Capitalize on this getaway
Stay in state and visit Springfield's sites
By Jonie Larson
It’s summertime. While it’s customary for families to take advantage of the warmer months to get away for a week or two, many people are feeling the crunch of smaller personal budgets. Because of that, vacations to U.S. and worldwide hot spots may not be in the cards this year. But why forego the pleasure of a getaway when you have a state capital city packed with sites for the most discerning and for those who just want to have fun. There are museums, historical homes, Route 66 stops, some of the best car shows, the capitol building itself, all kinds of musical entertainment and an outdoor fun park for the kids. And of course the Abraham Lincoln sites, alone, can keep you busy for a full day or more.
Springfield is centrally located, just four hours from the farthest destinations in the state. It has modest to higher-end hotels, numerous RV parks and wonderful bed and breakfasts. Getting away for relaxation doesn’t require leaving the state. Make lifetime memories this summer in your state capital.
OLD STATE CAPITOL
1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield
The fifth capitol of the state of Illinois still stands. Located downtown, the Greek Revival-styled building stands as a monument of its time. Constructed in 1837, it was in use when Abraham Lincoln argued cases before the Supreme Court and where he delivered his “House Divided” Speech. It more recently served as the backdrop for current President Barack Obama to announce his candidacy. Sangamon County used the old capitol building until 1961 when it was restored to serve as a landmark. The old state capitol is available for visiting and tours. Donations are accepted.
Call: 217-789-2360 to book group reservations for more than 15.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tues. – Sat.
2nd and Capitol, Springfield
The Illinois Capitol being used today is the tallest non-skyscraper capitol in the U.S. It has stood in Springfield since March of 1869. It is the sixth capitol to serve the state since 1818. Built in French Renaissance architectural style, it is domed in zinc.
Open to the public Monday through Friday. Security requires that visitors walk through a metal detector. Only the first floor of the capitol is open on Saturdays and Sundays.
DANA THOMAS HOUSE
301 E. Lawrence Ave., Springfield
Named after two of its owners, the Dana Thomas house is best known, not for those who lived there, although affluent. Instead, it is the architect who built it that keeps a steady stream
of visitors gracing its doorway year after year.
The home is one of the masterpieces of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The 12,600 square-foot home with its 35 rooms, was built by Wright between 1902 and 1904. The house has been restored to look as it might have looked at the time it was constructed and contains more than 100 pieces of original Wright furniture.
Site Superintendent Chet Rhodes says 30,000 visitors took the tour last year, despite the fact the previous governor had cut funding, closing it until April 23 of 2009.
While funding at many state historic sites has been reduced, art and other connoisseurs gave generously to the facility. More than $100,000 was donated last year.
The home is open for tours every week throughout the year and hosts several events, the most popular around the Christmas season. The home is decorated with many luminaria with plans for this season already under way. Rhodes says this year those planning the holiday event intend to have the home’s five fireplaces roaring with Christmas crackle.
Open for tours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wed. – Sun. each week.
VACHEL LINDSAY HOME
603 S. 5th St., Springfield
It’s a home steeped in history – one that predates the Lincolns and moves into the 1900s as the home of a famous poet. The Vachel Lindsey Home, a two-story structure in Springfield is a must on a trip to Springfield.
The two-story house, built in the 1840s was owned early on by Clark Smith, who was married to Mary Todd Lincoln’s younger sister Ann. He resided there from 1855 until 1865, and it was there the Lincoln’s partied on the night before Abraham left for the White House.
But the home is best known for the family that would reside there beginning in 1878. Dr. Vachel Thomas Lindsay, father of later-known famous poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay bought the house that year as a private family residence.
The son was a poet, writer and artist who became known as one of the Three Prairie Poets – the others being Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters, who was originally from Petersburg. A small home there has also been maintained through volunteer help.
Jennie Battles, on-site administrator for the Vachel Lindsay historical home, says Lindsay the poet enjoyed what was comparable to a “rock star phenomenon.” She said he performed in every state in the union and even during the depression, people would pay $5 a ticket to see him.
