Print this Article
Tuesday, March 29, 2016 12:08 am

Besides Abe

Springfield’s museums and historic sites

Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site 603 S. Fifth Street.

Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site

“Prairie troubadour” Vachel Lindsay captured the attention of audiences around the world during the early 1900s. He was born on Nov. 10, 1879, and died on Dec. 5, 1931, and both events took place in the Lindsay family home, located at 603 S. Fifth St., across the street from the Illinois Executive Mansion. Lindsay’s father, Thomas, was a physician; his mother, Catherine, was an artist and social reformer. Lindsay was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps, and after high school he attended Hiram College in Ohio to study medicine, but he eventually dropped out to attend art schools in Chicago and New York City.

In the early 20th century, Lindsay set out on a series of tramps across America. At the conclusion of one of these trips, his poem “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” a eulogy to the founder of the Salvation Army, was published in Chicago’s Poetry magazine. The poem brought him national attention, and subsequent works garnered international acclaim. Some of his best-known poems include “The Congo” and “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.”

Lindsay’s family home, now a state historic site, has been restored to depict life in 1917, when Lindsay’s parents still played an active role in community life. Examples of Lindsay’s poetry and art, not a part of the house at that time, have been added to showcase the poet.

Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth St., 217-524-0901, Hours are 2-4:30 Friday through Sunday. Call 217-782-9450 for more information.

Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum

One of Springfield’s newest museums, which first opened in February 2012, recently moved to its new location at 1440 Monument Avenue, near the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery. The goal of the museum is to educate the public on the African-American experience through research, collection, preservation and interpretations of that experience.

The Springfield Illinois African-American History Foundation, which organized the museum, also has created a support organization with a special charter member rate for individuals and businesses.

Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum, 1440 Monument Ave. 217-391-6323 or toll-free 877-757-2246,, Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children age 14 and under. For tour groups of 11 visitors or more, admission is $2 per person. Open every Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Extended hours and individual tours available on request.

The Pearson Museum

Located in the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, this teaching museum covers various aspects of healing, including pharmaceutical, surgical, dental and alternative medicine. Treatments through the centuries come to life in permanent and changing exhibits. Named for long-practicing Springfield physician Emmett Pearson, the museum features a dental exhibit, a complete homeopathic dispensary and an entire 1900 drugstore from Canton, Illinois, with its many apothecary jars and vials. School groups and practicing physicians often visit the museum to hear lectures.

Pearson Museum, 801 N. Rutledge St., 217-545-2155. Open by appointment. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

The Korean War National Museum, Library, and Cultural Center, 9 S. Old State Capitol Plaza in Springfield
Photo by David Hine

Korean War National Museum

The Korean War National Museum, Library, and Cultural Center exists to honor the men and women from throughout the world who served. It does so by offering education to “citizens and future generations.”

This international and historic museum describes itself as “a vibrant and constantly evolving tribute to the one million Koreans, 4,361 UN soldiers, and 33,686 American service members who lost their lives in the Korean War.” It is a place to learn “what can be accomplished when freedom and democracy are given the opportunity to flourish.”

The Korean War National Museum, Library, and Cultural Center, 9 S. Old State Capitol Plaza in Springfield. Call 888-419-5053/217-523-7230 for hours or send email to

Illinois State Museum

Closed to the public by Gov. Bruce Rauner in October of 2015, the Illinois State Museum was in the process of possibly being reopened at the time this guide went to press. Previous to the controversial closing, the ISM had been one of the most popular and prestigious institutions and attractions Springfield had to offer. If you feel like taking a chance, stop by 502 S. Spring St. Who knows? It might be open by the time you read this.

Illinois State Military Museum

The museum’s permanent exhibit, “Patriots of the Heartland,” chronicles the actions of the military in Illinois from its early militias to current military operations throughout the world. Located on the grounds of Camp Lincoln, headquarters of the Illinois National Guard, the Illinois State Military Museum is dedicated to the state’s military heritage, from pre-statehood days to today. While you’re there, take a close look at the target board used by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to test-fire the new Spencer rifle, or ask about the museum’s collection of Civil War flags currently held in storage but viewable by the public. Added in 2007 is a realistic WWII scene depicting Illinois’ 132nd Infantry in combat on Guadalcanal in 1942. Also displayed is an artificial leg worn by Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana of Alamo infamy. Displayed outside are restored Vietnam War-era AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 “Huey” helicopters and an M60A-3 tank.

