My Ode to Springfield, Illinois

For several years, Springfield was home to me. As I reflect upon my time in this small midwestern city, I’d like to share a few gems with you.

One observation that struck me early on about Springfield was that I wondered if there is another U.S. city of similar size with as many restaurants and churches.

Springfield is a 2.5 hour drive to Chicago and a 90 minute drive to St. Louis. You can also visit by Amtrak from those cities or fly in from any major city in the U.S. There are several places to stay and I would recommend renting a car during your visit.

I loved driving around the county—predominantly flat with patches of rolling prairie hills. The small towns are a good insight into heartland America.

Summers in Springfield can be hot and humid. Winters are cold.

My favorite time of the year in Springfield was winter. Winters in Springfield reminded me of “Fog” by Carl Sandburg:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Winters in Springfield

Winters can be hard in Springfield but surely not as harsh as in the city of Fargo. I dressed warm, in layers.

In my notes that follow, bear in mind that few prominent sites in Springfield don't feature in My Ode. In spite of that, I hope you are able to visit the sites I am about to share, and draw from the experiences as much as I did at that moment.

Dana Thomas House

I am enthralled by architecture. Having a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in the city of Springfield was a gift. The Dana Thomas House inspired me to think about skillful design of restricted space. Visit the House, watch the introductory film presentation, and take a tour. I have done this on several occasions as a top destination for guests I hosted, international students I worked with, and visitors I met during my time in the city. My apologies to Lincoln fans — “With malice towards none...” — and to the late President.

The Lincoln Family Pew

At the First Presbyterian Church, I was amazed when I saw the pew where Lincoln and his family sat. It might not mean much to many but having grown up in a remote region of the world and having read about Lincoln, that sight was an amazing experience. I understand that other sites in the city have similar relics but the sanctity of the space and the pew that transcended time deeply moved me. If you can, visit the sanctuary of the church to admire the splendor of the stained glass windows.

Old State Capitol

Built between 1837-40, the Old State Capitol reflects an example of American Greek Revival architecture. The building, as an exercise of preservation and restoration, was completely dismantled and rebuilt during the 1960s. Take a tour of this crucial building. If you like architecture, look around the square as it has a lot to offer. Lincoln served at the Old State Capitol as a lawyer. It was in this building that Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech during his last term in the Illinois House of Representatives and it was in this building that his body lay in state prior to being moved to its final resting place, Lincoln Tomb.

Lincoln Tomb

Lincoln Tomb is located in Oak Ridge Cemetery, which is the second most-visited U.S. cemetery, the first being Arlington National Cemetery. I was pleasantly surprised by the rolling grounds of the cemetery with several hardwoods and conifers. Yes, for good luck I did rub Lincoln’s nose [you should too!] on a bronze head of Lincoln outside the tomb. The tomb is also the final resting place for Lincoln’s wife Mary, and three of their four sons. I like the simplicity of the space within. Tip: At the base of the hill is the receiving vault constructed about 1860. The final funeral services for President Lincoln were held there on May 4, 1865. I have often visited this location [a closed and gated vault] because it is a reminder of our own impermanence in this world—rich or poor, black or white, civilian or President.


For many, a visit to local public radio station isn’t of any significance. For me, WUIS was an authentic space of sorts. A small team of dedicated reporters cover local and state stories, along with national programs that air. Located on the grounds of the University of Illinois Springfield, WUIS is an NPR member station that has the potential to attract visitors to Springfield from all over the world. In many parts of the world, this kind of public radio station does not exist. Therein lies the opportunity to creatively begin an initiative.

One of the memorable programs I listened to was “This I Believe Illinois,” an “annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world.” I was in awe as I listened to the high school seniors’ essays and silently wished the best for them as they were about to go forth and change the world for the better. Such promise in youth!

