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Go Local in Illinois

Everyone knows that Illinois is the “land of Lincoln.” But for groups touring the state, Illinois is also a land of possibilities.

The Abraham Lincoln draw in Illinois remains strong, especially in Springfield, where visitors can see numerous sites where Lincoln worked and lived. But Lincoln experiences are only the beginning of an eventful trip through Illinois. In destinations around the state, such as Geneva, Effingham and Peoria, travelers will find great shopping, culinary education opportunities, arts and culture, festivals and events, and much more to enjoy.

Next time you take a group through Illinois, include some of these communities on your itinerary for a series of enjoyable and enriching experiences.


Life of Lincoln


Lincoln spent much of his adult life in and around Springfield, the capital of Illinois, and the city has become something of a living shrine to his memory. Groups can learn about Lincoln in a number of ways, starting with a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

“The museum takes you on a journey through Lincoln’s life, from his boyhood in a log cabin to his presidency, assassination and return to Springfield for final rest,” said Alicia Ericson, marketing and communications specialist at the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It’s unlike any other presidential museum in the country. There are life-size displays that show Lincoln at various points in his life. They have two different theater presentations that are great for groups. They’re multimedia experiences where your seat might shake or smoke from a battlefield might drift across the auditorium.”

The museum has a treasures gallery with a rotating exhibition of artifacts from Lincoln’s life. Examples include personal items owned by Lincoln and his wife, one of Lincoln’s top hats and manuscripts of famous speeches such as the Gettysburg Address.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the museum, and organizers have put together a series of special events, programs, exhibits and presentations to celebrate. The highlight of the year is the “Undying Words” exhibit, which examines five key speeches Lincoln made on the subject of slavery and showcases a signed copy of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery.

After visiting the presidential library, groups can dive deeper into Lincoln’s Springfield life with a visit to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in the heart of the city.

“It’s an eight-block restored neighborhood featuring the only home that Lincoln ever owned,” Ericson said. “You can take an escorted tour of Lincoln’s home, or walk around in the neighborhood and experience the 19th century.”

During the summer, the city presents a program called History Comes Alive that features costumed interpreters at the Lincoln historic site and other places around town associated with Lincoln’s career, such as the Old State Capitol.

“That’s where Lincoln served in the Illinois Legislature,” Ericson said. “It’s also where he tried cases before the Supreme Court. It’s a beautiful historic building, and you can take a guided tour to see the legislative chambers and the Supreme Court and a library.”

Groups with deep interest in Lincoln history may also want to visit Lincoln’s New Salem, a historic interpretation site about 20 miles outside of town where re-enactors portray the pioneer village of New Salem, where Lincoln lived as a young man.

Finally, groups can pay their respects to the former president and his family by visiting Lincoln’s Tomb, a State Historic Site located within Oak Ridge Cemetery. The tomb features a large monument and a bronze bust of Lincoln.


Serious Shopping


Sometimes groups just want to shop. For that, Illinois offers Geneva, a charming town 35 miles west of Chicago.

“Our downtown shopping district is a giant draw,” said Laura Rush, communications manager for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. “Pretty much all of our shops are independently owned boutiques. You’ll find one-of-a-kind items, and the customer service is impeccable. A lot of people like to know that what they’re buying is something that nobody else is getting for Christmas.”

Many of the retail stores in downtown Geneva are located in old homes, giving them a distinctive charm. The merchandise for sale often matches this feel.

Shoppers will find a number of antique stores, as well as home design shops, jewelry stores and women’s clothing boutiques.

In addition to these traditional stores, shoppers will find a number of chocolate and dessert shops, as well as unique establishments such as the Little Traveler, a 36-room store with a conservatory, a Christmas room and a number of fair-trade and gourmet food items.

Groups that visit the shopping district can take advantage of the shopkeepers’ expertise with interactive programs.

“Some of the shops can do special seminars if they have enough notice,” Rush said. “You can get a chocolate seminar or a spice seminar. You’re dealing with the owners of the shops, who are sharing all this information.”

After spending some time shopping — as well as dining in the independent restaurants in downtown Geneva — groups can take in some of the area attractions. A good way to start is with a step-on historic tour.

“We have a docent that jumps on the bus and shows them around downtown Geneva,” Rush said. “We have many historic homes around town.”

Among the highlights of the historic homes is Fabyan Villa, which was the home of Colonel George Fabyan and his wife from 1905 to 1939. Fabyan was instrumental in deciphering Japanese code during World War II, and his 300-acre Geneva estate was a country retreat from the family home in Chicago.

Geneva also has a history museum that gives visitors a look at the development of the city.