Are you planning a trip to Illinois and looking for things to do?
Why not explore the unique historic background of this great state? Here we’ve got some of the best historic sites in Illinois for you to enjoy on your next Illinois vacation.
Historic Places In Illinois
Illinois is a great destination for history lovers with its wide range of historic sites.
In fact, Illinois is home to 56 historic sites and 88 national historic landmarks.
These range from the homes of politicians such as Abraham Lincoln to local businesses which changed industries to unique districts and buildings.
Here we share an overview of the ones you shouldn’t miss while visiting.
Best Historic Sites In Chicago
The Adler Planetarium is an interesting example of the innovation of the early 20th Century along with the way wealth was exhibited during this time.
The Adler Planetarium was actually the first planetarium in the US and was first opened in 1930, making it close to 100 years old. It was founded by the Chicago businessman, Max Adler.
The architectural design was award-winning and it features 3 theatres along with multiple exhibitions of past space exploration, current research, and more.
The Adler Planetarium’s mission is to inspire curiosity, exploration, and understanding of space and the wider universe.
Some highlights of the planetarium include the multiple theatres displaying various explorations into space, the unique collection of antique space exploration instruments, and the regular exhibitions of space exploration history and current research.
1300 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60605
Chicago Board Of Trade Building
The Chicago Board of Trade has occupied the same space in Chicago since 1885 and has been in its current building since 1929.
While it may sound boring at first, the Chicago Board of Trade Building was built during the peak of Art Deco and is a beautiful representation of the style.
It features many characteristics of Art Deco architecture and interior design with large stone carvings, dark, recessed windows, and geometric design elements.
The building also features a three-story aluminum sculpture of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, also built in the Art Deco style.
The building is striking in its strong display of Art Deco style and is a great place to visit to take in the aesthetics of the 1920s – 1930s in Chicago.
The beautiful elements of Art Deco design, both exterior and interior are well-loved by both locals and visitors.
The large sculpture of Ceres and the stylized aspects of the building make it stand out from its neighboring buildings.
141 W. Jackson Boulevard
Pullman Historic District
The Pullman Historic District is an interesting location as it is the first model for a planned industrial community in the US.
It has a long history with the Pullman company and grew to become one of the most well-known company towns in the US.
The town is now able to be explored from a historical perspective with various museums and historic buildings in the district.
To see more about this historic district, please see our previous post here.
Some highlights of the district include the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum which looks into African American labor history, especially in the Chicago area, and the Hotel Florence, which was originally built to showcase the town to visitors.
It was decorated lavishly to provide the best possible image of the town.
610 East 111th Street, Chicago, IL 60628
Wrigley Field is well-known as the second-oldest baseball field in the Major Baseball League.
First built in 1914, it has been a staple ballpark for over a century.
It was originally called Weeghman Park after the founder.
It became home to the Chicago Cubs in 1916 and was acquired by the chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley in 1918, before being renamed Wrigley Field in 1926.
Over the following century, various renovations and improvements were conducted, but the park always retained elements of its history.
It has been home to a number of notable baseball moments.
The park is well-known for its ivy-covered outfield walls.
Wrigley Field is the only baseball field in the country with this type of wall, due to later rules which required padding for outfield walls.
The park is also significant for its early 20th Century “jewel box ballpark design”.
For those that are interested in visiting the Wrigley field, check out this website.
1060 West Addison
Chicago, IL 60613-4397
Old Chicago Water Tower
The Chicago Water Tower is a unique landmark in the city of Chicago, having been first built in 1869.
It was built in the gothic castellated style and is the second-oldest water tower in the US.
However, it holds special significance as it was one of the few buildings to survive the 1871 Great Fire of Chicago.
It became a symbol of persistence and survival against the elements.
It is now seen as one of the few remaining pieces of ‘old Chicago’ and a symbol of the spirit of the city.
There is now a small art gallery inside the tower, making it a great place to visit to both take in the history and enjoy some art.
The interesting architectural design is a unique feature of the water tower, as well as the historical significance and symbolism.
The art gallery inside provides a nice extra activity to explore while visiting the tower.
806 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611
Historic Sites In Northern Illinois
If you are visiting northern Illinois, you shouldn’t miss the following northern Illinois places.
Arcada Theater Building
The Arcada Theater Building is a historic theater located in St. Charles.
Built by the Norris family, local millionaires, in Spanish colonial style. The interior was designed by Mr. Norris, who was also an artist and Chicago Tribune cartoonist.
