Presidential History & Illinois Heritage

Illinois History

The Land of Lincoln - home to presidents, historic trails and communities, history museums and picturesque canal towns.


Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area

Lincoln's Living Legacy

Lincoln comes to life in Illinois with hundreds of historic Lincoln sites throughout the state. See where this legendary president lived, worked and made history.

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The Land of Lincoln 

There’s a big reason Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln. With literally hundreds of Lincoln historic sites scattered across the state, Illinois has more Lincoln sites than anywhere in the country. Start your Lincoln experience in Springfield at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Vividly experience the terrible toll of slavery, witness the tragedy of the Civil War and feel the pressure and criticisms surrounding Lincoln’s presidency. Then explore the myriad of other Lincoln attractions in Springfield before a visit to Illinois State Museum, a collection devoted to Illinois' heritage and cultural and natural resources.

Old State Capitol Historic Site

Visit Honest Abe’s office, so to speak, at the Old State Capitol Building. This reconstruction of Illinois' fifth statehouse is the first to be located in Springfield. It’s here that Lincoln tried cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, served as a legislator and gave his famed House Divided speech in 1858. Step into some of the most significant and influential rooms in state and national history. Still used today for ceremonial functions, you’re free to experience history come alive seven days a week.

The Beginning of a Legacy

Northwest of Springfield in Petersburg lies historic New Salem, a meticulously reconstructed 1830s village where Lincoln lived as a young adult and began his political career. Everything from the period re-enactors to the blacksmith’s workshop gives visitors a glimpse into what life was really like for young Abe.

Chicago History Museum

Step into the Past

Explore the history, stories and people of Chicago.

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Millions of Historic Treasures

Start your journey by exploring an ever-changing lineup of fascinating exhibitions at Chicago History Museum. Then take a Chicago Neighborhood Tour from the Chicago Cultural Center. These tours celebrate the history and traditions of Chicago, and include highlights like the Obama family home in the historic Kenwood neighborhood.

Pullman National Monument

While you’re in Chicago, don’t miss a chance to visit the site of the famous 1894 Pullman strike. The Pullman National Monument was originally one of the first planned industrial communities in the United States, created by George Pullman to produce Pullman sleeping cars. Located in what’s now the Pullman community area of Chicago, the area includes the Pullman factory and the Hotel Florence. You’ll also find the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum and the Pullman Visitor Center. The area was named a National Monument in 2015, making it an official component of the National Park System.

Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Area

Visit Historic Canal Towns

Three local history museums only miles apart, and tons of small canal-town charm.

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The I & M Canal

The Illinois & Michigan (I & M) Canal connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi. When the I & M Canal was built, it linked New York to New Orleans, and established Chicago as a major hub of trade and commerce. The Canal is now a 100-mile-long national heritage corridor, where you can walk, cycle, fish, kayak, ride on a replica 1840 canal boat and discover the towns along the way. 

Joliet, Lockport & Lemont

Joliet, Lockport and Lemont offer a fascinating insight into the history of the canal, from Joliet’s industrial heritage to picturesque Lemont with its downtown boutiques. The three towns are within a few miles of each other, and all have local history museums. Explore their downtown areas on foot or walk a section of the canal trail. 

Small Towns of the I & M Canal

Small towns have popped up all along the famous I & M Canal with quaint shops and antique stores, historic homes and tons of charm. Home to some of the best state parks in Illinois, Ottawa and Utica offer amazing opportunities to explore the Canal from the great outdoors. Follow the trail all the way to Starved Rock State Park. For museums, check out nearby LaSalle for the LaSalle Canal Boat and the Lock 16 Visitors Center and Café. And of course, you can walk along the historic I & M Canal State Trail.

Lewis and Clark & The Cahokia Mounds

Major history in southern Illinois

Join famous explorers Lewis and Clark on their famous Expedition trail and visit the ancient city of Cahokia.

