The central part of Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln because Abraham Lincoln spent many years here.
Numerous attractions have ties to the 16th president of the United States, especially in Springfield, the state capital. After learning about the area’s fascinating history, visitors can head out on a road trip along Route 66 to explore classic Americana attractions.
In the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield, marvel at artifacts and explore interactive exhibits and holographic presentations. Tour the house where Lincoln lived from 1837 to 1861 and watch the film “Journey to Greatness.” The four-block area around Lincoln’s house looks like it did in the 19th century. Several nearby homes house exhibits about the Lincoln family’s life in Springfield.
A short walk from the Lincoln home, find the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, where Lincoln practiced law from 1843 to 1852. Watch an orientation video and take a guided tour with a costumed interpreter. Across the street from the law offices, the Old State Capitol is a re-creation of the statehouse as it was during Lincoln’s years. Be sure to visit the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site in Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest. A bronze bust of Lincoln has a well-worn nose: Legend has it that rubbing the nose will bring good luck.
Often called the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road,” Route 66 begins in Chicago. Quintessentially American, it captures the imagination and transports visitors to the heyday of the American automobile, when cars were big, dreams were bigger and adventure was just over the next rise in the road.
Not far from Chicago, stop at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, where the “Route 66 Experience” exhibition preserves the history of the great road. Alongside state-of-the-art audiovisual presentations, you’ll find a gift shop that carries Route 66 collectibles.
Bring the family to the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, which draws more than 1,000 cars and 80,000 spectators to downtown Springfield every autumn. Held in the summer, the Berwyn Route 66 Car Show features classic cars, hot rods, oldies music and food vendors.
Back in the day, local businesses used larger-than-life statues to grab the attention of passersby. Wilmington is home to the Gemini Giant, a 9-meter statue named after the Gemini space program, which launched manned space flights in the mid-1960s. The statue holds a rocket ship and wears an astronaut’s helmet. Across town, the Sinclair Dino, a bright green fiberglass brontosaurus from 1963, still sits atop a gas station, keeping watch over Wilmington and beckoning to passing motorists.
The 1932 Historic Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell is a charming spot. With a little luck, you can pose for a photo with a classic car as many stop by on their Route 66 travels. Today, the gas station is home to the Odell Welcome Center. Old gas pumps still stand out front, and the adjacent garage holds a display of old tools, tires and spare parts.
Up the road in Pontiac, the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum is filled with vintage cars and memorabilia. Have your photo taken by the Volkswagen van that was owned by the late Bob Waldmire, who spent more than half of his life on Route 66, selling art out of the vehicle. Visit the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame across town.
Dining Along Route 66
As you head down the road, stop in Atlanta in Logan County to eat at the Palms Grill Café, which dates to 1934 and is famous for its homemade pies. The black-and-white checkered floor and old-fashioned lunch counter have welcomed hungry travelers for decades. Across the street stands the Paul Bunyon Hot Dog Statue, nearly six meters tall, which is one of the Muffler Man figures along Route 66.
Joliet, Wilmington and other towns along the way have diners and family-style restaurants that take you back to the golden age of family road trips. Stop in for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a slice of pie and cup of coffee.
The Land of Lincoln also has several vineyards, some of which host wine festivals, country dinners and other special events.