Louise Speaks: Day 4: July 30, 2015: So we started the day knowing it was going to be a full day. After all Springfield is what Illinois is all about right? We were told that the tours for Lincoln’s Home fill up quickly so it would be best to get there early. As a result, this was our first stop of the day.
I had been here before with my brother in the summer of 1968. At that time it was just Lincoln’s house and it was painted a bright yellow. I still have pictured of this house and it is not the same house I am looking at today. Lincoln’s house now sits in a make believe city block of homes belonging to Lincolns’ neighbors. There are horse drawn carriages, and businesses parked along the street in a covered wagons. While you are waiting for your assigned tour time, you are able to walk the streets of the neighborhood and go into some of the homes that display many historical artifacts from that era. When our tour began, I asked about the different paint color of the house. The guide did say that in the 60’s it was yellow, but in doing their research it turns out yellow paint didn’t exist in the 1800’s so they found a color that was a closer match. At least that made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy and that I was at the right house. With this new color, the 1860 Lincoln home has been restored to it’s original appearance. The inside shows Lincoln as a husband, a father and a politician. The tour is free and they let me carry in Gracie which was an added bonus. The inside guide puts you in the setting that you are a guest in Lincoln’s home. You may be invited to dinner and sit at the dining room table or have a conversations in the parlor. Upstairs were the bedrooms where the children played and slept. This was a great stop and shouldn’t be missed if you are ever in Springfield. Of course Lincoln’s home is in Patricia’s book, “1000 Places To See Before You Die.” I loved how they turned the streets into a neighborhood of how it used to be. I loved that we could tour the home and the furniture was staged to make you feel like you were a guest in Lincoln’s home. I loved how they allowed Gracie to go in as well. This attraction was one that you could spend many hours visiting. I would rate Lincoln’s home an A. Definitely a site to see.
From Lincoln’s home we were off to the Lincoln Depot. You can take a self-guided tour of the exhibit hall and the restored train depot built in 1852. This is the train station where President elect Abraham Lincoln departed for Washington on Feb. 11, 1861. Lincoln gave one of his most compelling speeches from the back of this train that would take him to Washington. Along side of the depot is another mural, reflecting how important Lincoln is to Springfield.
While in the down town area, we came across Lincoln and Herndon’s first Law Office. This is where Lincoln and his law partner had a practice from 1843 to 1852. This is the only surviving building where Abraham Lincoln worked as a lawyer. It has been restored and tours are provided, but it is currently closed for renovations. Yes, one more stop for you to make and see what changes you will find on your Route 66 journey.
Just around the corner from the law offices and in the center of town is the Old State Capital building. I just find these capital buildings fascinating. They are huge and so ornate and out of a history book. The Illinois State Capitol is topped with a 405 foot dome and has been serving Illinois residents since 1877. You can see politics in action from balcony level seating when the legislature is in session. Again guided tours of this great building are provided, but although we are not on a real time schedule, we have been on Route 66 for 4 days and have not even traveled 300 miles…so we passed on the tour and moved on.
Going through the center of town you will find the Lincoln Presidential Library. It really is more of a museum, but does contain legal books as well. This Library / Museum is dedicated to the life and legacy of our 16th President. This library holds the world’s largest collection of documentary material related to Lincoln. It merges scholarship with showmanship offering high-tech exhibits, interactive displays and multi-media programs as well as a reproduction of the White House as it looked in 1861.
The last thing on our list for Springfield related to President Lincoln was his tomb. We headed out to the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site which is actually a state park. On the day President Lincoln died, which was April 15, 1865, Springfield citizens began raising funds to build a memorial. On May 3, the body was delivered to Springfield and stored in a receiving vault at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. The tomb, built of granite with a 117 foot high obelisk, was completed in 1874. This is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and three of their four sons. Not sure where the fourth son is buried or why he is not buried here. I guess every family has their black sheep…lol.
Now after all the historic stuff in Springfield it was off to find some of the fun stops of Route 66. Of course we are in Illinois so Hot Dogs are a big thing. We went by the Cozy Dog Drive-In which is a restaurant shrine on Route 66. The restaurant itself is packed with mementos, clippings and old signs as well as many Route 66 things for sale. Cozy Dogs were officially launched at the Lake Springfield Beach House in 1946, at a stand on the corner.