The Vachel Lindsay Home, located just south of the Illinois Executive Mansion, is open to the public and is furnished with 95 percent of the family’s original furnishings.
Open: Year-round, Tues. – Sat. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
KNIGHT’S ACTION PARK
1700 Knight’s Recreation Dr., Springfield
Do the kids need a place to unwind after seeing all those museums and historical wonders? A trip to Springfield wouldn’t be complete without an adventure at Knight’s Action Park, where there’s family fun for everyone.
Located on the south side of Springfield, Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Water Adventure is packed with activities. The family business opened in 1930 and moved to its present location in 1976. It added water park features in 1980 continually enhancing those. In
2002, the original drive-in theater was reopened showing family-friendly movies.
The complex, which gets an estimated 325,000 visitors each year, primarily in summer, hosts regular guests, corporate functions and visitors.
This year marks the grand opening of The Bermuda Triangle, a 53-foot tower with three slides. It will open on May 22.
General manager, Doug Knight, said the dry attractions are opening now and the drive-in will be opening for the season on April 2.
Everything from putting and miniature golf to batting cages and go-karts are part of the fun.
Hours vary per activity.
HENSON ROBINSON ZOO
1100 East Lake Drive, Springfield
A warm sunny afternoon is the perfect time to take in the quaint Henson Robinson Zoo, located just off the lake since its opening in 1970. It is home to more than 300 animals. Depending on the season, a guest may see from 60 to 80 animals as they wind around across its bridges and walkways, taking in the serenity the animals experience daily. The types of animals are too numerous to mention, but children and adults can appreciate everything from the tree-swinging monkeys to the laxidasical swim-by of the swans or wandering peacocks. Admission prices vary. Call for more information.
Hours March – October: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Mon. – Fri. ; 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sat. and Sun.
Hours Nov. – Feb. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
SHEA’S GAS STATION MUSEUM
2075 Peoria Road, Springfield
This private collection of gas station and Route 66 memorabilia has brought in visitors from 75 different countries says owner Bill Shea. The porcelain-panel
station is flanked by gas pumps of yesteryear, and contains collections dating back 50 years or better. Shea says he bought some and traded for some and “just keeps collecting.” The station is tucked away in Springfield. Follow maps to the address listed above.
Hours : Tues. – Fri. 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.;
Sat. until noon.
KOREAN WAR NATIONAL MUSEUM
Dennis Healy Freedom Center,
9 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield
Located on the plaza, just across from the Old State Capitol building, is the year-old temporary location for the Korean War National Museum, called the Denis J. Healy Freedom Center. Connor Homann, Operations Manager, says the site houses memorabilia from the war era including field equipment, uniforms, medical equipment and more. Fundraising efforts are under way to build an elaborate museum in Springfield in coming years. Group tours can be arranged for the Freedom Center by calling in advance. Donations of $3
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tues. – Sat.
(May be extended during tourist season.)
ELIJAH ILES HOUSE
628 South 7th Street, Springfield
Built around 1837, the Elijah Iles House is believed to be Springfield’s oldest house. Some believe this Greek Revival-style home evidence may have been designed by the same architect who designed the Old State Capitol. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
Tours Wed. and Sat. 12 – 4 p.m. from April through mid-December, or by appointment.
GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC MEMORIAL MUSEUM
629 South 7th Street, Springfield
If Civil War memorabilia gets you attention, then you’ll want to make a stop at the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum, located in its current facility since 1963. Those at the museum say there are literally thousands of artifacts from the Civil War, which have come from all over the country. They still receive donations, often from finds in the attics of relatives. Estimated visitors are 10 to 100 a day. Donations are accepted.
Hours: Tues. - Sat, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; closed January and February.