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Lewis and Clark National Trail

On May 14, 1804, the Expedition set out from Camp River Dubois on the east side of the Mississippi River near present-day city Hartford. It was the beginning of a historic Midwest to Pacific Ocean adventure. Today, you can visit the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site commemorating the camp where it all began. Located in Hartford, this site is known as National Trail Site #1. Some of the main attractions include a 14,000-square-ft. interpretive center and an outdoor replica of the Camp River Dubois structure. 

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Just south of Hartford, beneath the ground of Collinsville, lies the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is a 2,200-acre tract housing the remains of the pre-Columbian Native American city of Cahokia. As the largest prehistoric structure in the Americas north of Mexico, Cahokia Mounds is a National Historic Landmark and one of only 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.

Visit a Historic Community

A simpler way of life

The Amish way of life, the historic Mormon community of Nauvoo and the Janssonist community of Bishop Hill will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

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The Amish Communities of Arthur & Arcola

Arthur and Arcola are surrounded by Amish settlements established in the mid-1800s. Rural Amish communities embrace a low-tech way of life, farming with teams of horses, traditional crafts and selling their produce at country stores and roadside stands. Visit Amish farms and businesses, and share the road with horse-drawn buggies and carts as you drive through the area.

Historic Nauvoo

The community of historic Nauvoo has more than 30 historic sites dating from 1839-1846. Visit restored homes, shops and public buildings and enjoy interactive demonstrations of brick making, bread making, pottery and musical drama. Free to visit, Nauvoo is a family friendly attraction, with pioneer games, stories for kids and even a miniature log cabin. 

Bishop Hill

In 1846, a group of Swedish immigrants left their homes in search of religious freedom. Led by their charismatic spiritual leader, Erik Jansson, the Janssonists built their new utopia in what would later be known as Bishop Hill. Although the communal colony officially disbanded in 1861, many of the original structures remain, and dedicated residents keep the colony’s rich history alive with shops, dining destinations and local history museums. Bishop Hill is a National Landmark Village and is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. 

Ronald Reagan, Ulysses S. Grant, John Deere, Ernes

Celebrate great Americans

Discover the boyhood homes of President Reagan, John Deere, Ernest Hemingway and Carl Sandberg, and head to Galena for the home of President Grant and a historic downtown area.

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The Boyhood Homes of Two Great Americans

Visit the historic town of Dixon on the Rock River. Tour the restored home of the Reagan family from 1920-1923, which includes a Presidential Timeline exhibit and a biographical video. Dixon is on the Ronald Reagan Trail, a self-guided driving trail of 13 Illinois communities that celebrates the legacy of President Reagan. While you’re in Dixon, pay a visit to the John Deere Historic Site, with John Deere’s restored pioneer home and a working blacksmith shop. 

Where Great American Writers Are Born

If you’ve ever taken a high school English class, you’ve probably heard of Ernest Hemingway. Arguably the greatest American writer of the 20th century, Hemingway was born just west of Chicago in the charming village of Oak Park. Visit the gorgeous Victorian home where Hemingway spent the first six years of his life, including the second-floor bedroom where he was born on July 21, 1899.

Traveling southwest to Galesburg, you can visit another great American writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg. Sandburg was born, studied and published his first works of poetry in the central Illinois town of Galesburg. The Carl Sandburg State Historic Site features the small-frame “workingman’s cottage,” where Sandburg was born in 1878, as well as a quaint garden where the ashes of he and his wife lie beneath the large, granite “Remembrance Rock.”

Tour Galena with a Past President

In Galena visit the home of President Ulyssess S. Grant. This Italianate home with its original furnishings was presented to Grant in 1865 and has been open to the public since 1904. Then take a walking tour of the historic highlights of Galena Main Street, guided by an actor playing General Grant himself. 

The charming town of Galena has a wealth of other historic attractions, including the Old Stockade on Cobblestone Street, former fur trading post Dowling House and Old Market House with its President Grant exhibit.