Gas prices are through the roof, and you're not inclined to zip across the country to take in the sights. Luckily, there are plenty of unique places to visit within an hour's drive of the capital city.
You can motor north to Atlanta to view the revamped "Tall Paul" statue that used to grace a Route 66 icon in Cicero. Fifty miles south, in Mount Olive, visit the grave of Mother Jones, the "miner's angel." (Be sure to leave some coins for the "angel" for good luck.) Head east to Charleston to see the world's largest Lincoln statue. Go west to Jacksonville to see "Big Eli," the first portable Ferris Wheel.
For those who are into learning about central Illinois' rich history, the region abounds with quirky and wonderful museums, all less than an hour's drive away. Here's a sampling:
Abraham Lincoln's Long Nine Museum
Traveling from New Salem to Springfield, Abraham Lincoln often stopped at Col. Matthew Rogers' general store and post office. Here Lincoln and eight other Illinois lawmakers celebrated the move of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield. Because the nine legislators averaged over six feet in height, the group became known as the Long Nine. The building where they met and where Lincoln once visited with Col. Rogers is now known as the Long Nine Museum. It features an audio diorama that describes the history of the group. In the basement of the building is the fireplace that originally sat in Rogers' home.
The Long Nine Museum is located at 200 S. Main St. in Athens, just seven miles east of the New Salem Historic Site; 217-636-8755 or www.a-lincoln-long-nine.com. Open 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., June 1-Sept. 1, or by appointment. Donations accepted.
Built in the late 1850s, the Anderson Mansion now serves as the home of the Macoupin County Historical Society. On its three floors the home offers miniature displays depicting life in mid-America during the 1800s, military memorabilia, medical practices of the time, and details on Macoupin County history. On the grounds are a blacksmith shop, an old schoolhouse, and a country store.
The Anderson Mansion is located at 920 W. Breckenridge St. in Carlinville; 217-854-2850 or 217-854-8916. Open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed. Also open during the Christmas season, Memorial Day weekend during the Spring (Strawberry) Festival, and the Fall Festival (third weekend in September). Tours available by appointment. Donations accepted for tours.
B-R-S Baseball Museum
Three Hall of Fame baseball players are featured at the B-R-S Baseball Museum. The "B" is James Leroy "Sunny" Bottomley of Oglesby. Bottomley played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Browns. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974, as a first baseman he drove in 100-plus runs in six years and led the National League twice. The "R" is Charles Herbert Ruffing of Granville. Ruffing -- who played for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox -- was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. As a child, "Red" Ruffing lost four toes in a mining accident, but he became a star pitcher with 273 career victories. The "S" is Raymond William Schalk of Harvel. Schalk played for the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants. A catcher, he stole 30 bases in 1916 and 24 in 1914. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
The B-R-S Museum is located at 121 W. State St. in Nokomis. Open 9-11 a.m. Mon.-Fri. and by appointment.
C.H. Moore Homestead
C.H. Moore was a friend and legal colleague of Abraham Lincoln's. Originally built in the 1850s, the house was purchased and renamed the Homestead by Moore in 1880. Here Moore shared his extensive collection of more than 7,000 volumes with friends and family. Unique round bookcases are still in place in the library. In the dining room is a parquet floor consisting of five different woods, surrounded by a brocade border. The basement houses the Kent Museum, which includes a chronicle of the early history of DeWitt County, World War I weapons, Indian artifacts, historical pictures and clothing, and local artifacts. Behind the house are large farm buildings that shelter antique farm equipment and an operational blacksmith shop.
The Moore Homestead is located at 219 East Woodlawn St. in Clinton; 217-935-6066 or www.chmoorehomestead.org. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and 1-5 p.m. Sun. (April-December). Admission is $2.
Homestead Prairie Farm
Listed on the National Historic Register since 1996, this site originated as a one-room log home built in 1850. Joseph Trobaugh, a farmer and sawmill operator, bought the property from the original builder, whose identity is now unknown. Trobaugh and his wife, Elizabeth, added to the home. Civil War veteran Emanuel Good and his family were the next to live there. The home -- surrounded by gardens featuring herbs and heirloom-variety roses and vegetables -- is filled with items reflecting rural life on the prairie during the years right before the Civil War. Part of the Macon County Conservation District, the Homestead Prairie Farm offers public programs on the first and third Sundays of each month, June through October.
The Homestead Prairie Farm is located at Rock Springs Center, 3939 Nearing Lane in Decatur; 217-423-7708. Open 1-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (June-October) or by appointment. Tours are free.
J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum
Built in 1903, the state's only wooden grain elevator operated until 1976. It was purchased by the city of Atlanta in 1988 and restored in 1993. A museum inside the elevator demonstrates the unique systems used to empty horse-drawn wagons and later unload grain trucks. The museum also includes a brick engine house and a wooden scale house/office.
The J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum is located at 301 Southwest Second St. in Atlanta; 217-648-2056 or 217-648-5077. Open 1-3 p.m. Sun. (June-August) or by appointment. Donations are accepted.
Southwestern Farm and Home Museum
Retired farmer John Stampe built a living memorial to farmers. Inside his museum are items that teach visitors about farming in the past, as well as insight into rural life. Antiques on display include a grinding stone, reaper, wagon, horse drill, bobsled, and household items. Although Stampe is gone, niece Carol Barnett and her husband, Wayne Barnett, aided by other volunteers, continue to operate the museum and a nearby one-room schoolhouse.
The Southwestern Farm museum is located at Shipman Community Park, Route 16 in Shipman; 618-836-5840 or 618-836-5924. Open 1-4 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Group tours by appointment.