Bloomington, about 65 miles north of Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, was the location for some of Lincoln's confrontations with his political arch-rival Stephen Douglas.
Start your day at the magnificent David Davis Mansion, once owned by Lincoln confidante and close friend, Judge David Davis. This stately 19th-century mansion, and its beautiful grounds, will give you a glimpse of the social and political life Lincoln knew. History credits the influence and support of Judge Davis as an important factor on Lincoln’s success in becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency.
Next stop will be the McLean County Historical Museum – inside a beautiful old courthouse on the town square. Here you’ll find the many stories of the people and the landscapes of McLean County through the years, including many of the local residents who were Lincoln’s contemporaries as he rose from prairie lawyer to the man who would be president. (Don’t miss the first floor Visitor Center – with more on the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, as well as the Illinois Route 66 National Scenic Byway.)
Scattered around the square, you’ll find lovely shops and great locally owned restaurants for enjoying a great lunch – as well as a variety of Lincoln wayside exhibits.
Time to hit the road for short trip south to Lincoln, Illinois. You’ll discover a remarkable collection of Lincoln-related artifacts and documents at the Lincoln Heritage Museum, on the campus of Lincoln College. Treasures include china, books and mourning clothing that belonged to Mary Lincoln, as well as original correspondence from President Lincoln, as well as every member of his cabinet and Civil War military leaders.
For a look into the life of Lincoln the lawyer, visit the Postville Courthouse State Historic Site. Step back in time as you imagine yourself arguing a point of law in this rugged, brown frame building – a replica of the building that served as the Logan County government from 1840-48. You’ll find exhibits that tell the story of the 8th Judicial Circuit – where Lincoln honed his skills as a successful prairie lawyer.
A visit to Mt. Pulaski will take you to one of only two remaining 8th Judicial circuit Courthouses standing on their original site at the Mt. Pulaski Courthouse State Historic Site. A frequent stop along the circuit traveled by Lincoln, the courthouse is restored, furnished and interpreted as a 1850s courthouse.
As you head toward Springfield, in the heart of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, consider a stop at the Palms Grille in Atlanta, IL – an iconic, nationally known stop on US Route 66 – for a piece of award-winning pie. (There’s a great Lincoln exhibit upstairs that tells the story of Lincoln’s influence on this charming community.)
You’ll arrive in Illinois’ capital city, Springfield – the place Lincoln and his family called home for over 25 years and is the final resting place for Lincoln, Mary and three of their children. Check into your hotel and enjoy a relaxing dinner at any one of over 200 restaurants. In the historic downtown, you’ll find a variety charming places to dine. But, wherever you stay in the city, you’ll find a wide selection of dining options close by.
A perfect first stop in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. From the humble beginnings of a young pioneer to the halls of the White House, the story of Lincoln’s life is captured through original artifacts, special effects theaters with high action and ghostly images, and so much more. Then, step outside where you can look for Lincoln in the many authentic historic sites and stories told throughout the city.
Just a short walk from the Museum, is the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Here you’ll step into the daily life of the Lincoln family as you enter the only home the Lincoln’s ever owned. A stroll through the lovely historic neighborhood surrounding the home will give you a rare glimpse of Mr. Lincoln as a husband, a father, a neighbor and a friend.
Afterward, choose from a variety of downtown restaurants offering everything from a quick soup & sandwich to a full midday meal. A walk through the historic streets will also take you to a number of unique, boutique shops, antiques shops, and galleries.
In the center of downtown, you’ll find the Old State Capitol State Historic Site. Here, you can stand in the very rooms where Lincoln made his famous “House Divided” speech, argued cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, and spent countless hours discussing the issues of the day with his colleagues Here he served as an Illinois legislator, and it was here where his lay in state before his burial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Close to downtown, you’ll find the Edwards Place – the 1850s home of Lincoln’s friends, the Edwards Family. The famous “Lincoln courting couch” from the home of Mary Lincoln’s sister, Elizabeth, sits in one of the parlors in this beautifully restored home.
Tip: For a step forward in time, be sure to check out the Dana-Thomas House – located in historic downtown. The Dana-Thomas House, originally planned as a remodel project of a Lincoln-era Victorian mansion, is today one of the finest Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes anywhere in the U.S. While Wright grudgingly preserved one room of the original Victorian home, the house is known as one of the most complete examples of Wright’s prairie-style design and includes virtually all of the original furniture, light fixtures and stained glass.
You’re in for a delightful evening at any one of the lovely restaurants located in the historic district – many of featuring unique menus built around locally sourced foods.
As you head back toward Bloomington, on the edge of the city, you’ll visit Oak Ridge Cemetery and the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site. You’ll feel the majesty as you gaze upon the stunning granite monument where Lincoln, his wife and three of their four children were laid to rest. Surpassed only by Arlington National Cemetery, Oak Ridge is the second most visited cemetery in the U.S.
A short trip off the main highway along the shores of the Sangamon River, is New Salem State Historic Site. Here you’ll explore the reconstructed pioneer village where Lincoln lived and worked as a young man. You’ll immerse yourself in the daily lives of the villagers, as living history interpreters bring the stories of Lincoln the store clerk, postmaster, and citizen soldier to life. Beautiful in any season, New Salem will take you back to the days of Illinois’ earliest pioneers. A quick drive north will take you to Petersburg, the quaint small town where ancestors of many of the original New Salem families still make their home today. It’s worth a stop of the delightful shops, restaurants and Victorian-era homes.
Along the way back to Bloomington, you might want to make a quick stop in Athens at the Long Nine Museum, or pick up some delicious homemade Maple syrup or Maple candy at the famous Funk’s Grove – located just off of Illinois Route 66. Along the way – if you loved the pie at Palm’s Grille in Atlanta – plan another stop for pie & coffee on the final leg of your trip.
For more on the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, visit Looking for Lincoln.
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