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.

WUIS

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.