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Published: November 21st 2013
I was raised and spent most of my working life in the Rockford IL area and still have lots of family in the region, so I find myself returning on a regular basis. According to mapquest.com, the drive to Rockford from my aunt’s home in White Mills KY is slightly less than 500 miles. At this point in my life, that distance is a doable one-day drive IN AN EMERGENCY; however, I had no emergency looming on September 11, 2013 so I incorporated a slight diversion to Springfield IL into my itinerary. Springfield, being the adult home of Abraham Lincoln and the capital of Illinois, has a lot of attractions that pique my interest and provides an excellent stopover point as I journey to or from Rockford.
I actually began my trip to Springfield by travelling southwest on the Western Kentucky Parkway to the William H. Natcher Parkway where I turned to the northwest. Upon reaching the Audubon Parkway, I turned due west to Henderson KY where I headed north on US 41 to I-64. I-64 westbound took me to US 51 northbound and onto IL 29 where this angular route took me northwest to Springfield and the Illinois State
There Is A Variety Of Weapons On Display
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum - Springfield IL
With the exception of some heavy sprinkles here and there, the trip was (mostly) pleasant and uneventful. I say mostly because of my selection of the more direct route through Evansville IN instead of travelling the I-164 bypass around the east side of the city. What a zoo! I don’t know if I just had bad timing or if my experience was the norm, but that 15 (or so) mile stretch should be avoided.
The campground host at the Illinois State Fair Campground tossed out two options – one with shade and sewer and the other with neither. I selected the former. The site was tight and difficult to access and was sloping and uneven. Once I had seesawed several times to maneuver into position and had shimmed my tires to level the Pilgrim, the grassy site was quiet and pleasant. The sites in the “glorified parking lot” appeared nice and level and will be my choice in the future.
I planned to complete my short “to-do” list in one day, to spend a few days developing a visitation schedule with my family and friends around Rockford and to plan my itinerary back to Florida
– hopefully to partake of the fall foliage and to visit some of the covered bridges in Indiana. As much as I enjoy being a professional tourist, The Great Adventure does require some planning!
My first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. The library is exactly what the name purports – a research facility. I thought as much, but since the facility is across the street from my second stop – what the heck! There actually are several interesting artifacts housed in display cases in the lobby of the library, making it worth a five minute stop.
Since its opening in April 2005, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum has ranked as America's most visited state-controlled presidential museum. When I entered the museum, I immediately encountered “Abe’s family” with numerous visitors photographically documenting their visit to the museum. I bypassed “Abe’s family” and proceeded to the temporary exhibit "To Kill and to Heal: Weapons and Medicine of the Civil War" where I proceeded to document my visit.
The gallery opens with a display of smooth-bore and rifled muskets along with placards explaining muzzle-loading rifles and cannons and then summarizes the armament available to both sides at the
The Battle Of Shiloh From A Medical Perspective
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum - Springfield IL
beginning of the war. The exhibit quickly changes themes and begins to describe the training of the day for surgeons and nurses as well as the varying roles of men and women in the care of the sick and injured. The role of field hospitals is explained, the concerns of the post-war veteran are outlined and the evolution the national cemeteries is discussed. Various battles are examined from a medical perspective and various individuals are highlighted. The exhibit was very well done and, for me, foreshadows the character of future temporary exhibits.
Upon exiting the initial exhibit area, I attempted to document the next exhibit, the life-size diorama of Lincoln's boyhood home, and learned that photography is not allowed outside the vestibule. TO THE BEST OF MY RECOLLECTION, the museum has two additional life-size dioramas - portions of the White House and the presidential box at Ford's Theater. Numerous original artifacts are on hand including a signed Emancipation Proclamation, Abe’s glasses and Mary Todd Lincoln's music box. One of the museum's permanent exhibits is the “Campaign of 1860” video which features late "Meet the Press" anchor Tim Russert and is very well done.
