8 Great Historical Sites to Visit in Jacksonville IL

October 11th, 2020 by

For anyone interested in history, especially of the Civil War period, Jacksonville, IL, is a must-see city. Jacksonville had numerous safe houses along the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that helped slaves escape to free states or to Canada. The city was also frequented by Abraham Lincoln, especially during the time he practiced law. Many of the historical sites in Jacksonville are open to the public. Here are eight great sites you will want to take in the next time you’re visiting.

Central Park

Central Park, located in the heart of Jacksonville’s historic downtown, is where Abraham Lincoln delivered a two-hour anti-slavery speech on behalf of presidential candidate John C. Fremont. This was in 1856, five years before Lincoln became president and led the country through the Civil War, securing the emancipation of thousands of slaves.

An elegant monument forms the centerpiece of the park. Unveiled in 1920, the memorial is a tribute to the parts women played in wartime. There are also two ‘Looking for Lincoln’ wayside exhibits through which you can explore Lincoln’s connections to Jacksonville. You can read some of the country’s founding documents in the ‘Charters of Freedom’ display and get up close to a real Civil War cannon.

You can find Central Park at the intersection of State and Main Streets. It is open to visitors between sunrise and 10:00 pm.

David A. Smith House

David A. Smith was a Jacksonville attorney and friend of Lincoln, who would often use Smith’s house as his law office when he was in town on business. Lincoln shared a courtroom with Smith on 68 occasions, either as co-counsel or as opposing attorneys. Smith was also a trustee of Illinois College from 1842 until his death in 1865, the same year Lincoln was assassinated.

Built in 1854, the David A. Smith house is a popular attraction both for tourists and for historians and the research scholars of the period. It is located on Grove Street and is part of the Illinois College campus.

Woodlawn Farm

Woodlawn Farm was established in 1824 by Michael Huffaker, who built its two-story farmhouse in the 1840s, having become wealthy from his farming business. During the days of the Underground Railroad, Michael and his wife allowed Woodlawn Farm to be used as a stop-off point. Huffaker even hired some of the former slaves to work the farm, building cabins for them so they could live on the property.

Located five miles east of Jacksonville, the Farm is open weekends during the summer from 1-4 pm or by appointment. Entry is free, though there is a suggested donation of $4 for adults and $3 for students.

General Benjamin Grierson House

Benjamin Henry Grierson was a musician, teacher, and businessman who befriended Abraham Lincoln, and he even composed music for Lincoln’s presidential run in 1860. During the Civil War, Grierson distinguished himself during the Vicksburg campaign, in which he managed to cut off supplies to the Confederate forces. Post-war, he served as colonel of one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments of African-American soldiers. He retired from the Army with the rank of brigadier general in 1890. Throughout his military career, Grierson House was his permanent home.

Tours of Grierson House are available by appointment only. This includes a ‘Voices of Jacksonville’ presentation, as well as the opportunity to visit General Grierson’s gravesite in Jacksonville East Cemetery.

Prairie Land Heritage Museum

If you are interested in antique farm equipment, old farming techniques, and vintage crafts, the Prairie Land Heritage Museum is worth your attention. It is normally only open during their Fall Festival, which occurs on the last weekend in September. However, the admission fee to the Festival gives you full access to the museum and its attractions.

During the Festival, there are displays showing horse-drawn equipment, steam engines, gas engines, and antique tractors. You can sample ham and beans cooked by the steam engine, and visit a sawmill, a one-room schoolhouse, and a blacksmith shop.

The museum is located on the corner of Lincoln and Michigan Avenue.

Beecher Hall

Beecher Hall is the oldest building on Illinois College’s campus and was the first college building constructed in the state of Illinois. The building is named for the college’s first president, Edward Beecher, brother of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher and of author Harriet Beecher Stowe. It opened its doors for classes on January 4, 1830, and over the years functioned as a dormitory, a library, and a fraternity house. Most notably, Beecher Hall served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves escape to free states.

Located on the Illinois College campus, Beecher Hall is open to visitors during school terms. Admission is free, and tours are available.

Big Eli Ferris Wheel

Inspired by the original 1893 Chicago Ferris Wheel, W. E. Sullivan, owner of the Eli Bridge Company, and machinist James H. Clements built the first ‘Big Eli’ Wheel. It debuted in Jacksonville’s Central Park on May 23, 1900, and it was so successful that Sullivan’s bridge-building business started mass producing these wheels. In 1919, he built a new factory on Case Avenue, which is still in operation today. The original ‘Big Eli’ stands outside the factory and is still open for rides.

If you would like to take a spin on this historic fairground ride, you can visit between 4 and 6 p.m. on Sundays, starting Memorial Day through the fall.

Downtown Jacksonville

8 Great Historical Sites to Visit in Jacksonville, ILImage via Flickr by pasa47

While you are visiting the sites, don’t forget to take in the historic downtown area. You will find a variety of shops, including places to buy crafts and gift cards, as well as restaurants. Recent improvements will also make sure you have easy access to Central Park and the surrounding areas.

These are just a handful of the many historical sites you can visit in Jacksonville, IL, brought to you by United Chevrolet Buick GMC. If we missed your favorite Jacksonville historical attraction, drop us a line so we can add it to the list.

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