Opinion | Downstate Illinois possesses underappreciated historical sites


Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Clark Bridge, a bridge that spans the Mississippi River connecting Alton, IL to West Alton, MO, stands on Jan. 8, 2007 at sunset.

By Noah Nelson, Senior Columnist

There’s no doubt that most students at the University come from Chicago or the surrounding suburbs. Sometimes, when they talk about the city, they advertise its many attractions like Navy Pier, the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry. 

Coming from a small town outside of Springfield, I tell them about many of the travel destinations in my area, too. Most have no idea there are more things to do in the state besides Chicago.

Sure, it’s the third-largest city in the country and full of endless activities to do and places to visit, but there’s more to the state of Illinois than Chicago.

With the official state slogan dubbed the “Land of Lincoln,” the state is filled with various attractions dedicated to preserving the memory and legacy of the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Most of the sites located in Springfield include his home, family tomb, presidential library and museum. Even in various other towns throughout the state, there are more sites that continue to illustrate the story of his life. Those include his New Salem village — the place he called home for six years — the Vandalia Old State Capitol Building and sites remembering the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates between him and Senator Stephen A. Douglas in towns like Galesburg, Quincy and Alton.

For the history buffs, Illinois is historically rich in more than the honest man in the top hat. On your next family vacation or weekend get-away, try President Ronald Reagan’s Boyhood Home in Dixon, President Ulysses S. Grant’s home in Galena or poet Vachel Lindsay’s home in Springfield.

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Perhaps you’re an outdoorsman. Great! Illinois has plenty for you to do south of the Windy City. For your next great outdoor adventure, try out the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois; Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville — one of the largest prehistoric settlements in the country — and Amish Country in Arthur (you will see horses and buggies all day long on your visit there. I kid you not). 

Illinois is also filled with sites dedicated to the remembrance of various pop culture icons. Visit Chester, where the story of everyone’s favorite spinach-eating cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor Man, all began. Check out Arcola and the preservation of its own claim to fame: beloved dolls Raggedy Ann and Andy and their creator, Johnny Gruelle. And for all of you superhero-lovers, head on down Metropolis to check out the sites and museum dedicated to Superman. 

Everyone likes to eat, right? You’re crazy if you don’t. Besides Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, there are more tasty food options throughout the rest of the state. Located off the beaten path outside Casey, the Moonshine Burger is one of the best burgers you will ever have in your life while you sit on a church pew holding the paper plate the entire meal. 

Ever have a horseshoe? If you’re not from Central Illinois, then probably not. The next time you head that way, stop in at one of the countless locations that serve the meal consisting of bread, cheese fries and your choice of meat. D’Arcy’s Pint is a must for this particular meal.

If you want to spend the whole day at a fair or festival, look no further than some cool ones in the state. Visit the Illinois State Fair for crying out loud. There, you’ll take in plenty of agriculture, food and entertainment. Don’t forget to see the Butter Cow and ride down the giant slide during your August visit.

On a much smaller scale, visit the Morton Pumpkin Fest, dedicated to all things related to pumpkins. Experience the Arthur Cheese Festival and its celebration of the popular dairy product. 

Whether you want to leave Chicago for a little while or just spend too much time on the couch watching Netflix, get out and explore all Illinois has to offer. You may find your next great destination escape.

Noah is a sophomore in the College of Media.

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