The Pharmacy Gallery & Art Space

I am drawn to the arts. Furthermore, art inspires me. Local artists’ work—sculpture, drawing, painting, installation—at The Pharmacy has always motivated me. At the same instance, I worried about the emphasis on STEM in U.S. schools and colleges but understood the need for such an effort. [Note: I have written about the importance of community music bands in the U.S.] Do visit The Pharmacy Gallery. Take your child or grandchild along. A brush or piece of pastel chalk or lump of clay coupled with a young mind could evoke powerful humanitarian stories for generations to come. Our world needs fascinating storytellers.

Incredibly Delicious

During my travels, I rarely feature a bakery or restaurant. However, on this occasion, I would like to acknowledge Incredibly Delicious. Over the years, I have spent several hours of quality time with dear friends and also by myself. Everyone in Team Incredibly Delicious was always pleasant to interact with, the food touched the right spot, and the pastries were wicked.

In Pensive Mood

As an introvert, I draw energy by spending time alone. In a small city like Springfield, there aren’t many get-away spots. However, the above is one of my favorite spots and I’m not sharing it’s geolocation. Nonetheless, many locals would probably recognize it because they would have driven by on several occasions. Thanks, bench.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

A short drive from Springfield will take you to Sugar Creek in Glenarm, Illinois. I took many visitors there, guests I hosted, and students I worked with. Find out why this venue made my list: Off the Beaten Path: A Covered Bridge

Camp Butler National Cemetery

Not every country honors its fallen military heroes in the manner many Western nations do. Every time I visited the Camp Butler National Cemetery, I was reminded of the sacrifices one has to make and its impact on a loved one, a family, a community, and a nation. I’ve taken international students to the Cemetery so that they could contemplate the importance of honor and sacrifice, what it means to be free, and hoped that they might think of their own contributions to society as they grew.

Until we meet again

As always, the impermanent nature of life is central in my heart and mind. A visit to a place as solemn as the Camp Butler National Cemetery made me appreciate the time I had in a city I called home for many years. Thanks, Springfield. My journey continues and until we meet again...

Off the Beaten Path: A Covered Bridge

We often wander through the landmarks of a town or city without going off the beaten path. Sometimes it is the limited time on hand or access to the location; other times it is the lack of knowledge of that unusual landmark.

A culmination of points of interest converge at the Covered Bridge at Sugar Creek in Glenarm, Illinois. It’s a short drive south from Springfield, off of Interstate 55, on to the historical Route 66, and into the heartland of USA.

Route 66 and Interstate 55

Going south on the historic Route 66 and veering just a little over a mile off the Mother Road will take you to two sites of interest: 1) Sugar Creek Covered Bridge and 2) Pioneer Park. The small park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park is the site of the first settler's home in Sangamon County built by Robert Pulliam. Perhaps due to his checkered life the park isn't spoken of much but the city of Springfield honors Pulliam with this historical marker and a plaque located downtown.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

This wooden trussed bridge was constructed by Thomas Black in 1827 and served the early settlers of Sangamon County. The Illinois Department of Transportation rehabilitated the bridge in 1965. Only two wooden covered bridges remain in Sangamon County and this is one of the five remaining in Illinois.

Burr Arch Truss, Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

Theodore Burr is credited with the Burr Arch Truss bridge design. The principle behind a Burr arch truss is that the arch is capable of bearing the entire load on the bridge and the truss keeps the bridge rigid. A slightly modified version of the Burr truss is used in the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge with an "X" diagonal within each panel. The truss span of this covered bridge is 60 feet.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

During the repairs in 1965, the lower chord of the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge was jacked and straightened. These lower chords rests on metal piers at each end. All material used during the restoration is the same as the original structure.

Sugar Creek

Sugar Creek is a tributary of the Sangamon River, which comprises of an upper and lower section. In Sangamon County, Sugar Creek refers to the 100-square-mile upper section.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

Twenty four feet approaches lead into the east and west portals of the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge. The portal height and width are constructed with the same measurements. The handrails were erected during the reconstruction process in 1965.

"I took the one less traveled..."

