Christmas in Springfield

This year December has been unseasonably warm here in Chicago, but that does not stop Christmas from coming. The kids are out of school, the stockings are all hung with care, and soon Saint Nicholas will be here. Perhaps, Christmas does not feel just around the corner quite yet. A quick trip to Springfield can add some holiday cheer and a road trip where the kids are quiet, excited, and possibly sleeping is even better!

Three major stops and one minor detour you may want to see are the Lincoln Home, Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln’s New Salem (side trip), and the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana Thomas House.

If heading south on I-55 from Chicago a short stop about a half an hour north of Springfield is Lincoln’s New Salem. This is the town where Lincoln walked eight miles to borrow a book, was a rail splitter, and owned a store that went bankrupt. Here, he grew up in his twenties before moving to Springfield and possibly found his first love was from  some believe, Miss Ann Rutledge.

To note, for the winter most of the buildings are closed some are open, but only viewable through bars. No interpreters or staff are outside to ask questions. It is fun to look at the reconstructed town, but definitely more of a stop to make in late spring to early fall. The exhibit in the visitor center and 16 minute movie are very helpful in interpreting the abandoned buildings during the winter months. Word to the wise, New Salem is 16 miles from the interstate so make sure this is a side trip that everyone in the car needs. It is a nice pit stop, for the weary.  The hours are:

November 1 – February 28: Open Wednesday through Sunday 8:00 a.m – 4:00 p.m.
March 1 – April 15: Open Wednesday through Sunday 9:00 a.m – 5:00 p.m.
April 16 – Sept 15: Open Sunday through Saturday 9:00 a.m – 5:00 p.m.
Sept 16 – October 31: Open Wednesday through Sunday 9:00 a.m – 5:00 p.m.

The Lincoln Home is next stop on your Springfield quick get-away trip during the Holiday season. At Mr. Lincoln’s home a National Park Ranger will take you through the parlor all the way to Mrs. Lincoln’s kitchen. During the holiday, it is decorated with garland, a orange and clove centerpiece on the dining room table, and of course a sight to never miss is the stereoscope downstairs that Mr. Lincoln bought for his family. Think of it as the 3-D movie of today. Finally, Mrs. Lincoln’s bedroom wallpaper is bright with blue and flowers shipped from France during her residency. That is something you will never forget! The Lincoln Home is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday.

The next site should be the Lincoln Tomb. It is located in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Other war memorials including the Korean War and World War II are open for visits. Lincoln’s Tomb is closed for the winter, but be sure to rub his nose for luck!

The last Lincoln stop should be the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The museum has two movies/shows during the day that should not be missed with a historian that disappears into smoke. Holograms are used, but the audience is not sure which are holograms and what is real. A guide told me that all the figures are made out silicone plastic instead of wax. The wax would melt from all the heat generated by the lights and that each figure wears a wig of real human hair.  Ask Mr. Lincoln is an interactive exhibit where visitors have asked questions and historians have done their best to answer the questions just as Mr. Lincoln would have. One question was “What is your perfect woman?” and when asked that questions Mr. Lincoln replied a man once told me the only perfect woman he had ever met was his late wife. Many of Mr. Lincoln’s answers share his insight and humor. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

If you have not had enough Lincoln three other sights to visit are the Lincoln-Herdon offices, the Old State Capital building, and the Great Western Train Depot.

All of these sights feature trees or some kind of ornamentation for the holiday, but the best decorator of Springfield is the Dana-Thomas House. The house was built by Frank Lloyd Wright for Susan Lawrence Dana, a socialite in Springfield. To build the house the cost was $60,000 in 1904 when the house was finished. Wright built the house around Dana’s father’s old Victorian home. Wright removed everything, but the basement. Key fact was most of Frank Lloyd Wright houses do not have a basement, people would store things in basements, and FLW did not like this idea of clutter. In the basement, FLW placed a billiards table and a bowling alley. Pretty ingenious. The house features 35 rooms and has the most art glass from all the FLW’s designed homes. The sumac plant was the inspiration in this home. Today, the house is decorated with a themed Christmas tree in almost every room on the tour and many times during the day a harp or small quartet can be heard playing Christmas music for the visitors. After a monumental restoration during 2010 to the Fall of 2011 the Dana Thomas House has outdone itself. The decorations are beautiful, the guides excellent, and the overall ambiance is fantastic. This stop is definitely a must before returning to Chicago! The house is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day with tours every half an hour to hour. Donation only.

This ends our tour of Christmas in Springfield, perhaps in the spring when the ice is thawing Chicago Museum Blog will revisit Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site until then have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!



  1. Excellent info to help make an educational trip to the Springfield area. Thanks.

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