It first opened in 1926 with silent movies and vaudeville shows and has remained open almost continuously until the current day.
The theater went on to become very well-known for its vaudeville shows and many vaudeville stars performed on its stage.
The theater is still in operation today with many events taking place at the theater, along with regular first-run movie showings.
The theater features a number of original or restored historical design elements, such as the original pipe organ.
The Spanish Colonial Revival architecture along with the locally-designed interior make for a unique experience.
105 E. Main Street. St. Charles, IL 60174
Galena Historic District
The Galena Historic District is located in the city of Galena in Illinois and actually encompasses 85% of the city.
During the early to mid 19th Century, Galena had a larger population than Chicago and was expected to become the main city of the mid-West.
This was largely due to the lead industry in the city.
After a number of fires in the 1850s, the city decided that no building made of wood could be built to try and prevent fires from spreading so easily.
This has led to a city built predominantly of brick and stone, creating an interesting and unique appearance.
It has also resulted in a lot of long-lasting buildings, with over 1000 buildings from pre-1900 still standing today.
The Historic District of Galena is a great place to stroll around and enjoy the historic atmosphere.
There are many historic buildings built in a range of architectural styles, depending on the time in which they were built.
This is a great way to explore historic design and architecture without committing your time to just one building.
Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock is a beautiful state park in Illinois, located just an hour and a half from Chicago.
It is widely considered to be one of the best in the state, with a wide range of activities to take part in and scenery to take in.
It also has a long history as home to Native Americans and a more modern history as a vacation spot.
Some highlights of Starved Rock State Park include the extensive hiking trails that cover the park and take you through some of the most picturesque parts of the park.
These include amazing waterfalls, forests, and more.
Black Hawk Museum And Lodge
The Black Hawk Museum and Lodge is part of the Black Hawk Historic Site located on Rock Island Illinois.
It has a unique history of being adjacent to the Native American historic village of Saukenuk, later becoming a state park, and finally a historic site.
The historic site features the John Hauberg Museum of Native American Life which explores the story of the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes who occupied the village and displays collections of items from the original village.
The lodge was first built as part of a project by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program in the 1930s that offered work related to conservation and development.
The historic site is interesting in its combination of Native American and Modern American history.
Visitors are able to learn about the Native American village and life, as well as experience the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
1510 46th Ave., Rock Island, IL 61201
Mazon Creek Fossil Beds
The Mazon Creek Fossil Beds are a part of history going back many thousands of years.
The fossil beds are part of a sedimentary deposit that shows well-preserved fossils, including soft body fauna.
These fossils are preserved in ironstone concretions, which are able to preserve both hard and soft body fauna, rather than only hard body fauna.
Because the area was once used for mining, there are many of these concretions, or ‘nodules’, scattered throughout.
The fossil beds are open for people to explore and fossil collectors are also welcome.
Exploring the fossil beds is a great way to enjoy being outside in nature while also looking into a truly ancient part of our history. On top of that, you might come away with some unique souvenirs.
Historic Sites In Central Illinois
Visiting central Illinois? Check out these amazing central Illinois historic places.
Grand View Drive
Grand View Drive is a scenic drive that winds through Peoria in Illinois.
It is adjacent to many beautiful park areas and is a great way to enjoy an afternoon. It is part of the Grandview Historic District.
This means that as you go along the scenic drive, there are many beautiful towering historical estates to see. In 1910, it was called the world’s most beautiful drive-by President Roosevelt.
Here is a list of more Illinois scenic drives.
Some highlights of the drive include the amazing scenery as you drive by, parks for picnicking in or strolling around, and the beautiful historic buildings to view along the way.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The Lincoln Home Historic Site includes the original home of Abraham Lincoln from before he became the 16th President of the US, as well as the surrounding area within Springfield Illinois.
There are also a number of other historic buildings associated with Lincoln in the historic district.
The Lincoln home is a colonial-style building and has been preserved in its original state, making tours through the home a true look into life at the time.
Some other historic buildings within the site include the Dean House and Arnold House, both of which exhibit aspects of colonial life.
If you are interested in learning more about Abraham Lincoln, click here.
Highlights of the Lincoln Home Historic Site include the guided tour of the Lincoln Home.
The information and explanations provided in the tour give visitors further insight into the exhibits and items that have been preserved.
Other historic buildings are also great to visit if you want somewhere quieter.