A section of a trail near Sugar Creek reminds me about life in general. Figuratively, I have taken a path that is less traveled. Literally, I have walked the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail during summer and winter; driven the Robert Frost Memorial Drive; and visited the Bread Loaf School of English. All thanks to a teacher for whom I had to memorize and understand Frost's The Road Not Taken, and for which I am forever grateful.

Cornfields of Central Illinois

You are in the heartland of the USA as you head back from Sugar Creek Covered Bridge to either Route 66 or Interstate 55. Corn and soybean fields adorn the landscape of central Illinois. Contrary to the proverbial idiom, corn is nowadays more than knee-high by the 4th of July. Perhaps the corn along this road is a genetically modified crop.

Lake Springfield

Last call to Lake Springfield before you head back Interstate 55. A reservoir, Lake Springfield was formed by building a dam across Sugar Creek, which is a tributary of the Sangamon River. The lake serves as a local recreation spot but there are sites to keep clear of the crowd.

Dickson Mounds Museum: Interpreting a Past for a Better Future

Dickson Mounds Museum is an on-site archaeological museum located on the grounds of Dickson Mounds State Park. The purpose of the Museum, which is a branch of the Illinois State Museum, is to document the journey of American Indians in the Illinois River Valley.

I did not see a “No Photography” sign, therefore I took a few pictures at the Museum. These pictures of exhibits and artifacts are a glimpse at the history and culture that resides within the Museum.

Dickson Mounds Museum

The Dickson Mounds Museum is located on a bluff near the Illinois River between the towns of Lewistown and Havana. The Museum is around 60 miles northwest of the city of Springfield, along routes 97 and 78. Although the museum might seem out of the way for visitors to Illinois, I highly recommend a visit.


The architecture of the museum blends into the message and its location. The building is constructed in the form of a flat-topped mound with distinctive sloping sides. Your visit through the museum begins at the top of the three floors and you work your way down.

Illinois River Valley and Mounds

A short film introduces you to the story of the land and the people who occupied it. When you step outside the "River Valley Gallery", you can witness the panorama in front of you and imagine how the people of the valley lived on the land.

Reflections on Three Worlds

The Reflections on Three Worlds gallery shows archaeology, life, and culture of the Mississippian people whose sites surround the Dickson Mounds Museum.

Pottery at Dickson Mounds Museum

Pieces of pottery can be the most important evidence for identifying and dating the cultures associated with the sites discovered.

Ceremonial Mace

Ceremonial maces during the Mississippian period were elite objects and were reserved for those who wielded the highest authority and speak of superiority and dominion, which were essential attributes of a ruler in warrior society. The mace displayed here on the left, a remnant of Illinois' prehistoric culture, was discovered in 1915 and dates to circa AD 1200-1400.

Effigies and Totem

Mississippian statues provide a glimpse into their beliefs. Pottery was made from locally available clay sources, which was tempered with an additive to keep it from shrinking and cracking during the drying and firing process. The precise uses of stone human effigy pipes remain unknown but there is high probability of it being used for ceremonial significance.

The River Valley Gallery

The River Valley Gallery of the Disckson Mounds Museum traces interactions between the Illinois River Valley and its inhabitants who have lived in this area from the end of the Ice Age to today.

Mississippian Spider Gorget

The spider was an important symbol to the people of the Mississippian culture. The spider symbol, perhaps associated with women, symbolizes weaving, fertility, balance, and harmony.

The People of the Valley

The People of the Valley exhibit shows cultures from Ice Age hunters to the tribal groups that left Illinois in the ninth century.

The People of the Valley

The Mississippian period begins 1,100 years ago and continues in Illinois until 550 years ago. Mississippian people lived throughout Illinois. There are 2,379 Mississippian sites documented so far in Illinois.

From Quashquema to Commerce to Nauvoo

In 1839, Joseph Smith chose Commerce [now Nauvoo, said to mean “beautiful place”] as the home for his followers.

