Springfield, Illinois, is the state capital of Illinois with lots of historic sites, gorgeous architecture, many memorials, and more. Springfield is often called the Land of Lincoln, with good reason. You can step back in time to see historical sites where Abraham Lincoln lived and worked, raised his children, and was laid to rest. Looking at some of the classical architecture that frames the buildings and memorials, Springfield could also easily be called “little DC” (without the harrowing traffic).
For a state capital, Springfield is a surprisingly easy place to get around. It’s also very walkable, so any of the main parking garages near the historic downtown sites will work for your adventure. You can park at the Old State Capital underground parking lot or the Abraham Lincoln Parking Garage and get to many of the historical sites on 6th Street, which is a one-way heading North. The Lincoln Home is over on 7th Street, which is a one-way going South, so I’m going to start out as if you were heading North and then go around. The great thing I noticed about Springfield is that traffic is not that bad, and you will have no problem turning around if you need to.
How to Get Around
(Assuming you Park at Old Capitol and walk)
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6th Street Activities
You have two main options for this area of sites. One is the undergrounding parking garage beside the Old State Capitol at S 6th St, Springfield, IL 62701, which is accessible from the LEFT lane (blink, and you’ll miss it). You can park there and walk to the other main sites in this area on 6th Street. You can also keep driving down to the Abraham Museum Lincoln Parking garage across from Union Station and then walk down. My advice is to try for the underground first and if you miss it (*cough* repeatedly), go for the aboveground one at S 6th St, Springfield, IL 62701.
When you ask for directions to the capital in Springfield, you’ll most likely be asked, which one? Down the street from the current state capitol is the Old State Capital, Illinois fifth statehouse and the first one located in Springfield. It’s a beautiful Greek Revival-style building made of limestone topped with a red dome. This statehouse, used between 1839 and 1876, was the one frequently visited by Lincoln as first a lawyer and then a politician. He also gave his famous “House Divided” speech here. If you are using your time to retrace Lincoln’s steps, this is a must-stop.
Exit out of the Old State Capitol and walk South (turn left out the door) across the street to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. No need to drive as it’s only about 200 feet. The site was undergoing renovations when I was there, but you can still look at the outside of the building, which is the only remaining building that Abraham Lincoln had a law office in from 1843 to about 1852. The first floor has a visitor’s gallery, and the third floor is the one with the two law offices used by Lincoln and his partners at the firm.
From the Law Offices, pivot and walk back past the Old State Capital building and cross 6th street at Jefferson Street. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is an impressive museum that is not like any presidential museum I had exhibited. The plaza that you enter is huge, with life-size replicas of his log cabin and the front of the White House. They bring to life the different stages of Lincoln’s life and the times in which he lived. The exhibits are immersive and at times, interactive. The waxworks were very true-to-life, and some will wrench at your heart (and make you jerk your eyes away) as you view the exhibits. One presentation, Ghosts of the Library, used holographs to explain the importance of the museum and library.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential library is also impressive and is directly across Jefferson Street, so if you parked at the underground structure, you could easily visit on your way back to your car.
7th Street Activities
Walking Directions. If the weather is nice and you like to walk, you can easily walk to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site as it is less than a mile away to 413 S 8th St, Springfield, IL 62701 (only if you are walking.
Driving Directions. However, if your legs are tired from the museum, you can easily find parking at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site parking lot located on 7th Street just south of the main building (keep driving, and it’s on the left). Don’t use the 8th street address, use 426 S. 7th and follow the signs.
Funny story, but also a GPS warning. Okay, this is another maps moment. If you ask your smartphone for the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, it will probably lead you to the 8th street address. Ignore it. That street is blocked off and is only for pedestrians as it leads directly into the historic site. Use the 426 S 7th street address instead; look up visitor’s center. Don’t even bother looking up the parking lot; still says 8th street. 8th street is totally blocked off! Both Google Maps and Siri had the address, even for driving, so just as a heads up. Go to the visitor’s center, not the house.