Fort Madison Bridge
The Fort Madison Bridge is a 1.6km bridge connecting Fort Madison, Iowa to Niota, Illinois across the Mississippi River. It is a swinging, double-decked truss bridge with a swing span of up to 525 ft.
It was built in 1927 to replace a previous railroad bridge and at the time was the longest and largest double-deck swing-span bridge in the world.
The bridge has a railway track on the bottom level and tolled roads on the upper level.
This made it a feat of engineering for the time, especially at the scale that was needed to cover the Mississippi River.
Taking in the unique structure and appreciating the innovation and engineering of the time is a great way to pay homage to this beautiful bridge.
It stands as an interesting part of history, which is still functional to this day.
Livingston County Courthouse
The Livingston County Courthouse was built in 1874 after a fire destroyed the previous county courthouse.
It is interesting architecturally as it was built in the Second Empire style, a divisive architectural style that involves combining elements from various parts of history and using the concept of ‘leave no space undecorated.
This can be seen in the Livingston County Courthouse with its four corner towers, central clock tower, patterned roof tiles, cornices, quoins, and more.
The restoration was recently completed on the courthouse, which helped to bring to life some of the historic elements of the design.
The courthouse is open to the public daily. Visiting it can be an interesting activity as it features unique aspects of design and style both inside and outside.
115 W. Howard St, Pontiac, IL 61764
Joseph Duncan House/Duncan Mansion
The Joseph Duncan House, also known as the Governor Duncan Mansion, was the home of Joseph Duncan, a significant Illinois politician.
He served in the House of Representatives from 1827 – to 1834, mostly as the single representative for Illinois, and later became Governor of Illinois from 1934 – to 1938.
Because there was no official governor’s residence in Illinois at the time, his house became the official residence during his time in office.
The house is built in the Georgian style and is a great example of traditional architecture and design.
The house has been well-preserved with period-appropriate furniture and décor.
The Joseph Duncan House is open to the public and tours are offered daily.
Visiting the house is a great way to explore part of Illinois’ political history as well as life during this period of history.
4 Duncan Place
Jacksonville IL 62650
Historic Sites In Southern Illinois
Visiting southern Illinois? Check out these amazing historic places.
The Cahokia Mounds Historic site is an area of unique archaeological and historic significance.
It was the site of an ancient Native American city from 1050 – 1350BCE. It is now the most complex prehistoric site north of Mexico.
The earthen mounds are now all that’s left of this society, yet they show a sophisticated and systematic city.
One of the best things about Cahokia Mounds is that it is free to visit. Here is an overview of more free things to do in Illinois.
The site actually covers thousands of acres, with the main mounds being found closer together. The Cahokia Mounds is a great place to explore, as you can devise your own route or follow a tour.
General Dean Suspension Bridge
The General Dean Suspension Bridge is a large suspension bridge crossing the Kaskaskia River in Carlyle, Illinois.
It was first built in 1859 and was of great significance as previously the only ways to cross the river were by ferry or mud bridge.
It was used for the next 70 years as the primary way to cross the river.
In 1953 it was named after Major General William Dean, a local who served in the Korean War.
The General Dean Suspension Bridge is a great reminder of the innovation and expansion of the 19th Century. Visiting it is a unique way to explore our own history.
Alton National Cemetery
The Alton National Cemetery was originally a military section of the Alton City Cemetery but later became a United States National Cemetery.
It is only a half-acre plot of land, yet holds 522 interments. The Alton National Cemetery is the resting place of many Civil War Union soldiers and so has a significant place in United States History.
Events are held on key dates at the cemetery to commemorate the soldiers.
This includes the Memorial Day Sunset Ceremony, which has been in place for a number of years now.
The whole town of Alton was quite significant during the Civil War, making it a perfect final spot.
To see more about the town of Alton, please see our previous post.
Visiting the Alton National Cemetery on one of the key dates to experience a memorial event is the perfect way to remember and pay homage to US history and those who died as part of it.
If you can’t make it to an event, the cemetery is still able to be visited year-round.
600 Peal St, Alton, IL 62002
Illinois has an amazing variety of historical sites, ranging from unique buildings from history to entire historic districts.
If you are interested in exploring local and national history, Illinois is an ideal destination to visit.
Here we have collected some of the best historic sites in Illinois to help plan for your next Illinois vacation!
For an overview of more great things to do in Illinois, click here.