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Friday, April 7, 2017 03:25 pm

Heart of Illinois

Day-tripping in the Land of Lincoln

Dickson Mounds Museum is located off Illinois Route 78/97 in Lewistown, IL
Photo by Doug Carr / Courtesy Illinois State Museum


Want to hit the road? These destinations are just a hop, skip and jump away. Head out to find the amazing sites in the corners and edges of Illinois on the roads less traveled.

Discover more about Illinois history

You can learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s life and times in Illinois through the Looking for Lincoln story trail with 265 wayside exhibits in 55 communities throughout central Illinois. For detailed location information, visit After visiting the many state historic sites in Springfield operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, check out other historic sites in central Illinois in communities such as Bloomington, Lincoln, Galesburg, and Mount Pulaski. For more information on all the Illinois State Historic Sites, go to

Dickson Mounds Museum – Lewistown

The Illinois State Museum-Dickson Mounds is dedicated to the history of Native Americans in Illinois, especially the Illinois River valley. Drawing on archaeological and historical information, artifact-rich permanent exhibits – People of the Valley and Mississippian Lifeways – along with multimedia programs relate the 12,000-year history of Native American people in the region. A new exhibit, American Settlement, considers the American frontier and the impact of settlement on native people and the land.
From the outdoor terrace on the top level of the museum, there is a spectacular view of the Illinois River floodplain. Restoration of wetland habitat by The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has transformed the land and waterscape to its ancient beginnings. It is aptly named Emiquon, the Illinois tribe place name.

A public lecture on archaeology is presented on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. The Hickory Ridge roots music concert occurs on the third Saturday of each month at 7 p.m. Tot Time, a hands-on program for toddlers and their caretakers, is offered on the first Thursday of each month at 9:30 a.m. In addition, the museum offers annual events, such as a Winter Gathering, Eagle Day Festival, Artifact Identification Day, Flint Knapping Weekends and other programs for youth and adults throughout the year. Visit or call 309-547-3721 for more information and current program offerings.
Dickson Mounds Museum is located off Illinois Route 78/97 at 10956 North Dickson Mounds Road. It is approximately 5 miles southeast of Lewistown and 5 miles northwest of Havana. The museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday everyday day except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is no admission fee but donations are welcome.


The Village of Elkhart is located north of Springfield at exit #115 on I-55 and off old Route 66 between Springfield and Lincoln. Rich in history and natural beauty, Elkhart is famous for its unusual landscape – a tree-covered hill that rises 777 feet above sea level, surrounded by a horizon of flat Illinois prairie land. For many years, several Indian tribes populated the area around Elkhart Hill, with the first white settler arriving in 1819.

Located in the Elkhart Cemetery atop Elkhart Hill is an Episcopalian Chapel built in 1890. Constructed by the Culver Stone and Marble Company of Springfield, it is one of the few remaining Culver buildings in the area. The cemetery reads like a Who’s Who with the likes of Civil War general and three-term Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby and John Dean Gillett, known for raising superior quality beef and for his friendship with Abraham Lincoln. Captain Adam H. Bogardus, a wildfowl market hunter, conservationist and champion wing-shot, who toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s “Wild West” show, is buried here. Elkhart’s Looking For Lincoln trail sign is located in the historic Elkhart Cemetery. The storyboard describes Lincoln’s connection with Governor Oglesby. Just beyond the cemetery on County Road 10 is the Gillett Memorial Bridge built in 1915. The bridge was included in Landmarks Illinois’ 2005 10 most endangered historic places in Illinois list and is one of only two privately owned arched bridges in the state of Illinois.

Elkhart’s “Heritage Corner” is an important historical display for the community, historians and visitors to the Village. Located directly across from the Village Hall on Governor Oglesby Street in historic downtown Elkhart, the Lincoln Heritage signs are part of the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission program and were designed during the 2009 celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday to celebrate and recapture the legacy of Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in Logan County.

Elkhart’s “Historic Rt. 66 Statue and Wayside Exhibit,” opened in October of 2014, focuses on a stop for lunch that Shirley Temple made while on her way to the premiere of Little Miss Broadway in Springfield. The exhibit, located next to the Village Hall, consists of a metal silhouette statue and accompanying informational signage.

Keep an eye out for the doughboy statue presented to the Village of Elkhart by returning veterans of World War I. Wander in shops and dine at the Wild Hare Café and Talk of the Town restaurants in the picturesque early 1900s style downtown. The Blue Moon Pub offers live entertainment regularly and there are a few antique shops and a slot car raceway that offers great fun. Head north for a day trip getaway.

