Taking in Springfield, Illinois: From Honest Abe to corn dogs

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Statues depicting the Lincoln Family on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on Sept. 4, 2015. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — One could be forgiven for thinking Abraham Lincoln is responsible for anything and everything that ever happened here.

After all, a stroll through this charming capital city certainly gives that impression. There is no denying Lincoln is everywhere, from museums to statues to historical markers, and all related sites are worthy of exploration.

“He’s an icon. We know what his uniform looks like. He’s got the stovepipe hat, he’s dressed all in black,” Sam Wheeler, Illinois state historian and historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, said in 2015. “And, everybody thinks they know something about Lincoln.”

It perhaps goes without saying that Springfield is a city steeped in history. Here are a few tips for enjoying the city and all it has to offer.

The 800-pound gorilla in the city

Abraham Lincoln Statue
A statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site in Springfield, Ill., as seen on Sept. 3, 2015. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

There is no one place that must serve as the starting point for retracing Lincoln’s footsteps in the city. For example, there is the former Great Western Railroad train depot where on the morning of Feb. 11, 1861, the soon-to-be 16th president began his journey to Washington D.C. The city is also home to the only house Lincoln owned.

But, if a visitor has only time for one Lincoln attraction, it is without a doubt the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Seat of state government

The Old State Capitol State Historic Site, in Springfield, Ill., as seen on Sept. 3, 2015. The building is the fifth capitol building built for the state of Illinois. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

Springfield has served as the seat of Illinois government since 1840 after the state moved the capital from Vandalia (thanks to a group of lawmakers that included Lincoln). While the political climate of Illinois is intriguing, to say the least, a visitor has the luxury of avoiding the political fray.

The Old State Capitol, the fifth such building in Illinois, served as the state house until 1876. The building was actually taken apart between 1966 and 1969 and rebuilt to resemble its 1860 appearance. Coin collectors might also recognize the building from the flip side of the 2009 “Illinois Penny.”

A Lincoln-less moment

Illinois State Museum
A view inside the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Ill., on Sept. 3, 2015. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

It might be hard to believe, but there are attractions not solely dedicated to the 16th president. The Illinois State Museum is one such example.

The museum, which nearly closed for a spell in 2015 and did in 2016 due to budget cuts, is perhaps the quintessential school fieldtrip museum. In addition to the standard exhibits, the museum displays the skeleton of a massive mastodon and the incredible Morton D. Barker Paperweight Collection of more than 250 paperweights.

The Mother Road

Cozy Dog Drive In
A view of the Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield, Ill., on Sept. 4, 2015. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

This Middle America city lies between St. Louis and Chicago. As such, that means it is located along the famed Route 66, home of both kicks and corn dogs. That’s where the Cozy Dog Drive In comes into play.

The restaurant, which traces its origin to 1946, is today half-restaurant, half-homage to Route 66 and an absolute must-visit destination on any foray to Springfield.

Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 85 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.

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