Nauvoo was originally a Sauk and Fox village. After the Indians moved west of the Mississippi, promoters had a difficult time because the marshy bottom lands attracted few settlers.

Nauvoo became one of the largest cities in Illinois after Mormon converts from the USA and Europe swelled the population to approximately 15,000.

Nauvoo Survey Stone

Site of the original survey stone for Nauvoo. All streets for the city were platted from this point.

Stone Arch Bridge, Nauvoo

The stone arch bridge in Nauvoo was built in 1850 by a German, M. Baumert. The bridge spans a drainage ditch built by the pioneers of Church of the Latter Day Saints to drain swampland along the river.

Brickyard, Nauvoo

The early settlers of Nauvoo lived in log cabins but they soon began constructing their homes in brick. At the brickmaker, you can see how bricks were formed, baked, and dried. You may take home a souvenir Nauvoo brick.

Webb Brothers Blacksmith Shop

Situated beside a blacksmith and wagon shop is a shoeing stock for oxen. The reconstructed shop sits on it original foundation. The shop was owned by Chauncey Webb, along with his father and brothers. Visitors to the shop receive a souvenir “prairie diamond” ring made from a horseshoe nail.

Calvin Pendleton Home and School

Calvin Pendleton was an herbal doctor, a gunsmith, and a teacher. He taught reading, writing, and arithmetic to children and penmanship to adults.

Brigham Young Home

Like most sites, the home of Brigham Young in Nauvoo is open to visitors. When you tour the home, you will hear about the letter written by Mary Ann to Brigham telling him of Joseph Smith’s death.

Jonathan Browning Home and Gun Shop, Nauvoo

During a tour of the Jonathan Browning Home and Gun Shop, you will learn about the humble beginnings of Browning Arms Corporation. Authentic rifles, handguns, and shotguns from the early 1800s are on display.

Cultural Hall

The Cultural Hall is the heart of Old Nauvoo's social life. A musical drama documenting life during the golden age—Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo—is performed nightly throughout the year. [Note: See Comments section regarding performance.] Located behind is the Family Living Center where you can see demonstrations of trades such as spinning, bread making, candle making, etc. As you walk back up to the street, you can taste bread from the brick oven at the Scovil Bakery.

Seventies Hall

Nauvoo's first library where men and women gathered to listen to Brigham Young and other Church leaders. Seventies Hall is named after the missionaries sent out from Nauvoo, which is patterned after the “seventy” that Jesus called to carry the Gospel to every city and place.

Summer Kitchen

First home of Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Sr [father of Joseph Smith]. Joseph Smith's wife Emma used the summer kitchen thus not heating up the main house during the hot and humid summer months. In the adjacent lot is the Smith Family Cemetery, the final resting place for Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lucy Mack, Joseph Smith Sr., and other family members and friends.

The Prophet's Last Ride

On June 24, 1844, Joseph Smith, with his brother, Hyrum, left Nauvoo for Carthage on what would be their final ride. They paused on the bluff, admiring the unfinished temple Joseph said, "This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.”

Carthage Jail

Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred at the Carthage Jail. Built in 1839, the Carthage Jail is a two-story rectangular gable-front building constructed of red limestone and measures twenty-nine by thirty-five feet. The jail was built to incarcerate petty thieves and debtors and to serve as a temporary holding place for violent criminals.

Trail of Hope, Nauvoo

"1846 began the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo. Leaving behind their home, beautiful city, family and friends who they quite possibly would never see again in this life. As they journeyed west, they recorded their feelings and experiences in personal journals..." There are 29 reader boards along the Trail of Hope.

Eyes Westward, Nauvoo

Joseph and Brigham on the banks of the Mississippi River looking towards the west. Joseph is holding a map of the westward trek which he had seen in vision.

Nauvoo Temple

The Nauvoo Temple stands on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The building is a reproduction of the original Nauvoo Temple built by Mormon settlers in the 1840s. The temple was destroyed by arson fire in 1848 and tornado-force winds in 1850.