The historic downtown is open Tuesdays through Sundays year-round. Contact Peggy Lee at 217-947-2046,

Lincoln Heritage Museum

The Lincoln Heritage Museum, a nonprofit museum owned and operated by Lincoln College, interprets for the public the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and the world in which he lived. The largest single daily tourist attraction in Logan County, the museum has served as a dynamic part of the community from its origin in 1942 to its recent relocation to its new facility in April 2014. Since then, the museum has become one of the country’s most respected Lincoln-related museums.

Rarities of the collection to be viewed on the first floor include Civil War weapons, a table from New Salem at which Lincoln studied, one of Lincoln’s favorite rocking chairs, a lock of Lincoln’s hair, several of Lincoln’s own books, and a locally made 1860 Lincoln presidential campaign banner. On the second floor, there is an interactive and immersive environment that follows a ”life review” concept which puts the visitor in the place of Abraham Lincoln and, using state of the art audio/visual technology, allows the ability to “experience” what Abraham Lincoln himself may have seen and heard throughout his life, and hear what others said about him. It will allow the visitor to walk in Lincoln’s shoes.

Ranked as one of the “30 Most Amazing University Museums in the World” by in 2013, the Lincoln Heritage Museum offers a truly unique and memorable experience for those interested in the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. In 2017, the Lincoln Heritage Museum will open a special exhibit titled, “Lovers of Liberty, Take Courage!” which will run from Feb. 13, 2017 through the end of December and will showcase displays of courage from such historical figures as Harriet Tubman, Elijah P. Lovejoy, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Artifacts from their lives will help tell their stories.

The Lincoln Heritage Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln College at 1115 Nicholson Road, Lincoln. Call 217-735-7399 or go to for information. Open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is closed Sundays and holidays.

Peoria Riverfront Museum

The Peoria Riverfront Museum, located in downtown Peoria near the Illinois River, opened in October 2012. The museum hosts national and international touring exhibitions and features many unique opportunities for learning, culture and fun. It is home to the digital Dome Planetarium and the Giant Screen Theater, a 5-story-tall and 7-story-wide screen, which shows a variety of educational, Hollywood and classic movies throughout the year. In addition to a rotating schedule of traveling art, history and science exhibitions, the museum’s galleries include the Illinois River Encounter with a 400-gallon native species fish tank and the IHSA Peak Performance Center, where you can test your strength, dexterity and knowledge. In The Street, you can view fascinating true stories and objects from local history, kids can play in the hands-on area and you can record your own oral history.

This year’s rotating exhibitions include, Genome: Unlocking Life’s Codes opening in April 2017, Playing With Light opening in June 2017, and an exhibition of local and regional artists this fall. Coming in December 2017, you can watch Star Wars Episode VIII on the largest screen in central Illinois.

Peoria Riverfront Museum, 222 SW Washington St., Peoria, 61602; 309-686-7000. Museum Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.; and Sundays noon-5 p.m. During June, July and August, the Museum is also open on Mondays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $11 for adults, $10 for seniors 60+, and $9 for kids 3-17. Some special exhibitions may include a special admission fee. Museum members receive free admission to all exhibitions. For the latest information, or to purchase tickets, please visit

Caterpillar Visitors Center - Peoria

The Caterpillar Visitors Center is located next to the Peoria Riverfront Museum in downtown Peoria. This isn’t your average museum! Your visit begins with a virtual ride in the bed of a massive two-and-a-half story Cat 797F Mining Truck. Learn how Caterpillar’s story began as two companies came together to build Caterpillar on the foundation of innovation and customer focus. Unleash your inner engineer as you design your very own Cat machine. Test your skills on a simulator to see firsthand what it’s like to operate equipment the way Caterpillar operators do, and no visit is complete without climbing in a motor grader, track-type tractor or excavator on the product floor.

Caterpillar Visitors Center, 110 S. W. Washington Street, Peoria. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last ticket / entry at 3:30 p.m.) Closed on Sundays and national holidays. General admission: $7; Seniors (55+), veterans and active military: $6; Veterans and active military (55+): $5; Children (12 and under): Free.

