It’s certainly understandable if the political climate in Illinois’ capitol city might be keeping your car from stopping in Springfield. The good news is – the politicians haven’t ruined everything just yet.
For travelers, it’s more than a worthwhile stop. In a single day, you can crave your appetite for history, architecture, and of course – Lincoln. An entire weekend, and you’ll have time to see all of it.
Having been to Springfield several times in the past, I’ll quickly recap the suggestions that I typically share with fellow travelers. However, I’ll also share with you two new experiences that I had recently that you’ll definitely want to add to your list.
Lincoln’s Home – It’s the only house he ever owned and you can go inside of it. As I mention in my book 100 Things To Do In America Before You Die, be sure to use the historic handrail inside of the house. The house is located in the middle of a neighborhood that’s maintained by the National Park Service. Unlike other historic homes – the NPS was smart enough to gobble up many of the other properties around the house to really give you an authentic experience. Free tours are offered year round, but can go quickly on a first come basis. So, make this your first morning stop.
Lincoln Museum – The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is full of great items, and history lessons relating to Honest Abe’s time in office, the Civil War, and his time in Illinois. Be sure to catch the films and have your photo taken with the Lincoln family outside the replica White House. There is an admission fee to enter the museum. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours if you want to see all of it.
Lincoln’s Final Resting Place – The 16th U.S. president is laid to rest at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. It’s a short drive from the museum or house. A ritual is rubbing the nose of the Lincoln statue that stands in front of the monument and burial site.
On a recent trip to Springfield, I visited the Illinois Governor’s mansion and toured the Dana Thomas House – a product of famed builder Frank Lloyd Wright. Both of these experiences far exceeded expectations!
The Governor’s residence is only a block or so from the state’s Capitol building. Until recently, the home was covered by trees and many people didn’t even know it was there. (I literally had a resident walk by as I was leaving and asked me what was in the building.) “Ah, man – that’s cool you go to go inside” he said. I responded with “So can you – just line up outside the gate at 1pm”. Of course, you really need to book your tour in advance with the Springfield CVB. There’s some more information on the official residence website.
The mansion was built in 1855, so you can only imagine how many VIP’s have walked the halls of this place.
Love him or hate him – the current Governor made a point to turn most of the mansion into more museum than living space, in an effort to welcome the general public. Millions in privately raised funds went to renovating the property, adding a museum component and restoring parts of the building. The guided tour is fantastic and the best part is the beautiful staircase that leads you to all of the top floors.
The other new experience was visiting the historic Dana Thomas House. I’d heard about the home but never took the time to actually visit. I don’t consider myself a huge fan of architectural history. Although, I must say, touring the home was so much fun and instead of 15 or 20 minutes – I wound up spending closer to two hours going through the rooms.
Be sure to keep your eye out for the most expensive lamp you’ll ever see and brush up on duckpin bowling to impress your tour guide!
Tours are offered during the week and free parking is available in a nearby lot behind the house.