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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 05:24 am

Take a ride

New tourist trolley connects Petersburg’s attractions

Untitled Document Adlai Stevenson, vice president under Grover Cleveland, once visited the Old Salem Chautauqua just south of Petersburg. So did populist lawyer William Jennings Bryan, African-American educator Booker T. Washington, and firebrand preacher Billy Sunday. The Petersburg-area Chautauqua, part of a national movement of educational assemblies that exposed participants to the great ideas of the time, existed from 1898 to 1942 and was one of the nation’s most popular. Although the Chautauqua is no longer there, the Petersburg area offers lots of interesting sights besides Lincoln’s New Salem State Historical Site. The historic Menard County Courthouse, open during regular business hours, contains historic artifacts. The Edgar Lee Masters boyhood home, open seasonally, contains some of the original furniture, but the primary emphasis is on Masters’ writing, including the well-known Spoon River Anthology and lesser-known works. The home hosts special events periodically. The Menard County Museum provides a rich history of surrounding communities. Petersburg’s newest attraction is the Stier Trolley Express, owned and operated by Petersburg native Mike Stier, who previously worked for several years on the riverboat Talisman, which used to navigate the Sangamon River near New Salem, and earlier still on a Mississippi River riverboat. He’s now transportation director for the Porta schools, in Petersburg. Right now the trolley leaves every hour on the hour from the visitor center at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site on weekends (starting at 10 a.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday), but starting in June it will run Tuesday-Sunday. Pulling out of New Salem, the trolley takes visitors off the main road and past Lake Petersburg and past Oakland Cemetery, where Ann Rutledge — Lincoln’s first sweetheart, according to legend — and Masters are buried. Stier points out Victorian homes built in the 1860s and 1870s. There is the home of Hobart Hamilton, who owned the first newspaper in Petersburg, and the home of Thompson Ware McNeely, who represented the 9th Congressional District from 1868 to 1870. The trolley moves past the mansion where the closing scenes of The Awakening Land were filmed. Much of the film, a mid-1970s miniseries that starred Hal Holbrook and Elizabeth Montgomery, was shot in New Salem. All of these homes are currently occupied, and several have been turned into bed & breakfasts. The trolley moves on past the Petersburg Presbyterian Church, which boasts a Tiffany window. Many of the older homes in the town contain glass that is stained, frosted, or leaded. Once the trolley reaches downtown Petersburg, visitors may get off and visit myriad gift shops, antique stores, and cozy restaurants, and the trolley will pick them up in another hour.

The Stier Trolley Express historical tours start from the New Salem Visitors Center at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site. Tickets can be purchased at the Lincoln League Bookstore, just east of the visitors center. For more information about Petersburg and Menard County attractions, go to www.visitmenardcounty.com.

Linda Hughes of Springfield is a regular contributor.
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