Morton – Pumpkin Capital of the World

Morton is about 70 miles north of Springfield at the crossroads of Interstates 74 and 155 and 8 miles east of downtown Peoria. Morton is known for pumpkins! For 50 years the community has held an annual pumpkin festival, which began in 1967 as a celebration of the beginning of the pumpkin harvest and canning season at the local Libby’s Pumpkin Plant. In 1978, the governor of Illinois signed a proclamation that Morton was the “Pumpkin Capital of the World” since 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin was processed at their Libby’s Pumpkin plant. Today, the Morton Pumpkin Festival includes over 30 special events and venues hosted and organized by over 2,000 volunteers. The festival welcomes an estimated 70,000 visitors. The festival features a parade, carnival, entertainment and all types of food made with pumpkin, from ice cream to baked beans, chili, pasta salad, cheesecake and other tasty treats. The 2017 Morton Pumpkin Festival is Sept. 13-16.

Ackerman Family Farms – Morton

For a fun fall outing, visit Ackerman Family Farms at the eastern edge of Morton on U.S. Highway 150. John and Yvette Ackerman operate this Centennial farm which has been in the Ackerman family for four generations. In addition to growing pumpkins for canning, they also grow over 160 varieties of pumpkins and squash. Here you can see firsthand how pumpkins for your Jack-O-Lantern differ from the pumpkins used to can pumpkin pie filling. There is a huge selection of pumpkins to purchase, from large to small, and all types of unusual gourds and squash in addition to mums, cornstalks and straw bales. Kids will enjoy seeing many animals up close, including turkeys, chickens, baby goats and a mini donkey. A shop features local food products, home decor and fall and Halloween merchandise. Each year there is a new design for the family-friendly corn maze, which has a small admission fee. Hayrack rides are offered on weekends, and u-pick pumpkins are generally available daily.
Ackerman Family Farms is located just east of Morton on U.S. Highway 150 (Jackson Street), 27158 U.S. Hwy. 150, Morton 61550; Open August 28 through October 31. Hours Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sundays noon-5 p.m. 309-266-7459;;

Mitchell Museum in Mt. Vernon

Head south for a day of art. At Cedarhurst, they have it all. Located on a 90-acre site, Cedarhurst offers exciting visual and performing arts programs for the public. In the Rolling Meadows enjoy Cedarhurst’s Sculpture Park, an outdoor gallery with more than 60 large-scale sculptures, including new sculptures by renowned artist Jun Kaneko. Inside the Mitchell Museum, art connoisseurs are immersed in classic and contemporary art located in four galleries. The museum profiles works by artists Mary Cassatt, Maurice Prendergast and Childe Hassam and offers an American painting collection assembled by founders John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell. “This is a great day trip where you can enjoy the art and experience the nature,” said Sarah Sledge of Cedarhurst.

Cedarhurst hosts Thursday Night Live each week throughout the summer. The art galleries and Sculpture Park are open until 8 p.m. each Thursday from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Visitors are welcome to enjoy weekly TNL programs, music on the patio, food concessions and cash bar.

The Mitchell Museum at Cedarhurst is at 2600 Richview Rd., Mt. Vernon. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. 618-242-1236.

John Deere Pavilion, Moline

The John Deere headquarters is in the northwest corner of the state. In downtown Moline, the John Deere Pavilion is right next to the John Deere store. At this educational stop, kids can power up virtual reality simulators, climb into huge machines, watch videos on the giant media wall and learn about the legacy of John Deere, who changed the course of agricultural history with his self-scouring steel plow. The Pavilion offers insight into farming and encompasses all aspects of agriculture, including interesting historical tidbits. Exhibits rotate so if you have been to the Pavilion before, there is always something new and different to see at this kid-friendly stop that includes a special Discovery Zone with agriculture-based activities. If you have a little extra time, ask about a visit to the John Deere headquarters that was designed by Eero Saarinen and a tour of the two beautiful mansions associated with the Deere family.

The John Deere Pavilion is at 1400 River Drive, Moline, 61265. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon-4 p.m., 309-765-1000.

Hannibal, Missouri

Across the Mississippi River from Quincy is Hannibal, Missouri, home of Mark Twain. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was born in Florida, Missouri. In 1835, when he was four, his family moved to Hannibal. Using his childhood memories as a youth in a river town, Twain penned the popular The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), along with more than two dozen other books, that put Hannibal on the map. The stories of these fictional characters based on Mark Twain’s recollections have made Hannibal a unique place to visit.

