Illinois’ capital city is much more than a city centered on politics and government.
With stunning architecture, fascinating history, cultural sites, museum exhibits and eateries of all kinds, Springfield makes for a perfect destination for a weekend getaway (or a long holiday weekend) for the family. Many attractions are free, making it an economical trip, as well.
With its most famous former resident being our country’s beloved 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, there are several sites that touch upon his influence or focus on it completely.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library contains more than 40,000 square feet of Lincoln related exhibits, galleries and theaters covering the life of Lincoln and the struggles the country faced during his presidency. Follow his life from his humble beginnings in a replica log cabin to details of his career and campaign to a glimpse into life in the White House with a partial reproduction of the facade. There are many interactive exhibits that will draw in the younger guests.
Visit the Lincoln Depot, a restored 1852 train station where Lincoln gave one of his most memorable speeches before departing for Washington, D.C. When he departed to his new residence in the White House, he left behind a modest home that was the only one he ever owned and where he resided for 17 years. The one-and-a-half story cottage had several additions constructed during that time. It was in that house that three of their children were born, a funeral was held for one of their sons and where Lincoln was asked to accept the nomination for president. The home is open for free, public guided tours year-round.
Springfield was for several years Lincoln’s home and it is also his final resting place. Oak Ridge Cemetery remains the second most visited cemetery in the country (following Arlington National Cemetery). A towering memorial tomb with a granite interior holds the bodies of Lincoln, his wife and three of their four sons with miniatures of statues of the president that have been erected around the country. A bronze bust in front of the tomb is worn from the many hands that rub the nose for good luck.
Among the other sites with links to Lincoln is Edwards Place, a restored 1858 mansion that is the oldest house on its original foundation in Springfield. Linked through in-laws to Lincoln, the Edwards home was a social hub in Springfield’s early days. It contains some original furnishings and the “courting couch,” which Abraham and Mary Todd sat on together as they got to know one another. The home is open for guided tours and hosts special events.
The Old State Capitol served as the center of Illinois government from 1839 until 1876 and is the site where Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech. He spent a good deal of time there studying and working during his career as a lawyer. Guided tours are available or you may explore the building on your own.
Once you see the Old State Capitol, you’ll want to see the contrast between it and today’s ornate Renaissance Revival/Second Empire-style structure containing a beautiful 405-foot dome that has served as the Illinois State Capitol since 1877. Visitors also have an opportunity to witness the Legislature in session from balcony seating. Memorials also stand on the building’s grounds dedicated to Illinois’ police officers and firefighters.
The Illinois State Museum is a place you’ll want to include on your itinerary as it is a great blend of exhibits for all interests and ages, including child-focused areas, geology, environmental evolution, history and art on three levels.
Among the other attractions with strong kid appeal are the Henson Robinson Zoo and Knight’s Action Park, which includes an outdoor drive-in theater, the Air Combat Museum and Adams Wildlife Sanctuary.
Springfield is a city with exquisite examples of many different styles of architecture with perhaps the most unique being the Dana-Thomas House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his early Prairie-style. Built as a redesign of the original home on the property for Susan Lawrence Dana, the 1902-04 renovations contain modern and ahead-of-the-time features that were meant to incorporate the outdoors and nature within the walls of the stately home.
The house is now a historic site managed by the Illinois Preservation Agency and contains more than 100 original pieces designed by Wright from light fixtures to seating to decorative glass. Guests will be wowed by this one-of-a-kind home and can see all of the living areas on a guided tour.
If you want to do more than just visit a historic mansion, you can make reservations to stay in the 1896 Pasfield House Inn Bed and Breakfast, located within walking distance of the State Capitol. The Classic Revival mansion was built on a 40-acre parcel of land acquired by George Pasfield Sr. in 1831. The home was built as a wedding gift for Pasfield’s grandson and has been lovingly restored by Tony Leone, who received the Springfield Historic Preservationist of the Year recognition for his efforts.
When it comes to dining, there’s a little bit of everything — nostalgic, farm-to-fork, fine dining and more.
The first thing you need to know is that when you visit Springfield, you have to have a “Horsehoe.” The regional specialty is an open-face sandwich of Texas toast, meat, French fries and a creamy cheese sauce. It is served at many places around Springfield and some places add their own twist. Some notable spots to enjoy a shoe (or the slightly smaller “pony” shoe for smaller appetites) are D’Arcy’s Pint, Dublin Pub and Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery. You can also get one at Maid-Rite, a 1924 diner on the National Register of Historic Places that features the nation’s first drive-thru window and is knows for loose-meat sandwiches. They also have a loose-meat horseshoe on the menu.
Charlie Parker’s is another spot with a nostalgic feel that offers horseshoes and much more in a WWII-era quonset hut. They serve up an award-winning breakfast shoe that beat out over 130 competitors around the country in Thomas’ English Muffin’s Hometown Breakfast Battle. They also serve up a 16-inch pancake that is made with 24-ounces of batter and served on a pizza pan.
Cozy Dog Drive-In, established in 1949, sits on the original Route 66 and is known for introducing the corn dog (aka cozy dog) to the Midwest. It’s a common stop for classic car owners who still like to travel the historic route through Illinois or all the way to the West Coast.
If you are looking for something more formal, Nick & Nino’s Penthouse Steakhouse at the top of the Wyndham City Centre is the place to be for the finest in cuisine and the best view of city. From the 30th floor, you have stunning views and the highest quality selections of steak and seafood with an impressive wine list.
For a trendy, sleek setting with creative, seasonal farm-to-fork fare, pay a visit to American Harvest. Everything is made in house and locally sourced. Make the most of your visit with the five-course chef’s tasting.
For more information on the Springfield area, go to visitspringfieldillinois.com.