It’s that time of year again. When the dire stats are broadcast far and wide.
In case you haven’t heard, Illinois once again tops the ranking of states that residents are moving out of for the fourth year in a row, according to northAmerican Moving Services. The reasoning is on par with those of years’ past — politics, high taxes and fewer job prospects.
If you’re like us, you’re staying put. And perhaps you have lived here your entire life and really don’t feel the urge to pick up sticks and move to booming states like Idaho and the Carolinas. We don’t blame you. There are plenty of reasons that this place — specifically, Central Illinois — is more than what the images of Lincoln and cornfields conjure up in the country’s popular imagination.
I’ve spent most of my years in Illinois in Chicago — 20-plus years, in fact. The divide between North of Interstate 80 and South of I-80 is real. I grew up in the Northwest corner of the state, which doesn’t resemble the perfectly flat fields penned in by interstates that you see here.
It has been almost 2 years since my husband and I moved to Urbana, Illinois. Our friends were understandably concerned.
“Are you okay?”
“Is that where your family lives?”
“Why Central Illinois?
“What’s there to DO down there?”
We try to explain the vibrant micro urban scene, rural beauty, quality of living and culture (yes, there is CULTURE), but usually our friends up North just check out at this point.
The “what’s there to do” question still comes up occasionally, and it was the inspiration for this website. So, if I had to rank the important landmarks that make Central Illinois more than cornfields and Lincoln’s log cabin life, there are a few things that we have come across that stand out.
10. The Town of Petersburg
Okay, this town has a Lincoln connection as the location of the reconstruction of the New Salem village where he spent his twenties, but it has the charm of a walk back in time, with beautiful Victorian homes on nearly every block. Unlike most of Central Illinois, the town is very hilly, which along with the cobblestone streets and church steeples makes it a photographer’s dream.
Unlike the hustle and bustle of other touristy places, a quiet walk through town would lead you past Ann Rutledge’s burial site and Edgar Lee Masters’ home. In another interesting twist, Petersburg was a winter circus town, and a number of residents are descendants of early 20th century circus performers.
9. Real bands play in the CI
Major entertainers often perform in CI while touring the country, and you can see them at a lower price and without the big-city traffic jam. Like Willie Nelson, Foo Fighters, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Green Day, John Mellencamp, Blake Shelton, Counting Crows, Disturbed, Boy George & Culture Club, just to name some recent examples.
8. Local waterways/parks
From the Illinois River in Peoria to the Salt Fork near Danville, there is plenty to see and do even without actually owning a boat or canoe. I would suggest a riverboat cruise in Peoria and a day at Kickapoo State Park, with an affordable hourly rate on canoe rentals.
7. Quiet tree-lined streets of university towns
Decatur, Bloomington, Peoria and Champaign/Urbana all boast world-class universities that come with unique cultural experiences. Yes, each city is surrounded by vast cornfields, but thanks to a number of interstate highways, all these towns are within a range of 40 minutes to 1.5 hours from each other!
6. Local wineries and breweries
The list is way too long to include here, but stay tuned to future articles and profiles of local watering holes and related events.
Isn’t genuine farm-to-table a wonderful thing? Again, we will fill you in on some great places to eat in the coming months.
4. The people
No joke. Let’s face it, Minnesota nice can be grating on the nerves. Central Illinois nice is heartfelt. Being neighborly isn’t just a friendly wave, it is a state of mind and it lives south of I-80, but north of I-70 and can even be found in Springfield (outside of the Capitol building!).
Thanks to the university communities many towns have vibrant art galleries. Public art can be found on building facades and in parks. It’s well worth keeping your eyes open for local artist showings that span from weaving and the fiber arts to sculpture and murals.
2. Haunting literary heritage
As a teen, poet Edgar Lee Masters moved from Petersburg to Lewistown, located southwest of Peoria and near the Spoon River. Which he put on the map via the Spoon River Anthology, the famed collection of poems in which deceased residents of a fictional town tell their stories — many of which were loosely based on real people he knew in his two Central Illinois homes!
And let us not forget that before there was “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer,” there was an enduring image of our undead 16th President, thanks to Springfield-born poet Vachel Lindsay, who wrote:
It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.
-Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
1. Country Roads
There was a time when the Sunday afternoon drive was an American past-time. In the hurried world we live in there is nothing like taking a drive (or better yet biking) a small country road. With corn stalks lining both sides in the summer it may feel like tunnel vision, but the vistas in the spring and fall are unforgettable.
Each small town has its own unique attractions too. Whether it’s a local drive-in, ice cream stand or historical landmark, it is well worth the time to explore. We hope you enjoy exploring Central Illinois with us, and if you have suggestions for some out of the way find we should know about, let us know in the comments below, or by email!