dine in a restaurant or maybe want to picnic in the park, HyVee has an excellent selection of food to go. Find everything from antipasto to salads and soups to entrees. Think a larger and more gourmet version of Whole Foods Market.
Dinner took me to American Harvest in the suburbs of Springfield. Most of the patrons were locals or those working at the capital. The setting was very casual and easy going. Chef Jordan Coffey and his wife Aurora trained in Chicago. He started as a dishwasher at American Harvest’s sister restaurant, Augie Front Burner. The cuisine is farm-to-table, and the couple’s goal is to elevate the food scene in Springfield, which they do superbly. I enjoyed a scallop dish with brussel sprouts. The restaurant’s wine list was eclectic with a mix from around the world. I enjoyed a Susana Balbo Malbec with my meal.
History buffs will find Springfield a treasure trove of nostalgia starting back in the 1800s. From presidents to architectural masterpieces, there is something to be learned on a journey through this town.
Note: Common to the travel industry, this writer was hosted to accommodations and some attractions. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.