Apr 062015

Note: The date on today’s blog is incorrect. It should say April 7.

We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see your travels.

Alton: The Alton Cemetery is the final resting place of the “Gentle Giant,” Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man. Born in Alton in 1918, Wadlow, was 8′ 11″ tall, and weighed 490 pounds.

Arcola: The largest collection of antique brooms and brushes in the United States is on display at the historic Arcola Depot and Welcome Center, along with the Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann & Andy Museum which celebrates the man who created the world famous rag dolls and the joy they gave to generations of children.

Raggedy Ann 3

Arcola: The country’s only memorial to the hippy movement is located next door to the depot.

Hippie monument 2

Benton: At the Franklin County Historic Jail Museum on State Route 4 you can see the cell where Roaring 20s gangster and murderer Charlie Birger was held and a replica of the gallows where he was executed in the last public hanging in Illinois.

Campton: You can see how a farm family lived in the mid-1800s at the living history Garfield Farm Museum here.

Champaign: Composer John Phillip Sousa’s personal band music library, willed to the University of Illinois, is on display along with period band uniforms and musical instruments at the John Philip Sousa Library and Museum.

Collinsville: The largest prehistoric Indian city in the United States can be explored at Cahokia Mounds. In 1100 A.D. up to 20,000 people lived here and built over 120 ceremonial mounds, but within 300 years the city was abandoned and the residents left no clue as to their fate. Today 65 of the mounds remain, along with a museum dedicated to the site.

Dixon: Former president Ronald Reagan spent his boyhood years in Dixon, and the home the family lived in at 816 S. Hennepin Avenue is open for tours.

Reagan Home

Evanston: The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian focuses exclusively on the history, culture, and arts of North American native peoples. The Museum’s collections range from the Paleo-Indian period through the present day.

Indian museum

Hartford: The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center brings to life the expedition of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery from 1803 to 1806 with exhibits on the preparations for the epic journey, the hardships the explorers faced, and the impact their trip had on the future of the nation.

Lewistown: Dickson Mounds Museum, a branch of the Illinois State Museum and a National Historic Site, is one of the major on-site archaeological museums in the United States. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the world of the American Indian in an awe inspiring journey through 12,000 years of human experience in the Illinois River Valley.

Metropolis: It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no, it’s Superman! A giant statue of the comic book hero standing in front of the courthouse is the town’s most popular tourist attraction. The Super Museum in town displays a large collection of memorabilia relating to the Man of Steel.

superman statue 2

Ottawa: The Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum promotes and preserves the proud traditions of Boy Scouting, Girl Scouting, and Camp Fire Girls with exhibits of scouting memorabilia.

Petersburg: Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site is a reconstruction of the village where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood.

Rantoul: The Chanute Aerospace Museum displays dozens of historic aircraft, flight simulators, and has special exhibits on the famous 99th Pursuit Squadron.


Rock Island: America’s largest government-owned arsenal is located on 946 acre Rock Island in the Mississippi River. Visitors can tour the historic island and visit a replica of a blockhouse from Fort Morgan, the Army’s headquarters during the Blackhawk War of 1832, tour the Rock Island Arsenal Museum with its huge weapons collection, pay their respects to veterans buried in the Rock Island National Cemetery, and visit the graves of over 1,900 Confederate prisoners of war who died while imprisoned on the island.

Rockford: Midway Village Museum is representative of a typical rural town in northern Illinois at the end of the 19th century. The village features 26 historical structures including a general store, hardware store, print shop, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, town hall, police station, plumbing shop, bank, hotel, hospital, fire station, church, barber shop, law office, two barns, and four farm houses.


South Elgin: You can ride in an antique trolley car at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin.

South Holland: From tiny to extra large, the Midwest Carvers Museum features hundreds of examples of the woodcarvers’ art, including an ornate doll carriage and a realistically carved bald eagle.

Springfield: The Lincoln Home National Historic Site preserves the only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned, living here from 1844 until he was became president in 1861.

Springfield: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a 200,000 square foot complex located in downtown Springfield that preserves the story of President Lincoln and celebrates his life and accomplishments.

Springfield: You can visit Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Union: The Illinois Railway Museum provides rides on a vintage train, and displays over 200 antique and rare railroad cars, trolley cars, and streetcars.

Illinois Railroad Museum

Volo: The Volo Auto Museum complex covers over 30 acres and displays over 300 collector cars.

Woodstock: The Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum honors the work, achievements and the life of Chester Gould, creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip and character. The museum perpetuates the legacy of Dick Tracy and the heritage of the comic strip. Displays in the museum feature historic documents, original artwork, correspondence, photographs and hundreds of memorabilia items, including Chester Gould’s drawing board and chair.

Thought For The Day – Hell hath no fury like the lawyer of a woman scorned.

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Nick Russell

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  11 Responses to “Overlooked America – Illinois”

  1. Oh Nick, you missed so many things in Southern Illinois!
    Just to name 3 —
    Alto Pass has Bald Know Cross;
    Chester is the birthplace of Popeye;
    Makanda has Giant City State Park with the beautiful lodge that was built by the CCC;
    Benton was your only mention in this lovely area — there is so much more!!

  2. As I say in the introduction to every one of these posts, Dayna, I don’t have the room to cover everything and don’t try. The goal is to give people an idea of all of the neat places waiting to be discovered in every state.

  3. Now that Bill’s picked up a carving knife again, we’ll make sure to stop at the Midwest Carver’s Museum. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I would add the Cantigny Park at Wheaton with its Army First Division (Big Red One) museum and great collection of tanks and armor from WW1 forward. I lived about 3 miles away and youth of all ages loved the tanks especially tose that you were, then at least, allowed to enter. Held many Boy Scout activities on their grounds

  5. Regarding Benton, IL, I grew up 8 miles west of the county seat and my high school
    Yearbook has me as the “Terror of Highway 14” not 4.

  6. Great campground at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

  7. As a child I remember touring New Salem with Grandpa while a tour guide followed us around learning the things Grandpa told us about using various tools there.

    My very first camping trip was at Giant City State Park–I was ten years old but I remember it to this day.

    I have lots of great memories of the 15 years I lived in Illinois and have been to many of the sites you mentioned. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  8. Hahaha…”like the lawyer of a woman scorned’…tell me, Nick, have you done one of these cool travelogues for the great state of Tennessee? If so, are they archived where I might take a peek? Thank you…I very much enjoy this blog. Rhonda

  9. Rhonda, not yet, I’m doing them alphabetically. I’ll get there.

  10. Thank you Nick Sue Grafton Russell…if you do them one a year (like she does) I’ll have to wait until 2026 to enjoy the list. But, I hear you..get out there and see it yourself…:-). And so I shall…:-)

  11. I do one a week, so hopefully you won’t have that long to wait 🙂

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