Illinois State Military Museum, Camp Lincoln, 1301 N. MacArthur Blvd., 217-761-3910, Open 1 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Admission is free. Donations are welcome.

Illinois Fire Museum

Once the home of the Illinois State Fairgrounds’ own fire station, this site has been transformed into a museum by the state fire marshal. Continuing this year are popular exhibits about fire safety for the kids and the large collection of firefighter-squad patches from all over the world. The museum has a display of photos of famous and infamous Illinois fires. The museum is slated to acquire more examples of antique firefighting equipment, in addition to the 1938 Diamond T fire truck that has been displayed there for decades. On exhibit in the Patch Room is a horse-drawn Hanneman Hand Pumper first used in Quincy in 1857 and today on loan from the San Jose, Illinois, fire department. When the state fair isn’t on, parking is plentiful.

Illinois Fire Museum, Building 7, Illinois State Fairgrounds, Central at Main, 217-524-8754, Open by appointment only, Mon.-Fri. No appointment is needed during the Illinois State Fair. Admission is free.

Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum

As the soldiers who fought in the bloody Civil War returned to civilian life, many retained the bonds of brotherhood forged in battle. Several fraternal organizations of Civil War veterans sprang up, and the Grand Army of the Republic, established in Decatur in 1866, became a leader among them, with more than 409,000 members who previously served in the Union forces. The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum in Springfield memorializes those veterans and sits within walking distance of the Lincoln Home and across the street from the Elijah Iles House. The collection includes tintype photos by Mathew Brady, rare drawings of the infamous Andersonville and Liby prison camps, and a complete list of Union soldiers held there during the war. Owned by the National Woman’s Relief Corps, an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, the museum also maintains many volumes of Civil War history that may be examined on-site.

Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum, 629 S. Seventh St., 217-522-4373. Open 10a.m.-4p.m. Tues.- Sat., closed for the month of December.

Elijah Iles House

The Elijah Iles House was built in the 1830s, making it one of Springfield’s oldest houses. There is evidence that it was designed by the same architect who designed the Old State Capitol. It is one of Illinois’ earliest residences in the Greek Revival style of architecture.

Two of Springfield’s most famous citizens, Abraham Lincoln and poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay, are known to have visited the house. Lincoln spent time in the house as a guest of Robert Irwin and he enjoyed many a card game in the front parlor. Because of the house’s impressive architecture and rich history, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Having been moved from two earlier locations, the house found its current home at the corner of Seventh and Cook in 2004. The house is thought to have been built by Elijah Iles in 1837. An elevator, accessible from special parking behind the house, provides access to visitors with limited mobility. The Farrell and Ann Gay Museum of Springfield History is located in the house’s lower level. Exhibits have included topics such as Springfield’s early beginnings and the history of the Illinois Watch Company.

Elijah Iles House, 628 S. Seventh St. Open 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Wed. & Sat. April through October or by appointment. Donations accepted. 217-492-5929,

Dana-Thomas House State Historic Site

In 1902, Susan Lawrence Dana, the socialite daughter of a Springfield industrialist, commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new residence around the existing family home. Trusting in Wright’s genius, Dana spared no expense, and Wright went all-out in what’s considered one of his first full expressions of the Prairie Style. When it was finished in 1904, the $60,000 project was the largest residence Wright had built – 35 rooms on three main levels, encompassing 12,000 square feet of living space. Dana loved to entertain, and her house was designed with that purpose in mind. The grand entrance is theatrical; one enters the house as though walking onto a stage. The three floors contain 16 varying levels.

In the early 1980s, to preserve this architectural gem, the state of Illinois acquired the residence from then-owner Thomas Publishing. The Dana-Thomas House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the house, hosts programs and special events. Extensively restored in 2011 to reflect even more of its former grandeur, the house is operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

The house contains the largest collection of Wright furniture and art-glass windows in the world. Its panoramic mural is the only intact painting of its kind, created by internationally renowned artist George Niedecken, who painted many murals for Wright. The Sumac Gift Shop offers many Wright-related items.