Start your visit with a ride in the Hannibal Trolley Company Sightseeing Tours to get your bearings and figure out just where you want to go. During the summer enjoy a ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat. Visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Museum and Museum Properties which include the Clemens Boyhood Home, a National Historic Landmark, the Becky Thatcher House, Huckleberry Finn House, J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office and the Museum Gallery and Interpretive Center. These buildings are located in the charming historic district. Don’t miss the Mark Twain Cave Complex, which boasts Missouri’s oldest and newest Show Caves.

Cave Hollow West Winery offers tastings with wines named after some of Twain’s writings with a twist like the Gilded Page and Innocent Broad. Besides the winery, there is also the Mark Twain Brewery located downtown on Main Street where you can dine or try out some of their brews also named after Twain’s writings, or sip a Molly Brown brew. The Molly Brown home, where the survivor of the Titanic was born, is also open for tour.

There are several other Twain stops as well as the beautiful Rockcliffe Mansion that you spy as soon as you enter town. Rockcliffe Mansion is a 13,500-square-foot grand residence built on four acres and situated on a limestone bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Hannibal also offers ghost tours and an array of places to eat and stay. If you’re looking for a romantic overnight stay, Hannibal has a variety of bed and breakfasts located in old historic homes.

For information about times and locations of the sites in Hannibal, contact the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau. Located at 505 N 3rd St., Hannibal, Missouri, 63401, 573-221-2477,


Nauvoo is located in Hancock County on a bend in the Mississippi River, on the Great River Road near the borders of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri and is a National Historic Landmark District with more than 40 restored sites and two working museums. Free wagon rides are offered year round. Enjoy Nauvoo’s restored sites that will take you back in time to the 1840s, a time when Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, settled the area with more than 12,000 followers. Nauvoo’s working museums will showcase additional heritage groups such as the Native American tribes of the Sac and Fox, along with the French Icarians and various German groups. Nauvoo is also home to eclectic shops – including the famous Hotel Nauvoo, an inn and restaurant renowned for its high-quality food; Baxter’s Vineyards and Winery, the oldest winery in the state of Illinois; The Nauvoo Fudge Factory, making fresh, homemade fudge and the Nauvoo Mill and Bakery, milling flours and making delectable treats. Tour the blacksmith shop and take home a hand-forged iron ring and stop at the former shop and home of Jonathan Browning, one of the oldest gun makers in the world.

To learn about all the great stops in Nauvoo, contact the Nauvoo Tourism Office,1295 Mulholland Street, Nauvoo, 217-453-6648,


A tie-in to the history of Joseph Smith in the town of Carthage is the historic jail where Joseph Smith, leader of the settlement at Nauvoo, was murdered in 1844 along with his brother, Hyrum. The jail is constructed of native yellow limestone and was built between 1839 and 1841. Tours of both the jail and visitor’s center that was built by the LDS church in 1963 are available.

Carthage also boasts the Kibbe Hancock Heritage Museum, which was created by Dr. Alice Kibbe, who was curator of Carthage College. Dr. Kibbe stayed behind with the museum items she purchased when the college moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Howard Perry, one of the board members, said she felt the museum should stay in Carthage so she bought the collection and put the museum in her house. After she died, she deeded both her home and collection to the city of Carthage.

The museum has several Lincoln items from Lincoln campaign enthusiasts called the Wide Awakes. There is a rare Wide Awakes cape along with an 18-star hand-sewn flag. The museum has a John Deere open buggy built in 1900 in St. Louis as well as local historical items.

The Hancock County Courthouse was built in 1907 boasts large stained glass windows, mosaic tile and painted murals.For more information, go to the Carthage tourism website, or call 217-357-3800.

Carlinville historic sites

Carlinville sits off Route 4 about an hour south of Springfield. Carlinville sites include the castle-like Macoupin County Jail that was built in 1869 with a cannon ball method, using cannon balls left over from the Civil War. The Gothic design gives the structure the look of a fairytale fortress. The jail sits across from the “million-dollar” courthouse that is still in use today. The courthouse was a pet project of Judge Loomis and was worked into part of his re-election campaign.

Besides these sites, the Macoupin County Historical Society is located in the Anderson Mansion, a lovely Victorian mansion that is open at times to tour. The home is set on 17 acres and has numerous outbuildings that are open during the Spring and Fall Festivals. Carlinville is also home to the largest number of Sears Homes in the U.S. Built in 1917 by the Standard Oil Co. of Indiana for workers serving their coal mines, you can drive by these structures that came out of a catalog and have lasted almost 100 years. Log onto for details about what this town that has been deemed “One of the Best Small Towns in America” has to offer!


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