Also on Route 66 is the Mel-O-Cream which is a donut shop founded in 1932. This was a donut shop that sold donuts wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores. In 1964 the first franchise store was opened. Celebrating more than 75 years in business, this Springfield and Route 66 Landmark is still serving warm donuts today. Our luck, since it’s mid afternoon, they were closed.
Our last stop in Springfield was the Dana-Thomas House. I’m finding that every major city has at least one Frank Lloyd Wright Home. This prairie-style home was built in 1902 and was commissioned by Susan Lawrence Dana. The building contains the largest collection of site-specific original Wright art glass and furniture. Wright traveled Route 66 with his entourage of students to reach Taliesin West, and would periodically stop by this house to see Susan Dana.
Due to the time of the day, and how long we have spent in Springfield, we were only able to see the outside of the home. But that in itself was beautiful. Like with any Frank Lloyd Wright home, this is definitely going to warrant a trip back to Springfield for the tour.
We were finally done with Springfield and it was off to Chatham, IL. Here we found the cutest neighborhood. At the end of the block is the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge. This historic 1880 Bridge was built by Thomas Black. It is 60 feet across the Sugar Creek. The bridge was restored in 1965 and is open to foot traffic. A quaint park adjacent to the bridge and creek is an ideal place for a picnic, or in our case a potty break for Gracie. It is obvious the neighborhood was built around this creek and the bridge is just an added touch.
From here it was off to Auburn, IL. In Auburn there is a 1.4 mile stretch of a hand laid brick road that was built in 1931. It now curves through a corn field near Auburn. You might be asking yourself how did we ever find this road??? Well if you ask that then you don’t know us, because if it’s in the book or on our itinerary, we’re going to find it…and we did.
From here you go through several small, and I do mean small towns. They did have historic sites to see but none that peaked our interest and it was almost night time so we kept on driving down good old Route 66. At this stage of the trip we still don’t know if we are on the oldest part, the old part, or the last part of Route 66. We are just following those brown signs and heading west.
We arrived in Carlinville, Il home of the Million Dollar Courthouse. The building began as a $50,000 project and was supported by bonds and taxes. Through series of political and social scandals the courthouse construction was stopped in 1870 with a total cost of $1.3 million dollars and at the time was the second largest courthouse in the U.S. (New York had the largest). The third floor courtroom was never completed and the planned ornamental statues were never built. It took the county 40 years to pay off the debt and inspired the nickname of “The Million Dollar Courthouse”. It is recognized as the most magnificent courthouse in Illinois.
Directly across the street is the County Jail of 1869. The jail was in use from 1869 to 1988. The Gothic Revival stone structure was leftover Civil War Cannonballs embedded within the walls to prevent jail breaks. There is a local tale of a man who shimmied through the narrow slit windows to escape. He walked into town square where he had a beer at a local tavern and then walked back to jail where he walked in through the front door and put himself back into his cell. Seems every small town has a small story to tell.
Continuing on Route 66 we go through the town of Benld, Il. Here along side the road we find the Route 66 attraction of people Dancing the night away. This must have been a roaring town back in the day. We found many relics like this along the way but it’s just not possible to post pictures of everything…another reason for you to rake your own Route 66 journey.
We were driving along and thought we made a wrong turn as we were in a corn field, but when we went to find a turn around spot we came across this Rocking Chair. Now it’s not just any normal chair as you can see, but signs did tell us we were in Staunton Il., so we knew we were headed in the right direction.
What we were looking for in Staunton was Henry’s Ra66it Ranch. Notice how they spell it with 66 instead of bb, we thought that was cute. This modern attraction celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway it’s emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s 66 Express “Humpin to Please” trailers next to a replica of vintage gas stations. This attraction offers all things about rabbits: Volkswagen’s or the furry kind. We made it here just in time as it is dark and we can barely take pictures.
We are now driving in the dark heading to Litchfield for the night. Today was a 12 hour day and we traveled 69 miles. Yikes, this is a long trip.