Sunday, December 9, 2018

Illinois Bicentennial

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

From December 3, 2017 through December 3, 2018, Illinois celebrated their Bicentennial anniversary as a state.

Illinois has had three capital cities during its statehood. The first was Kaskaskia, the second was Vandalia, and the third is Springfield which remains the capital today.

The original city of Kaskaskia has been washed away over the years by the Mississippi River. No trace of the original city remains. The first capitol building in Vandalia burned, but the second still stands and was returned to the county of Fayette and the city of Vandalia. We haven’t managed to visit Vandalia yet, but it is on our list.

The cornerstone of the first capitol building built in Springfield was laid on July 4th, 1837, and the building was finally finished in 1853 at approximately double the estimated cost. The building is still in use today as a courthouse.

The current capitol’s cornerstone was laid in October of 1868. It was still unfinished in 1876 when it was first occupied. It was completed 20 years after the cornerstone was laid.

It’s interesting to know that the original northern border of Illinois was a line running east-west along the southern border of Lake Michigan at about 41 degrees, 38 minutes north latitude. This would have placed the current city of Chicago in Wisconsin and not allowed Illinois access to Lake Michigan.

Joann and I usually prefer other routes than through Chicago to get where we’re going. Chicago traffic just makes us crazy! But we did decide to leave, basically in the middle of the night, on a trip in 2010 to be at old Graue Mill at dawn. (Considering that it’s a three-hour trip to the mill, and Joann snapped her first photo at 5:30, we must have left at 2:00!)

The waterwheel at the mill first turned in the summer of 1852 and today is the only operating waterwheel-powered gristmill in the Chicago area. The mill was also a station on the Underground Railroad, harboring slaves in the basement of the mill.

If your image of Illinois is the bustling, congested tollways through Chicago, or the miles and miles of nothingness along the interstates, you should get on some of the state highways and county roads, and drive through some small towns.

Almost every town we’ve passed through has given us some sort of photo opportunities, whether it be old advertising, abandoned buildings, or small businesses. And you never know what you’ll find. We found this little North Pole building with Santa’s mailbox in April.

If you’re interested in the old highways, Illinois has three of the most famous – Route 66, The National Road (Highway 40), and the Lincoln Highway running across the state. You can also choose The Great River Road which follows the entire state along the Mississippi.

We found the old Hub Theater along the Lincoln Highway in Rochelle. It opened in 1931 and closed its doors in early 2011. After a restoration effort of the historic, 8,000-square-foot movie theater fell through, it was transformed into the Kennay Farms Distillery, with plans to open by the end of 2018.

So Happy Birthday Illinois! We hope to do a lot more shunpiking through your state in the future. If you travel through Illinois, do a little shunpiking yourself.

Happy Shunpiking!

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  1. Great history lesson, Ruth! Thank you! And gorgeous photos as always, Joann!

    1. Thanks, Jean! Processing the photos for this blog post inspired us with ideas for three future blog posts. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

  2. Thanks for the interesting story and great photos! I didn’t realize that our neighbor to the south became a state 30 years before Wisconsin did! We always bemoan driving through Illinois because it’s usual through Chicago or on the boring interstate. But you are right – what a difference if you take the backroads! We’ve done Route 66 and Springfield and there are so many interesting things to see when you’re off the beaten path!

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Phyllis. We are usually kind of just passing through Illinois on our way to another state. But, as you said, there are really interesting things to see when you get off the Interstate. We hope to spend more time exploring Illinois in the near future.