If you are looking to brush up on your Illinois history, there are plenty of places to visit that can help you do just that. Celebrate the state’s 200th birthday with a stop at these must-visit destinations.
Ulysses S. Grant Home
How much do you know about Ulysses S. Grant? You can learn more about the 18th president of the United States, also a victorious Civil War general, by paying a visit to his Galena home. Located at 500 Bouthillier St., the Italianate-style brick house was presented to the Grant family by a group of Galena citizens in 1865 as an appreciation gift for his service in the Civil War. After Grant was elected president in 1868, the house was maintained by caretakers in anticipation of his visits. A thorough restoration project of the house, originally built in 1860, was undertaken in 1955, with considerable research undertaken to ensure it was returned to its 1868 appearance. Today, the structure is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site as memorial, and about 90 percent of the furnishings are original to when the Grant family lived there. The historic site is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. There is a suggested $5 donation for adults and $3 for children. Interpreters dressed in period costumes lead tours that detail the history of the home, as well as Grant’s life during the Civil War and through his presidency. Special tours are offered from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when the house is decorated for the holidays.
More information can be found at www.granthome.com.
The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home
One small Illinois town can boast some big bragging rights. Dixon, which is the county seat of Lee County, also is where you’ll find the boyhood home of former President Ronald Reagan. Located at 816 S. Hennepin Ave., the 40th President of the United States was 10-years-old when his family moved in. The Reagans lived there from 1920 to 1923 and the late president stayed a Dixon resident until after he graduated from Eureka College at 22. From there, he became a radio announcer, actor, governor, and eventually president, a term he served from 1981 to 1989. After leaving the city, Reagan, dubbed Dixon's favorite son, returned for occasional visits. Today, The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home has been restored to its 1920s condition and is decorated with furnishings typical of the period. Operated by the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Foundation, the two-story structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and attracts thousands of visitors annually. Admission fees are $8 for adults and $5 for veterans and children ages 5 to 12. Active duty military, law enforcement, firefighters and children under 5 are free.
Visit https://reaganhome.org for more information.
Naperville has no shortage of family-friendly attractions to keep visitors entertained and one of them is Naper Settlement. A trip to the 12-acre outdoor living history museum, located at 523 S. Webster St., gives people a chance to go back in time and learn what life was like in Naperville in the 19th century. Established in 1969, Naper Settlement is home to 30 historic structures in a village setting, and attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually. The site's two original buildings are an 1883 mansion and carriage house. The interior of the Visitor Center, which is open year-round, offers changing exhibit galleries, the award-winning "Brushstrokes of the Past" exhibit, and the tavern. The village building interiors are closed to the public during the winter season. Naper Settlement also offers costumed interpreters, tours, special events such as Civil War Days, Oktoberfest and All Hallows Eve, as well as educational programming for visitors of all ages. Hours and admission fees vary depending on the season. And because it’s located in downtown Naperville, Naper Settlement is just steps away from dining, shopping and the Riverwalk.
For more information about Naper Settlement, visit www.napersettlement.org.
Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center
The invention of one of the most-widely used types of barbed wire helped change the history of the American West. And you can learn more about the inventor himself, Joseph F. Glidden, by taking a trip to DeKalb. The Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center, located at 921 W. Lincoln Highway, hosts tours and programming throughout the year. Both the home and red-brick barn on the homestead are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The latter is also significant as one of the oldest barns left standing in DeKalb County, according to the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center website. The site also features the Phineas Vaughan Blacksmith Shop and on Sundays when the Homestead is open, volunteer blacksmiths demonstrate the old-time trade as they shape hot iron with ultimate patience into useful tools and household items. Pieces hand-forged by Homestead blacksmiths are available to purchase in the Gift Shop. The preserved home is open year-round. Admission is $4 for adults. Children under 14 with family are free. Groups of 10 or more are $3 per person.
Visit www.gliddenhomestead.org to learn more.
Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center
When you think of Route 66, do quirky roadside attractions immediately come to mind? Created in 1926, the highway extended from Chicago to Los Angeles and was one of the one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Route 66 served travelers for more than five decades, until it was decommissioned in the mid-1980s. While today it is no longer possible to drive the entire length of Route 66 uninterrupted all the way, some stretches of the original route have been well preserved. Various sections of the road have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can learn more about the iconic highway with a stop at the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center, located at 204 Ottawa St. There, visitors will find an interactive “Route 66 Experience,” which the museum’s website describes “as eclectic at the route itself.” The Route 66 Experience includes a variety of cars, one which features radio broadcasts from seven different decades, as well as artistic displays that highlight icons along the old route. And don’t forget to stop by the gift shop on your way out and pick up some Route 66 memorabilia.
For more information, visit www.jolietmuseum.org.
I&M Canal Boat & Lock 16 Center
If learning more about the creation of the Illinois & Michigan Canal is on your bucket list, head to LaSalle. The city is home to a year-round visitor center dedicated to the canal’s history, and includes exhibits, programs, visitor information, a cafe and gift shop. From April through October, visitors can enjoy a 60-minute, round trip ride on the I&M Canal Boat, a 70-passenger mule-pulled, full-size replica of the 19th Century canal boats that once carried passengers on the I&M Canal. The 76-by-15-foot boat is docked in downtown LaSalle, only five miles from Starved Rock State Park. Each trip begins with “Mule Tending 101,” as guides in period attire introduce the passengers to the canal mules, Moe and Joe. The boat runs rain or shine. Before you leave, be sure to stop by the Lock 16 Gift Shop and browse the wide selection of unique gifts, seasonal décor, cards, books, souvenirs and mementos. The hand-dug I&M Canal opened in 1848, extending from Chicago to LaSalle-Peru. It’s importance to both the region’s and the nation’s history was first officially recognized in 1964 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark, according to the non-profit Canal Corridor Association, which preserves history, protects nature and open space, and provides programs where people can learn about the I&M Canal.
For more information visit www.iandmcanal.org.