ILLINOIS STATE MUSEUM
502 Spring St., Springfield
If you’re into knowing about the natural history of Illinois, the Illinois State Museum is a must see for you, says Katherine Wooldridge, director’s assistant of the facility. It’s a family friendly environment with lots of things for little ones to engage in. And this summer, a world-class blacksmith, Brent Kingston, will have his sculptures on display in the gallery.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.,
Mon. – Sat.; noon – 5 p.m. Sun.
Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
ILLINOIS STATE FAIR
801 Sangamon Avenue
The Illinois State Fair was introduced in 1853 to the residents of Illinois. The Fair promoted not only improved methods of agriculture and raising livestock, but also displays of improvement for labor, industry, education, arts, and sciences.
For 158 years, the Illinois State Fair has continued the tradition with quality family entertainment at affordable prices: carnival rides, great food, auto sports, entertainment and more. Admission to the fair is only $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 5 – 12.
Dates: Aug. 13-22
Getting to the fair: The fairgrounds is located 2 miles from Interstate I-55’s Sangamon Ave. exit
(exit 100 B). For more information: www.illinoisstatefair.info.
All things Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum,
212 North 6th St., Springfield
Call: 1-800-610-2094 or 217-782-5764.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily;
closed New Year’s Day, ThanksgivingDay, Christmas Day.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site,
426 South 7th St., Springfield
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily except
Jan.1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25.
Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery,
1441 Monument Ave, Springfield
Open: May-Labor Day in September,
Mon. – Sun. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Post Labor Day in September-November,
Tues. – Sat 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
December-February, Tues. –
Sat. 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
March-April, Tues. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site,
15588 History Lane, Petersburg
Hours of operation: Vary by month, call ahead.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, call 217-785-7289.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. May to Labor Day,
Mon. – Sun.; post Labor Day to April,
Tues. – Sat.
If for no other reason, Springfield is the place to go to see some of the most spectacular sites related to Abraham Lincoln, his early days as a young man, his law days and those during his short reign as the country’s 16th president.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum , a 100,000 square-foot facility, opened in 2005. Coupled with the library across the street that houses the world’s largest collection of Lincoln-related materials and the Illinois State Historical Library, the total complex is 200,000 square feet – the largest presidential museum complex in the country.
The museum is a host of wonders that take visitors on a journey through Lincoln’s life. Using advanced technologies normally reserved for theme parks, yet maintaining rigorous standards of scholarship, the museum presents a fully immersive theatrical experience.
Among the highlights are two presentations that inform and entertain. Union Theater features the 17-minute “Lincoln’s Eyes,” a multi-screen, multi-media surround experience introducing the Lincoln as seen through the eyes of supporters and detractors. A second presentation, “Ghosts of the Library,” is an SBC Holavision® Theater show which mixes live acting and special effects to highlight the facility’s collection.
A new temporary exhibit about harness racing featuring original lithographs and historical artifacts opens at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library at noon on Kentucky Derby Day, May 1, 2010. The centerpiece of “The Story of Harness Racing by Currier & Ives” will be 35, framed original, pristine condition Currier & Ives lithographs depicting equestrian scenes from the 1800s. These color illustrations will be complemented by original artifacts from the Presidential Library’s collections. The exhibit may be viewed weekdays free of charge through Aug. 31, 2010.
Been to the museum? Well, how about Lincoln and Mary’s restored home in a Springfield neighborhood, where you will get you a guided tour – all for a donation. Pick up a free ticket at the Park’s Visitor Center. Or tour the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices on the corner of 6th & Adams Streets.
Need a little quiet time to take it all in? Head out to Lincoln’s Tomb where a rich story awaits. Did you know the body of the late president had to be protected from thieves? Were you aware that Lincoln’s body was moved 11 times before it came to rest?
No doubt, you may need a break at this point, maybe even a night’s rest. But whenever you are so inclined, you won’t want to miss New Salem, just 20 miles Northwest of Springfield. It is here that Lincoln spent some of his early adult years, landing there on a flatboat and holding several jobs in the village. The cabins are still standing. Take it in with other tourists or come to visit when there’s an event at the New Salem site.