Tunnel Hill State Trail, Illinois

Tunnel Hill State Trail is a day-use trail. It is a woody railroad line converted into a bike trail that stretches 45-miles from Harrisburg to Karnak, Illinois.

I’m not an experienced cyclist but I was able to travel the complete trail in a day. Remember to carry food and water.

If you prefer shorter rides, I recommend the trailhead in Vienna that allows comfortable round-trips on the trail—approximately 10 miles north gets you to Tunnel Hill; 13-miles south is the Henry Barkhausen Wetlands Center. With a 2% grade, the trail is comfortable.

Landform changes along the trail. Keep an eye on interpretive signs. Start early; it’s quiet. Be prepared to be with yourself.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

Start your day early; the forest and the trail could be all yours. A good place to stay in Vienna is Country Schemes Bed and Breakfast -- away from the town and a centennial farm.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

A journey awaits you. Take your time to enjoy the sights. The songbirds will cheer for you along the way.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

The trail is mostly crushed stone with a bit of concrete near Harrisburg. If you're headed south of Vienna, the trail surface is looser.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

You will ride mostly in the shade on the Tunnel Hill State Trail. There are 23 trestles and they range from approximately 30 to 430 feet in length. Some are 90-feet high.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

Tunnel Hill State Trail is a day-use trail. There are privy toilets and water fountain at the access areas. Bring your own water. There are no camping facilities. If you're riding in the late-afternoon on a summer day, a bug spray will make your stops on the trail more pleasant.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

During the summer months the trail is lush green, which is evident in the wider sections. Take a moment to stop and admire the prairie flowers or listen to a songbird.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

The shade from the trees might seem like you have arrived at the tunnel on the trail but don't be fooled. "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep..."

Tunnel Hill State Trail

In the United States, trains approaching a public grade crossing must sound a whistle or horn four times [long-long-short-long; represented by the letter Q in Morse code].

Tunnel Hill State Trail

Rock formations along the Tunnel Hill State Trail contrast with the lush summer greenery.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

The Tunnel Hill State Trail offers habitat to a variety of birds and animals. I have seen several white-tailed deer during my rides. I'm not good at identifying bird calls but it's a delight to listen to the songbirds.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

The trestles on Tunnel Hill State Trail feature decking and side rails. Take a break from your ride and pause to enjoy the scenery from an overlook.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

Freight cars went through the narrow tunnel. The tunnel is the highest point on the trail with an elevation of 680 feet. The tunnel isn't majestic but it's a part of the journey. Embrace it.

Tunnel Hill State Trail

Tunnel Hill was originally longer than 800 feet. In 1929, a portion of the tunnel collapsed and it was shortened by 300 feet. Now at 543 feet, it is the only tunnel on the trail.

It can be quite disorienting as you enter the tunnel because it is dark. Bring a headlamp or use your bike light. If you have neither, go slow and keep looking straight ahead at the light at the end of the tunnel. Warned you.

Farnsworth House – A Modern Masterpiece

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was about simplicity, balance, and elegance when it came to the Farnsworth House.

The Farnsworth House is a National Trust Historic Site adjoining the Fox River, south of the city of Plano, Illinois. It is one room, made up of steel and glass, and is a brilliant expression of architecture. Three distinct spatial interfaces were created within a 2,400 square feet plan.

Note: A photo from this collection appears in the book Geometry of Design.

Chair outside the Visitor Center of Farnsworth House.

Arrive 30-minutes [or more] before the start of your guided tour so that you can watch the movie in the Visitor Center.

Walking Path, Farnsworth House

A walk to the Farnsworth House through the woods. You cannot enter the premises without a visitor ticket, which can be purchased at the Visitor Center.

Fox River

Enroute to the Farnsworth House. Flood water has affected the Farnsworth House on several occasions.

First glimpse of the Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House is elevated five feet on a raised floor platform. Although the house was built on the lot, it has a sense of interconnectedness with the space it resides on.