Another permanent exhibit, “The Civil
War in Four Minutes," contains a large animated map. The battle lines are presented from the beginning of the Civil War to its end. Essentially, the map is a graphic timeline that displays the fluidity of the battle lines and allows the visitor to readily see when two or more battles were happening simultaneously. This exhibit did for me in twelve minutes (okay, so it took me three viewings to absorb it all) what visiting a couple dozen Civil War battle sites failed to convey. Excellent, and worth the visit on its own!
In addition to the permanent exhibits and the continually changing temporary exhibits, two special effects theater shows, “Lincoln's Eyes” and “Ghosts of the Library,” run several times an hour. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is a “must see” while in Springfield.
My next stop was the Old State Capitol. From 1820 through 1837, Vandalia was the political capital of Illinois. Positioned on the National Road, Vandalia was initially well-situated to fulfill its governmental role; however, as northern Illinois opened to settlement in the 1830s, public pressure grew for the capital to be relocated closer to the geographic center of the state. A caucus of nine
Illinois lawmakers, including the young Whig Party lawyer Abraham Lincoln, led the effort to have the capital moved to the Sangamon County village of Springfield. Their efforts succeeded when the Illinois General Assembly passed a law in 1837 creating a two-year transition period for movement of its capital to Springfield by 1839.
The building, situated on the central square in Springfield, was constructed of locally-quarried yellow Sugar Creek limestone between 1837 and 1840 at a cost of $240,000. Springfield paid $50,000. The structure contained chambers for both houses of the General Assembly, offices for the Governor and other executive branch officials and a chamber for the Illinois Supreme Court.
By the 1870s, the Old State Capitol was too small to serve its purpose any longer, and Illinois built its current State Capitol building four blocks to the southwest. The state ceded the Old State Capitol building to Sangamon County to serve as the county courthouse – which it did from 1876 until 1966. Here’s the amazing part! in 1898-99, Sangamon County raised, not razed, the historic structure 11 feet, added a third floor under it
and demolished and reconfigured the interior to hold circuit court rooms and office
space. I think that kind of logic could only be garnered in Illinois because it’s probably the only state where the former governor’s brother owned a building levitation company!
In the early 1960s, Sangamon County needed more space and decided to build an entirely new courthouse building. At the same time, the Civil War centennial ignited interest in the soon-to-be-vacated historic Old State Capitol. The county retroceded the landmark to the state of Illinois. In order to restore and preserve the Old State Capitol, which had been so extensively altered during its life as a courthouse, workers completely dismantled it, stone by stone, and rebuilt it from 1966–69. I think the former governor’s son owned a stone masonry company!
The public areas of the Old State Capitol were reconstructed to resemble the appearance of the building in 1860 - when Lincoln last saw the capitol prior to his departure to Washington. It was in this building that Lincoln served his final term as a state lawmaker in 1840–41. It was here that he pleaded cases before the state supreme court in 1841–60. It was here, in the Illinois House chamber, that he made his House Divided speech in
Office Of the Secretary Of State
Old State Capitol - Springfield IL
June 1858 and announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. It was to this same chamber that, in May 1865, his body was returned from Washington, D.C. before burial in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery. Is it sobering to be in such a landmark or what? Visitors can tour the capitol on their own or take a 30-minute guided tour. The Old State Capitol is another Springfield “must see.”
My last destination for this stop in Springfield was the Korean War Museum. I cannot recall ever hearing of such an attraction. The small museum is well done, has a nice selection of artifacts on display and has numerous excellent placards describing various aspects of the conflict – the “George Washington of Korea,” Syngman Rhee; the genesis of North Korean aggression; US intervention; the conflict between President Truman and General MacArthur; the stalemate and the truce. Although I cannot say this attraction is a “must see” for the average tourist, it definitely merits thirty minutes of time for those who have an interest in US history or the Korean War.
Springfield is a great stop for virtually every tourist. There is such diversity that there seems to be something for
everyone. Its central location makes it no more than a slight detour from many automotive itineraries. Trust me, there’s a lot more to see in Springfield than I outlined in this chapter of The Great Adventure.
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