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Springfield/Lincoln country, Illinois

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Lincolns bought their home and an empty lot for $1,500 (1844) and remodeled or enlarged the house six times.
  • Detective Allan Pinkerton thwarted the first plot to kill Lincoln, before the first inauguration in 1861.
  • Lincoln did not grow a beard until he was elected president in 1860.
  • Lincoln used the inside of his stovepipe hat to store papers.
  • Lincoln patented a device to buoy vessels over shoals (1849), making him the only president to hold a patent.

Tapping into an enduring legacy

Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield for 24 years before going to Washington as president. However, he and his parents had lived in other Illinois towns, and, from 1839 until the presidential election, he rode the state’s Eighth Judicial Circuit providing legal services. He traveled the state for the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, too.

As a result, the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area encompasses 42 counties, a broad swath of central Illinois. The congressionally designated heritage zone is managed locally. Six of its larger communities are deemed gateway cities, suitable entry points for those pursuing a Lincoln-themed trip.

In this group, Springfield is first among equals because of Lincoln’s extended residency. But Springfield is also the state capital where he served in the General Assembly.

Many attractions date to Lincoln’s time, but the best starting point is at the newest site, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, inaugurated in 2005. The facility uses interactive displays and multimedia programs, special effects and live actors, scavenger hunts and walking tours — all to tell the story of Lincoln and his legacy. Further, the museum displays a reproduction of the White House as it looked in 1861.

From here, a Springfield visitor’s choices include the Lincoln home, Old State Capital, Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, Lincoln Depot (Lincoln left from here for Washington), the family’s church and family burial site. Also, the nearby reconstructed New Salem, where Lincoln lived as a young adult, and an ambitious roster of reenactment activities.

The other five gateway cities are:

  • Alton, site of the seventh and last Lincoln-Douglas debate and a Confederate POW prison. Alton resident, Sen. Lyman Trumbull, wrote the 13th Amendment, ending slavery.
  • Bloomington, which hosts the annual Lincoln’s Festival. The David Davis Mansion here belonged to Lincoln’s campaign manager, whom the president appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Charleston, a debate site and home to the Lincoln Log Cabin, where Lincoln’s parents lived.
  • Danville, the last place where Lincoln spoke to Illinoisans as he rode to Washington in 1861.
  • Quincy, site of the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate. Local abolitionist Dr. Richard Eells was caught sheltering runaways; resulting litigation went to the Supreme Court.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Some foods require courage. In Springfield, try the open-face horseshoe sandwich (lots of meat, cheese and French fries). Next up: the hotdog on a stick where it was invented at the Cozy Dog drive-in diner (1946) and a Maid-Rite sandwich at the country’s oldest drive-through eatery (1924).
  • Try the waterskiing or the wakeboarding on Lake Springfield.
  • Design an itinerary within the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area focused on a theme of interest, such as courthouses where he worked — there are several originals, reconstructions or replacement courthouses now housing museums.
  • In Springfield, jog or cycle in Lincoln Park, or in Washington Park.
  • In early summer, challenge yourself in the Railsplitter Triathlon at New Salem. For one segment, participants run right down the main street of Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site. For shorter distances, choose the Stovepipe Sprint Triathlon.
  • Feast your eyes on hundreds of vehicles lining Springfield’s streets in autumn at the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival. Also, drive some part of the Illinois section of Route 66, now a National Scenic Byway. On its Chicago-St. Louis segment, it runs through Springfield.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Stroll the historic area around the Lincoln family home in Springfield. Do the same thing with a guide, but at night listening to ghost stories.
  • Rent a kayak for a quiet paddle on the waters of Lake Springfield. Or, take in the scenery on horseback, riding trails aside Springfield’s Sangamon River.
  • Attend one of the themed special events at the Edwards Place Historic Home, property of the Springfield Art Association. Recent examples include sessions devoted to the parlor culture of Lincoln’s time and music typical of the Lincoln era.
  • Schedule time at one of the historic area’s Lincoln festivals, such as those in Bloomington or Quincy. Besides, Quincy has the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Interpretive Center.
  • Participate in a pruning or planting party at the Danenberger Family Vineyards at New Berlin. Or, come to the winery for a scheduled wine tasting or olive oil tasting or a food event. Or, play bocce on site, have a picnic.
  • Several towns, such as Alton and Quincy, have Lincoln trails whereas Springfield has enough sites for a variety of self-designed sightseeing paths. Choose one.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Get engrossed by the content at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. One segment treats the 1860 presidential election as a current event, with TV news coverage and campaign commercials.
  • Take the kids to Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic at the presidential museum. They can try on period clothes and play games that the Lincoln children played.
  • Drop in on Throwback Thursdays. These are free living history events staged on summer Thursdays at Springfield’s Old State Capitol. Summer also sees drop-by events at the Lincoln Tomb that may involve reenactors interpreting the past.
  • Attend the Lincoln Days Civil War Reenactment on the shores of Lake Pittsfield in June. Watch battle scenes, but also see period baseball, encampments, even teatime and a fashion show. Attend a 19th century church service.
  • Enjoy the concerts that are central to the International Carillon Festival, held in late spring in Springfield.
  • Go where Lincoln lived. National Park rangers conduct free tours of Lincoln’s Springfield home. Also, make your way to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg; it is a reconstruction of the village where Lincoln lived as a young man.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Illinois Office of Tourism at