This is a guest post from my friend and TV colleague, Scott Troehler.
As the city Abraham Lincoln called home for twenty years before heading to Washington D.C., there is plenty to see and do in Springfield that relates to “Honest Abe.” Illinois isn’t called the “Land of Lincoln” for nothing! However, once you’ve seen the historic sites (listed at the bottom), there is a lot to explore in the Illinois capital that doesn’t involve our 16th President.
Where to Stay
Downtown serves as a good ‘home base’ for travelers, as many of the Lincoln sites are within walking distance, as are other restaurants and shops. Hotels in downtown include a Doubletree, Wyndham, The Statehouse Inn (Ascend) and Carpenter Street Hotel. If you’re looking for something a little more quaint, The Inn at 835 is a historic bed and breakfast just southwest of downtown.
For a taste of arts & culture, you can start with one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s more significant prairie-style homes, the Dana-Thomas House.
Built in 1904 for socialite Susan Lawrence Dana, the house has 35 rooms throughout its 12,600 square feet, including 16 unique rooms and spaces which contain more than 100 pieces of original Wright furniture. Purchased by the state in the 1980’s, it’s now a state historic site and open for regular tours.
One of the most significant architectural sites is the hardest to miss. The Illinois State Capitol, on the western edge of Downtown rises more than 350 feet above the city. That height makes it taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
Back in the center of Downtown, the Old State Capitol at 5th & Adams serves as the hub for shopping & dining. In warmer weather, streets around it are closed off for various festivals, art fairs, music events and parades (St. Pat’s is huge). So unless you’re dying to come in, it might be worth timing your visit to coincide with any of the numerous events.
To start your day, stop off at Cafe Moxo for breakfast. The award-winning restaurant has a hip vibe, cool surroundings and great staff. The oatmeal gets good reviews. For lunch, you’ll find Robbie’s and the Feed Store on the plaza. For a more upscale dinner, check out Maldaner’s Restaurant.
For books and historical finds, head to the Old Capitol Plaza. A block east of Moxo, there you’ll find Prairie Archives, a book store filled with books, magazines, antique maps & prints and other items. If you’re a book lover, allow plenty of time to browse the shelves. The Lincoln section is in the first set of shelves when you walk in. If you’re looking for a Lincoln bust (and really, who isn’t?), Old Capitol Goods three doors down has a good selection.
Head north and you’ll find Urban Sassafras, Wild Rose and Abe’s Old Hat Antiques. Heading south takes you by boutiques Studio on 6th and The Roost. And if you’re a vinyl record buff, check out Recycled Records a half-block east off the plaza on Adams.
When it’s time to unwind and review your day, popular nightlife spots include the Irish-style Celtic Mist, Driftwood (bar side), Craft Beer Bar, The Alamo and the new Apothecary.
It’s not downtown, but if you have the time, head out to Charlie Parker’s Diner. This place has been on numerous Food Network shows and is known for making a dish original to Springfield called “the horseshoe.” Dating back to the 1920’s, think of it as a cheeseburger and fries, only in more of a ‘mashup’ form. It’s an open-faced sandwich that starts with bread on the bottom, then comes the meat (usually hamburger or turkey), on top of that it’s stacked with French fries. Finally, it’s covered in cheese sauce. It might sound a little much, but it brings the food shows to town. If it’s your first time, ask for a ponyshoe. Same great gut-busting experience, only in a little smaller quantity. If you don’t make it to Charlie Parker’s, it’s on the menu in some form at many local restaurants.
Between the Lincoln sites and the other things to do and see, you could easily spend a good two to three days without reaching the point where you’re sitting in the hotel room looking at each other.
For More Info
Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau
Here you’ll also find a regularly-updated calendar of events.
For Downtown-specific events and info.
Lincoln-related Historic Sites:
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
The museum highlights the 16th president’s life and the events that shaped whom he became. Unique exhibits and presentations. The library includes not only Lincoln-related papers and documents, it also serves as the state’s historical library.
Old State Capitol
Where Lincoln began his political career and gave his ‘House Divided’ speech.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The only home Lincoln ever owned is situated in the middle of a four-block area, recreated to look as it did back when the Lincoln’s lived on the corner of 8th & Jackson Streets.
Lincoln is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, which is said to be the second to Arlington National Cemetery in terms of annual visitors.
New Salem State Park
Located about 20 miles northwest of Springfield, the village is where Lincoln came ashore and lived for seven years after his flatboat became stuck on the Sangamon River.
- Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport – Direct, daily flights from Dallas & Chicago
- Amtrak – Multiple trains daily through Chicago & St. Louis
- Car – I-55, Chicago-St. Louis; I-72/74/US 36, Indianapolis-Kansas City
The city is served by taxi, Uber and bus.
Scott Troehler has 20+ years in media, mostly as a television producer/director currently producing World Away, an international travel television program. In his spare time, he opened Coterra, Downtown Springfield’s first co-working/flex-office space. You can follow him on Twitter @Scott217, @worldawaytv or @coterraworks; and on Facebook at /worldawaytv and /coterraworks. All photos ©Scott Troehler.
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You took me back to 8th grade with this post — except for the bar recommendation. Our 8th grade field trip was to Springfield and we visited the capitol building and New Salem. Also went there with my parents when I was young. Looks like it would be worth a return visit.
Thanks Cathy!! Scott is my friend that lives down there. He keeps telling me to come visit (I haven’t been down there in more than a decade), but hard to leave Chicago! 😉