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A Wealth of History Abounds in Decatur, Illinois

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In Part 1 of this series, we had just arrived in Decatur, Illinois, and quickly learned that the city offers a wealth of historical sites, attractions and so forth of Afrocentric interest.

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To research the area’s black history, and maybe even some of your own, be sure to visit The African-American Cultural & Genealogical Society, founded in 1993. Some of its many offerings include genealogy workshops, museum displays, sponsorship of the annual Black History Month, Juneteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations, essay and poetry contests and storytelling.

One of the most significant sites in town is the African American Civil War Soldiers Monument, created by renowned artist and Decatur native Preston Jackson. Commissioned by the City of Decatur, the stunning 10-foot tall monument is one of only a few sculptured tributes to black Civil War soldiers in the country.

To celebrate the lives of other African American Civil War soldiers visit Greenwood Cemetery, the final resting place of servicemen Archie Ward, Alexander Carter, and Abner Piper (they also do haunted tours here - www.haunteddecatur.com/greenwood.html).

As I was coming through here to explore the Land of Lincoln, I found a lot that fit the bill. For example, Decatur is home to a number of the 215 exhibits found in 52 communities throughout Illinois along the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail. Each one offers a unique insight about Lincoln and the people, stories and events surrounding his life and political career.

General sites and attractions in town include the Hieronymus Mueller Museum, which tells the tale of the famous Mueller Co. and its German immigrant namesake who opened an industrial shop here in 1857; the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum, highlighting an extensive collection of the hottest cars and memorabilia made by Chevrolet dating back to the 1920s; Wabash Depot Antique Center, the former headquarters for the Wabash Railroad Company and now a restored, an early 20th century structure encompassing 10,000 square feet of antique and vintage items; and the Scovill Zoo, encompassing a zoo, gardens, playground and children’s museum.

Nevertheless, the focus here is definitely Lincoln, as seen at the Macon County Museum Complex with a log courthouse where in the 1830's Lincoln tried several cases, an 1860's one-room schoolhouse and an 1850's log house. At the corner of Main and Merchant Streets downtown is a statue commemorating his famous “Stump Speech,” while another one sits on the Millikin University campus that celebrates Lincoln’s arrival here in Macon County at age 21.

One of Lincoln’s close friends was Richard J. Oglesby, a three-time Illinois Governor, U.S. Senator, Civil War Union general and recognized as Decatur’s most distinguished citizen. His legacy is carried on at the beautifully restored Victorian Oglesby Mansion here. And you’ll find a plaque at the Busey Bank & Trust Parking Lot that marks where, during the 1860 Illinois Republican Convention, Lincoln was nominated for President.

Last but not least, just 10 miles out of town in Mt. Zion, Illinois is where the Lincoln legacy all started – at the Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park. It is here that our 16th President lived with his parents and siblings as a child when the family first settled in the state.

Hieronymus Mueller Museum, which tells the tale of the famous Mueller Co. and its German immigrant namesake who opened an industrial shop here in 1857; the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum highlighting an extensive collection of the hottest cars and memorabilia made by Chevrolet dating back to the 1920's; Wabash Depot Antique Center, the former headquarters for the Wabash Railroad Company and now a restored, early 20th Century structure encompassing 10,000 square feet of antique and vintage items; and The Scovill Zoo, encompassing a zoo, gardens, playground and Children’s Museum.

Decatur is just my first stop on this historical journey, so hang tight for our next adventure when we mosey on down the highway to Urbana-Champaign!

To start at Part 1 click here.

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