When it comes to American history, no city in the country is better at honoring significant personalities and major events than Springfield, Illinois. That's especially true when it comes to Founding Father Abraham Lincoln, who lived and worked in Springfield for much of his adult life.
But there are lots of non-historical activities in the greater Springfield area as well. From great architecture to remarkable natural resources, this mid-western city has lots to offer weekend visitors.
Dating from 1839, this modest two-story home housed Mary and Abraham Lincoln in his years before the presidency. Lovingly restored, the 12-room structure can only be accessed by visitors on ranger-guided tours. The free daily tours of this National Historic Site are understandably popular, so be aware that it's first come, first served.
Only a handful of buildings remain from the life's work of American architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright. One of the best—a Prairie-style mansion with 35 rooms—stands fully preserved on East Lawrence Avenue in Springfield. The Dana-Thomas House features many of Wright's calling card details, including art glass doors and windows (more than 250 of them), and site-specific furniture.
From 1839 to 1876, this dignified multicolored building served as the center of Illinois government. Although the state seat moved to a larger building on South Second Street in 1877, Old State has been carefully preserved and reconstructed for educational purposes. Daily tours explore the restored Rotunda, wood panelled libraries and courtrooms.
It was here in the soaring Representatives Hall that Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech as a state legislator in the days leading up to the Civil War. And the great leader lay in state here following his assassination in 1865.
The Audubon Society is an important legacy of 19th century America. The Illinois chapter of this wildlife preservation-minded organization is based at and runs the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, a 40-acre park near downtown Springfield. Built around the Adams family estate dating from the mid 1800s, the Sanctuary is covered with walking trails where regional flora and fauna can be glimpsed in their natural habitat.
Those interested in the Civil War era won't want to miss a trip to Camp Butler. Once a training grounds and hospital for Union troops, the site is the final resting ground for soldiers from both sides, as well as from other conflicts around the world. Visitors are free to explore the cemetery and its many memorials, as well as a restored lodge dating from 1908.
Yet another must-stop on any Lincoln tour, the great man's law offices on North Sixth Street across from the Old State Capitol have been fully preserved. Lincoln worked here from 1843 to 1852, and it's the last of his personal workplaces — White House aside — still standing. Visitors can tour the premises, which are lovingly run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Springfield is blessed with abundant green space. A favorite with locals, Washington Park is 20 acres of flower beds, walkways and conservatories planted up with more than 1200 species of plant and cactus. Of particular note is a 5000-plant rose garden, an iris garden and a flower garden designed for the visually impaired. It's a great place to just wander, or experience events and educational programming year-round.
Corn dogs didn't originate in Springfield, but they remain a cultural phenomenon there. Basically a weiner wrapped in corn bread that's fried and served on a stick, corn dogs aren't exactly gourmet, but they are delicious served with a side of fries and coleslaw.
To sample the iconic dogs, visit the classic Cozy Dog Drive-In on South 6th Street. Or, even better, if you're in town during the Illinois State Fair, visit a whole street dedicated to corniness on a stick at Corn Dog Lane.
Many Americans make a kind of pilgrimage to Springfield to pay respects to the country's greatest statesman, Abraham Lincolm. The Great Emancipator is buried here, with his immediate family, in Oak Ridge Cemetary. The tomb itself is a 117-foot granite edifice that you can enter and tour. Traditionally, visitors rub the nose of Lincoln's likeness in bronze at the base of the tomb, for luck.
This 12-storey tower in Washington Park makes beautiful music at free weekly concerts, and hosts an international Carillon Festival each summer. Visitors can climb to three different observation decks for close up views of the instrument's 67 cast bronze bells, and long distance views across Springfield. The Carillon was built with a bequest from Thomas Rees, a prominent local publisher who died in 1933.