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Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 12:10 am

For President’s Day, visit Lincoln and Washington

A bust of President Ronald Reagan sits on the campus of Eureka College, his alma mater. The central Illinois college also has a free museum with many displays related to the 40th U.S. president.
Photos by Brent Bohlen

 

Illinois claims four U.S. presidents so President’s Day should put us in the mood to commemorate. We can head a bit north and take in Lincoln and Washington, two central Illinois cities boasting the names of the most famous chief executives.

History buffs will find lots of links to Lincoln in that city, but shoppers might prefer Washington’s charming square full of antiques, gift shops and sweet treats. Throw in a stop at the Ronald Reagan Museum at nearby Eureka College, and you can shout success in celebrating the holiday.


Lincoln

Ann Moseley and Eileen Mullins have different reasons for urging a visit to Lincoln, but both offer unique experiences.

As director of the Lincoln Heritage Museum, Moseley talks up the museum’s more than 50,000 items related to Lincoln and Logan County and its interactive audio-video walk through the 16th president’s life. A Lincoln College alum left his Lincoln memorabilia to the school, which opened a small museum in 1942.

In 2014 the museum moved into new quarters, drawing 5,000 visitors a year, according to Moseley. Among the first-floor displays are a table, books and chairs linked to Lincoln, including a small rocker with son Tad’s carvings.

Plaques dedicated to presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln can be found in the center of downtown Washington, one of two towns named for the most famous chief executives.
Upstairs, visitors start their journey at Ford’s Theater, witnessing Lincoln’s assassination from back-row seats. As doors automatically open to rooms, the computer-driven tour reveals each stage of his life. Most rooms have several items to touch while narrators tell Lincoln’s story.

On Feb. 12 the museum will open a new exhibit called “Let Us Do Our Duty” and kick off its annual speaker series related to the 2018 election. “Every year we do a special exhibit and emphasis centering on one of Lincoln’s character traits,” Moseley said. “The 2017 theme was courage, and 2018 will focus on being a good citizen. Lincoln helped his neighbors.”

Other Lincoln-related sites nearby include the Railsplitter Covered Wagon, touted as the world’s largest covered wagon; the Postville Courthouse, a state historic site reproduction of a Lincoln-era building; and a small watermelon statue next to the train depot, marking the site where Lincoln christened the town with the fruit’s juice.

You will find more pleasing beverages at the Sir Renna Tea shop, just off the square in Lincoln. Mullins had always wanted to open a bubble tea shop and searched for a spot between her children in Chicago and St. Louis. A realtor found the former J.C. Penney’s store with a tin ceiling in Lincoln, and she was sold.

“I had never even heard of Lincoln, but the townspeople are really supportive,” Mullins said. In addition to bubble tea with its tapioca-type chewables, she offers all kinds of hot tea, sandwiches and snacks. Several start-up companies display such wares as soap, candles, jewelry and pottery in her shop.


Washington

Originally named Holland’s Grove for founder William Holland Sr., the city got its permanent name in 1837. A plaque honoring George Washington sits in the city center, but you won’t find much else relevant to him.

You can discover, however, plenty to buy in the quaint shops surrounding the center. A quilt store, several antique shops and plenty of gift offerings grace the streets. At Step Back in Time at 116 N. Main, for example, you can meander through three floors of antiques for sale by more than 40 dealers.

Those with a sweet tooth will find lots to fill it. The counter at Holland’s Mercantile displays almost any kind of small candies imaginable, from saltwater taffy to chocolate truffles. The store also has an extensive array of children’s toys and connects to a gift shop with rustic goods.

Eileen Mullins serves hot and cold teas, snacks, sandwiches and artisan goods at her Sir Renna Tea shop, just off the square in Lincoln. Mullins’ specialty is bubble tea with tapioca-type chewables in sweet mixtures.

Next door at Holland’s Carmelcorn, indulge in a myriad of popcorn and ice cream flavors in a setting reminiscent of an old-time store. Across the street, wander into LeBakery on the Square and wander out with bags of cookies, breads and some of the best scones around.

For something more substantial, head to the Denhart Baking Company and Restaurant on the first floor of an old bank, serving breakfast and lunch. Upstairs is the Cornerstone Inn bed and breakfast with seven modern rooms.

A devastating tornado hit Washington in 2013, but you won’t see much evidence of the damage today. The city has rebuilt several parks, which provide nice places to walk off all those goodies.


Eureka

Another place to take a stroll is Eureka College, 11 miles northeast of Washington. The college lists itself as the smallest to yield a U.S. president and pays tribute to Ronald Reagan, a 1932 graduate, with a free museum.

Exhibits include Reagan’s diploma, cowboy boots, Golden Globe award, essays, letters and presidential documents. Reagan donated most of the objects during his long association with the college.

The museum is open most every day during the school year but closed on Sundays and holidays in the summer. On a nearby hill sits a section of the Berlin Wall and a bust of Reagan.

For more information, visit www.destinationlogancountyil.com, https://museum.lincolncollege.edu, www.ci.washington.il.us/topic/index.php?=22 and www.eureka.edu.

Mary Bohlen, a Springfield travel writer, is scouring the state for interesting places to visit during the Illinois bicentennial in 2018.

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