If you love Lincoln, you’re in luck. The only home he ever owned is in Springfield, the state capitol. Abraham Lincoln practiced law here from 1843 to about 1852, and he is buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Many of the Lincoln sites are within walking distance of each other. If you’d like to do a walking tour, visit the Springfield Visitor’s Bureau (109 N. 7th St., 800/545-7300, 8:30am-5pm Mon.-Fri., free) to pick up a brochure and maps.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (212 N. 6th St., 217/557-4588, 9am-5pm daily, last admission 4pm, $15) is one of the most popular presidential libraries. It’s a 200,000-square-foot complex with 40,000 square feet of galleries, theater presentations, historical artifacts, and interactive exhibits.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site (426 S. 7th St., 217/492-4241, 8:30am-5pm daily, free) is the two-story Greek Revival home that Lincoln lived in from 1844 to 1861. Built in 1839, the property has been restored to look as it did when Lincoln lived here, and several pieces of furniture on display are originals. Summer is the busy season, so it’s best to arrive as early as possible.
Lincoln’s Tomb State Historic Site
Lincoln’s final resting place is north of downtown at the Oak Ridge Cemetery (1500 Monument Ave., 217/782-2717, 9am-5pm daily Apr.-Aug., 9am-4:30pm Wed. Sept.-Mar.), the second-most popular cemetery in America after Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC. After Lincoln was assassinated, his body was interred here in 1874. His three youngest sons and Mrs. Lincoln are also buried here. The granite tomb sits on a rectangular base located on a 12.5-acre plot in a semicircular entranceway with a 117-foot tall obelisk. A bronze reproduction of Lincoln’s head sits on a pedestal at the entrance.
Old State Capitol
The Old State Capitol (1 Old State Capitol Plaza, 217/785-9363, 9am-5pm Wed.-Sat., free) is where Lincoln’s body lay in state after his assassination in 1865. It is also where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. In the speech Lincoln said he believed “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” The speech was a major turning point in Lincoln’s career and inspired senatorial debates regarding the moral issue of slavery, whether slavery should be legal in the North, and if slaves are human beings.
Also at the Old State Capitol, a kiosk in the plaza marks the departure point for the Donner Party’s ill-fated trip in April 1846. Look for the kiosk just south of the building between 5th and 6th Streets. Nine covered wagons and 87 emigrants set out on a 2,500-mile journey to California that was supposed to take four months. After trying to take a shortcut, an early snowfall trapped them in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They ran out of food, and almost half the party died, mostly of starvation, and some resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.
1908 Race Riot Walking Tour
Two blocks east of the state capitol marks a dark chapter in Springfield’s history. In 1908, Springfield had a population of 47,000 people; approximately 5.5 percent were black, the highest percentage of black residents of any city of comparable size in Illinois. A limited job market heightened racial tensions as industry owners used black laborers as strikebreakers during labor strikes. Two black men were accused of rape and assault, which triggered a white lynch mob of about 150 people. The mob lynched black citizens and looted and destroyed black-owned businesses and homes. It was a shocking embarrassment that this could happen in Lincoln’s hometown. It took about 5,000 national guardsmen to end the two-day riot. The event made national news and led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The 1908 Race Riot Walking Tour is a self-guided eight-marker tour that leads from the county jail where the mob formed to key sites where the riot ensued. The tour begins at the corner of 7th and Jefferson Streets, but your first stop should be the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (109 N. 7th St., 800/545-7300, 8:30am-5pm Mon.-Fri., free) to pick up brochures and maps. There are also other historical walking tours at the visitors center.
There is some great architecture in Springfield, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House (301 E. Lawrence Ave., 217/782-6776, 9am-4pm Thurs.-Sun., suggested donation $10). Take a one-hour tour to explore one of the best examples of Wright’s famed Prairie architecture. The Dana-Thomas House was built in 1902; the home is 12,000-square feet with 35 rooms, 100 pieces of furniture, 250 art-glass windows, 3 main levels, and 16 varying levels.
About four blocks west of the Dana-Thomas House is a John Kearney sculpture (425 S. College St.) of a white-tailed deer made from chrome car bumpers. Look for it in front of the Capitol Complex Visitors Center.
Cozy Dog Drive In
The Cozy Dog Drive In (2935 S. 6th St., 217/525-1922, 8am-8pm daily, $5-10) lies south of Springfield, after Route 66 merges with 6th Street. Ed and Virginia Waldmire (parents of Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire) opened the Cozy Dog in 1949. It’s still run by the Waldmire family and the place is packed with souvenirs, Route 66 memorabilia, and throngs of travelers eating cornbread-coated wieners on a stick. The drive in is located on a busy highway, but you can’t miss it. Just keep an eye out for a huge yellow sign with two giant red hotdogs in a sweet, warm embrace.
Route 66 Twin Drive-In
For a fun night out retro-style, check out the Route 66 Twin Drive-In (1700 Recreation Dr., 217/698-0066, movies start at dusk Apr.-Oct., $8), a restored drive-in that screens double features.
The horseshoe sandwich has been Springfield’s signature dish since 1928. It’s a platter-size open-faced sandwich with two thick slices of bread, meat, a pile of french fries, and a thick Welsh rarebit cheese sauce smothering the entire plate. In the original sandwich, the ham was made into the shape of a horseshoe, and the potato wedges on top resembled nails. In the 1970s, the horseshoe became the preferred workday lunch meal for laborers. Hamburger and processed yellow cheese sauce were substituted for the ham and the Welsh rarebit. It was the perfect meal for laborers because it was so much food, they didn’t even need to eat dinner after working all day.
Today restaurants like Maldaner’s Restaurant (222 S. 6th St., 217/522-4313) offer smaller “pony shoes,” which is a better idea for your waistline.
Back on 66
As you head south out of Springfield, 6th Street turns into I-55 south, and you’ll cross Lake Springfield, an artificial lake that formed 1931-1935. When the water level is low, sometimes the submerged 1926 Route 66 alignment can be seen.
From Springfield to the Illinois-Missouri state line, you have two Route 66 alignments to choose from. The 1926 alignment follows historic Route 4, which predates Route 66 and goes through Chatham, Auburn, Carlinville, Thayer, and Girard. Route 4 has many twists and turns through farmland and old country towns. Since Route 66 only followed this route for four years, there are not many surviving businesses. I recommend the post-1930 Route 66, which parallels I-55 and travels through the towns of Litchfield and Mount Olive.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Route 66 Road Trip.