Farnsworth House

The porch of the Farnsworth House used to have insect screens. Windows used to have roller shades but were damaged by flood waters.

Farnsworth House

The porch and enclosed space of the Farnsworth House are elevated five feet on a raised platform. The five feet height is above the 100-year flood level, which is a 1% probability of a flood event occurring.

Farnsworth House

The openness of the Farnsworth House blends easily with the surroundings. Two slabs form the roof and floor of the house. A third slab is the terrace, an area of transition between the grounds and house. Exposed steel slabs are painted in white.

Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House is one large room that consists of areas for sitting, cooking, eating, etc. Bathroom and mechanical spaces are enclosed within the core of the house.

Farnsworth House

A guided tour of the Farnsworth House allows one to visit the inside but photography is not permitted unless you signed up for the Guided Interior Photography tour*. You can see the fluid but somewhat defined areas of the house. [Pardon my socks that are reflected on the glass; shoes are not allowed.]

*You will need to purchase an interior photography permit and sign a copy of the photography policy.

Farnsworth House Interior

The house defines an ideal of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's American career, which is a space that is free of interior support and can be be "zoned" in a flexible manner.

Farnsworth House

The ceiling to floor glass walls in the Farnsworth House creates a seamless indoor-outdoor connection.

Farnsworth House

Large maple trees sit in front of the Farnsworth House. The entrance of the house faces the river instead of the street, which allows the house to reveal itself from different angles as one approaches the entrance.

Farnsworth House

In this photo the Farnsworth House seems to sit by itself on a piece of land. A slightly different angle will prove that the house is extremely connected to its surroundings.

Farnsworth House

"Nature, too, shall live its own life. We must beware not to disrupt it with the color of our houses and interior fittings. Yet we should attempt to bring nature, houses, and human beings together into a higher unity." Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest

A bit off the beaten path, the Garden of the Gods covers more than 3,300 acres of forest.

Located in the Shawnee National Forest in southeastern Illinois, the Garden of the Gods has several trails. The Observation Trail is most popular — an interpretive trail with interesting history about the geology of the area. Made of sandstone, the rock formations and cliffs are approximately 320 million years old.

Garden of the Gods

The Observation Trail follows a .25 mile stone path that leads to spectacular overlooks of the Shawnee National Forest and views of unusual rock formations. A leisurely walk along the trail can take approximately 45-minutes but do take time to enjoy the vistas.

Garden of the Gods

The path beckons. It's a "road less traveled."

Garden of the Gods

Trees growing on the top of the rocks with minimal soil. The root structures are quite interesting with some growing into the rocks.

Garden of the Gods

Rocks along the trail displays Liesegang bands/rings weathered over time. A proof that these are sedimentary rocks that were once within a body of water. [Note to self: I am but a tiny speck.]

Garden of the Gods

The elements have sculpted these unique rock formations that can be seen along the trail. At the mid-point of the trail, there are wooden and rock steps.

Garden of the Gods

The bluffs provide breathtaking views of the forests below and as far as the eye can see.

Garden of the Gods

There are a few places to rest along the trail, in addition to restrooms but they don't flush. Carry your own water. Bring food if you plan to spend some time. Disposable containers are not allowed on the trail.

Garden of the Gods

Fair warnings are posted along the trail as rocks can become slippery and dangerous when wet. In addition, some of the bluffs drop more than 100 feet down.

Garden of the Gods

Magnificent bluffs provide breathtaking views of the Shawnee National Forest.

Garden of the Gods

Sediment rock and the fractured bedrock have created an interesting rock formation.

Garden of the Gods

This area was once part of an inland sea and rivers dumped tons of sand and sediments. Over the years, the underlying debris was compressed into sandstone. When the land uplifted, the sea retreated and nature gave us the Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods

The forces of nature has gradually nibbled away and removed earth up to a mile deep. This is but a snapshot of a continuing process.

Garden of the Gods

The elements of nature has sculpted some of the most stunning rock formations.