As the Illinois state capital, Springfield (pop. 118,033) embodies the rural small-town character of most of the state and feels much farther away from Chicago than the three-plus-hour drive it actually is, traffic willing. Springfield is also the place that takes the “Land of Lincoln” state’s obsession with Abraham Lincoln to its greatest extreme, for it was here that Honest Abe worked and lived from 1837 to 1861. He left Springfield after being elected president and was buried here after his assassination at the end of the Civil War.
There are all manner of Lincoln sights to see all over Springfield, but the newest and best place to start your homage is at the state-run Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (212 N. 6th St., 217/558-8934, daily, $15), across from the Old State Capitol. Once you’ve toured this comprehensive, reverential yet thought-provoking, over $100 million, 200,000-square-foot complex, other sights include the only home Lincoln ever owned, his law offices, and of course his tomb. Located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, two miles north of downtown, Lincoln’s tomb also includes the remains of his wife and three of four children. Legend has it that if you touch the nose on the bronze bust of Lincoln, good luck will follow.
Though quite sincere and understated, the Lincoln homage can overwhelm. If you need a change of pace from Lincoln Land there is the beautiful Dana-Thomas House (301 E. Lawrence Ave., 217/782-6776, Wed.-Sun., $10), a half mile south of the state capitol. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902, for socialite Susan Dana, who lived here until the late 1940s, it is the most luxurious, best preserved, and most fully furnished of his houses.
Also worth a look is what some say is the oldest gas station on Route 66, Shea’s Gas Station (2075 Peoria Rd., 217/522-0475). The ever-engaging owner Bill Shea curated a photogenic collection of vintage gasoline pumps, signs, shields, and anything else related to the sale and use of our favorite fossil fuel. Sadly, Shea passed away in 2013. While the collection’s future is uncertain, it still offers amazing photo-ops, even from the outside.
Springfield also has a favorite Route 66 watering hole, the Cozy Dog Drive-In (2935 S. 6th St., 217/525-1992), on the old road south of downtown. The birthplace of the corn dog, which here goes by the nicer name “Cozy,” was founded in 1949 by Ed Waldmire, father of noted Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire. So come on in and chow down—two Cozy Dogs, a cold drink, and a big basket of fries cost around $9.
Complete your Route 66 Americana tour by taking in a flick or two at the Route 66 Twin Drive-In (1700 Recreation Dr., 217/698-0066), west of Sixth Street southwest of the I-72/I-55 junction.
Almost all the national chain hotels and motels have operations in Springfield, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a room. For Victorian character in a convenient location, consider the elegant Pasfield House Inn (525 S. Pasfield St., 217/525-3663, $125 and up).