The Lincoln home historic site preserves the only house that Lincoln and his family ever owned and the four blocks surrounding the home. This historic house was purchased in 1844, and they lived in it until 1861. The tour includes viewing all the rooms (except for the basement) with authentic artifacts that seem like the Lincolns just left town. The tickets are for the tour of the house itself, but you can also walk up and down the street to view the old homes and roads as they existed back then.
The tour is free, but parking is two dollars an hour; most pay $4 to reserve it for two hours. However, if you arrive early enough to get a tour spot, an hour is plenty. We came early in the morning due to hearing that tours can fill up fast. It looked like there were 15 people per tour group and the spots did fill up early. So, one suggestion is to arrive early and reserve your spot. Pay your $2 for parking, go through the tour, quickly walk over to view the church, and you can move on to other exhibits!
The First Presbyterian Church is home to the pew number 20 in the old church that had been I the Washington and Third Street sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in 1850. The family’s relationship with he church lasted until Abraham Lincoln left in 1861 to assume his presidential duties. The building that the Lincoln family knew was sold and later torn down, but the present building was purchased for the church in 1872. In addition to viewing the historic church and the pew used by the Lincoln family, take a moment to see the seven beautiful Tiffany windows depicting biblical themes.
Walk it. If you are parked at the Lincoln Home, it’s a quick walk across the street from the visitor’s center to the church. If you parked at the Old Capitol or one of the other parking garages, you would pass the church as you walk down 7th street.
There are several other places in the Springfield area where you can explore the life of Lincoln. Lincoln Depot is walkable from either the Presidential Museum or from the Lincoln Home. Other locations in the Springfield area will require you to drive. You could walk from the Presidential Museum to the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery as it is a little under two miles. However, you must cross Grand Ave, and Monument Avenue on foot and traffic can be rough (i.e., fast and a little unpredictable).
President-elect Abraham Lincoln rode a cart from The Chenery House hotel to the Great Western Train Depot on the morning of February 11, 1861. He said a final goodbye before leaving Springfield by train to Washington, D.C. The second story was added around 1900. The first story, however, has been renovated and turned into a museum to showcase its place in history.
Walk or drive? From the Lincoln Home, it’s a quick six-minute walk. I would recommend doing that, especially if you parked downtown. You can walk down 8th to the site, or you can get back in your car and take 7th street south to Edward Street, over to 9th Street, and then turn right on Monroe.
The Lincoln Tomb is in Oak Ridge Cemetery. The site is the final burial site of Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary, and three of their four sons. The tomb is covered on the outside with granite with a 117-foot-tall obelisk. The interior rooms are furnished in a highly polished marble trimmed with bronze. Circular hallways lead into the burial chambers. Replicas of Lincoln statues and plaques with excerpts from his speeches surround this solemn area. A massive granite monument marks the spot where President Lincoln’s remains are buried in a concrete vault ten-foot below. Outside, people often rub the nose on the statue of Lincoln for luck.
Free parking is available to the left side of the monument park; just follow the signs, and it’s easy to find. The tomb is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are opened after 5 p.m. on days with special events, such as the flag lowering. Flag lowering events take place each Tuesday evening in the summer and have re-enactors on site.
Twenty miles Northwest of Springfield off Highway 97 is Lincoln’s New Salem State Park. New Salem is a reconstructed village where Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man. The village is a living history museum. It has twelve log houses, ten workshops, stores, mils, school, and a tavern that are furnished as the would have been in the 1930s. The rebuilt buildings stand on the exact spot that they originally stood. Abraham Lincoln lived in this village from 1831 to 1837. He worked in a variety of jobs such as rail splitter, postmaster, and store clerk. He was elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1834.
Parking is available at the visitor’s center. As with most of the state parks, admission is free! Go and spend half a day enjoying the village or the park.
Visiting all of these exhibits should take a good day or two. I highly recommend checking out the state capitol to get in the spirit.