At Dana’s request, Wright also designed a library for the Lawrence School in honor of her father, the late Rheuna Lawrence. Not too long after Wright designed the space – one of only 10 interiors Wright designed for a building that wasn’t his – the school converted the library into a classroom. However, Wright’s original construction records were discovered in his Taliesin West studio, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the library was restored in the 1980s. It is now part of the Lawrence Education Center, 101 E. Laurel St. From mid-September through mid-May, the library is open to the public Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. During summer, call 525-3233 for current hours.

Traditional events at the Dana-Thomas House include special decorations during Halloween week in October and the decoration of the home in early Christmas finery during the holidays.

Dana-Thomas House, 301 E. Lawrence Ave., 217-782-6776, Hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Clayville Historic Site

An assemblage of pre-Lincoln-era pioneer village life on 14 acres that includes a former stagecoach stop built in 1824 and the oldest log cabin in Sangamon County, Clayville Historic Site has risen like a Phoenix from 17 years of neglect. In 2009, the Pleasant Plains Historical Society purchased the grounds and has restored the site. The Broadwell Inn & Tavern, the second-oldest brick building in Illinois, served travelers en route and returning from Beardstown. The site includes two 1830s log cabins, an 1850s barn moved to the site and reconstructed and the Rustemeyer Blacksmith Shop, the last active blacksmith shop in Springfield. In 1842, the first Whig Party state convention was held at Clayville. Including some support structures added by Sangamon State University in the 1970s, there are 10 buildings at the site. Guided tours for groups of 10 or more may be arranged by appointment, and visitors may just wander the grounds.

Clayville Historic Site is located on Illinois Route 125 about a mile east of Pleasant Plains. From Springfield take Jefferson Street west and stay to the left on 125 where Route 97 (the road to New Salem) breaks north. To arrange group tours and for more information, call 217-481-4430. Open Tuesday through Saturday from April through September, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Camp Butler National Cemetery

One of 14 sites designated national cemeteries by President Abraham Lincoln, Camp Butler was also used to train Union troops and served as a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. Some 800 Confederate soldiers are buried here. So, too, are 39 German and 4 Italian military personnel and a Korean spy who was working for Germany, interred here after unsuccessful efforts to locate their kin after World War II. The site has an outside touch-screen kiosk that permits visitors to locate the graves of soldiers buried at Camp Butler.

Camp Butler National Cemetery, 5063 Camp Butler Rd., 217-492-4070. Office open 7:30 a.m-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Visitation hours are 7:30 a.m. to sunset.

The Air Combat Museum has a growing collection of aviation memorabilia
Photo by David Hine

Air Combat Museum

The Air Combat Museum showcases the role of military aviation with an array of aviation memorabilia, including the gun sight from a Messerschmitt 109 and historical aircraft, including a P-51 Mustang, a Vought F4U-5 Corsair and a World War II vintage Ryan PT-22 Recruit. A rare 1928 Stearman C-3B joined the growing collection in 2011. An antique Fleet Model 9 biplane is being restored on the premises.

Air Combat Museum, Capital Airport, 835 South Airport Rd., Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. April through September. Open 7a.m.-4p.m.Tues.-Fri. October through March. Closed 12-1 p.m. for lunch. For individual visits, donations are suggested. Group tours are $20, by appointment only, and may be arranged by calling 217-522-2181.

AeroKnow Museum

Anyone looking for a complete parts manual for a World War II Martin B-26 Marauder – or another obscure relic from the aeronautical past – should visit AeroKnow Museum. The unique collection of historic photographs, model aircraft and kits dating back to the 1930s, aviation books and periodicals dating back to 1910 and technical manuals celebrates four years at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport this year. Founder and director Job Conger reports that visitation remains “by appointment only,” so call ahead. Though international in scope, Springfield and Illinois aviation history comprise a significant part of the resources of this project in process. The current “cozy quarters” preclude group tours, but up to five visitors at a time are welcome, especially on weekends.

AeroKnow Museum, 900 Capital Airport Drive, Springfield. Located in the Horizon Aviation F.B.O., across the rental car parking lot from the terminal. Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 2:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. For more information call 217-331-3661 or email


  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed



Friday Sept. 20th