Springfield is an historic place with interesting people of the past who helped shape not only the physical city around us, but also our culture as it has evolved since the early 1800s and our response to and participation in national events. We don't have to look far to find the places that are keeping that history in evidence for us. In fact, most of them are just around the corner, and they make for some interesting and fun summertime destinations.
The Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum offers educational exhibits, special events and private guided tours. In addition to exhibits on interesting aspects of the African American experience, including experiences here in central Illinois, the museum is participating in the History Comes Alive program with weekly presentations on a variety of topics such as "African Americans and Mr. Lincoln," "Oak Ridge Cemetery: The Colored Section" and "Gibbs Business Park: The Levee District of Springfield 1905-1930." The museum is also hosting a summer camp on June 13-17 for students in grades 4-6.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is again hosting the ongoing "Walk Hike Bike History" programs throughout the summer, with the addition of some new tours this year. For instance, you can learn of some sites in Springfield, and the historical figures associated with those sites, that have importance and relevance to the Underground Railroad. Learn the history behind the architects and builders who created some of Springfield's more famous homes and the people who lived in them on "The Houses They Built" walking tour, or discover the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-Thomas House and the path to suffrage for Illinois women on the "Designing for Change: Women's History" tour.
One of the best places to get a good feel for a 19th century Springfield neighborhood is at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. There you may catch a glimpse of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln strolling through the neighborhood or even get a chance to exchange some small talk with them. National Park Service Rangers can be found participating in games of bygone days with both young and old alike. Springfield historical interpreters will tell tales of Lincoln's Springfield, including insightful and compelling stories of the Underground Railroad, the medicines people took to cure what ailed them and ambitious efforts to end alcohol consumption. While you're there, be sure to check out the Lincoln-era food demonstrations coordinated by the Lincoln Land Community College's Culinary Arts Department.
On display at the Illinois State Museum is the second installment of the exhibition of Black art by people of color depicting the migration of Black Americans. It tells the story visually, provoking viewers to think and talk about what freedom looks like for people of color in the United States. "NOIR II: The Great Migration" will be on display through Sept. 2. The exhibition "Edgewise" amplifies the voices of formidable women, queer and non-binary people who have found ways to get a word in edgewise in a male-centric society. It will be on display through Sept. 3.
The museum is also offering several opportunities for young patrons to explore the world through week-long summer camps. The camps are for ages 4-11 and are divided into appropriate age groups. They include exploration activities such as nature-based STEM challenges, creating escape rooms, building boats, structures and simple machines, studying dinosaurs and role-playing storybook adventures. The museum also has some compelling events for adults such as the History Happy Hour.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) has some events this summer that give context to historical events that directly affected Springfield. For instance, the "Tales from the Vault: Founding a Nation" event will allow visitors to view treasures from the ALPLM vault that are connected to America's independence and freedom, such as an original copy of the Gettysburg Address, a speech that linked the Civil War's meaning to the Declaration of Independence. The ALPLM also hosts the "For the People" speaker series.
One of the facts of summer in central Illinois is rain. If you find that you want to delve deeper into the history and culture of Springfield's corner of the world, but a hike or bike or neighborhood tour is out of the question because of the weather, just visit one of the city's best-kept secrets – the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library. You can immerse yourself there in manuscript collections, old high school yearbooks, maps and stacks upon stacks of Springfield history. The librarians there are helpful and you can fully arm yourself for the time when the weather clears and you are ready to visit the historic sites and museums with newfound knowledge about our city.
Springfield is not short on history or historic sites, and it also has many gateways to examining the culture in which we've flourished. Check out the websites of the sites, make a plan and make a visit. They are waiting for you to discover them.