With the election right around the corner, fall is the perfect time to teach your children (and yourself) about some of the presidential history right here in Illinois.
Illinois was the home of Abraham Lincoln, from whom the state gets its “Land of Lincoln” moniker, and Barack Obama, who celebrated his historic 2008 win in Chicago’s Grant Park, but several other American leaders once lived here as well.
Ronald Reagan has the distinction of being the only U.S. president born in Illinois. You can visit his birthplace in Tampico, about two hours west of Chicago. What was once an apartment above a bakery-turned-bank has become the Ronald Reagan Birthplace and Museum. Be sure to visit Reagan Park, where a young Ronnie once played on a cannon with his brother.
When he was a child, Reagan’s family moved to Dixon, where he lived until adulthood (when he moved on to Hollywood and later Washington, D.C.). The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, 816 S. Hennepin Ave., has been restored to its 1920s appearance and is a great place to see where the 40th president played as a young man. Kids will love discovering where the famously fiscal conservative used to hide his pennies!
Ulysses S. Grant
Northwestern Illinois is also the home of Civil War hero, General and President Ulysses S. Grant.
Upon retiring from the military, Grant and his family moved to Galena in 1860. He worked in a store owned by his father until he left to fight in the Civil War.
After the war, he was presented with a home for his family on Bouthillier Street, but was elected to be the 18th president. He continued to visit Galena during and after his presidency, and The Grant Home (granthome.com) has been maintained in its original state since.
Galena offers family-friendly events during the fall season, such as Oktoberfest, the Country Fair and an epic Halloween parade.
If Galena is too far for a history lesson, visit a large outdoor memorial to Grant with a sculpture of the former president atop his horse in Lincoln Park.
Lincoln may be the state’s most famous president, and tributes to Honest Abe can be found throughout the state.
Start in Chicago at Senn Park, Garfield Park, Lincoln Square, Lincoln Park or Grant Park—all of which are home to statues of the 16th president.
Then head south to Springfield, which is home to enough Lincoln-related sites to fill a whole weekend.
Start at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, 212 N. Sixth St., to learn all the history and lore surrounding Lincoln. (You can even try on that iconic stovepipe hat!) Then, head out to see where Lincoln lived with his wife and their four sons with a stop at The Lincoln Home, which has been designated a National Historic Site.
A visit to the state capitol building will bring you to another statue of Lincoln just outside.
End the trip with a stop at Oak Ridge Cemetery, the home of Lincoln’s tomb, where he was buried in 1865. The 117-foot-tall tomb contains the bodies of Lincoln, his wife Mary and three of their children. It’s said that rubbing the nose of the statue out front will bring you good luck.
For a more modern presidential history lesson, take a tour around President Obama’s old stomping grounds in Chicago.
Visit the Baskin Robbins on East 53rd Street. It’s not the exact spot where the president took First Lady Michelle Obama for their first date in 1989, but it is just a few doors down. At the entrance of Dorchester Commons shopping center (1418 E. 53rd), you’ll find a plaque commemorating the first couple’s first kiss (talk about sweet!). Take in the beauty of the South Shore Cultural Center, where the couple said their vows just a few years later. Visit the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus, where the president taught from 1992-2004 (nearby Midway Plaisance Park offers ice skating in the winter).
The Obamas still own their home in the Kenwood neighborhood, although when they are back for a visit, the street is blanketed with heavy security. And while it won’t be built for a few years yet, The Obama Presidential Center will be located in the Jackson Park neighborhood, also home to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.