The Lope: Lincoln, Illinois

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lincoln, Illinois

(updated February 2009)

This Presidents' Day weekend, we have Lincoln on our minds, as usual.

We like Abe. Maybe it's the cool black clothes. Maybe it's that the $5 bill is the smallest one that actually buys something. Maybe it's that ole' Honest Abe is the most television-rendered dead president (He's currently selling sleep aids and Wendy's meals). Whatever the reason, we seem compelled to pay tribute.

It was July 8, 2006 - day number 4 of an Illinois Route 66 trip that began in Chicago. We'd already seen the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and would see Lincoln's tomb the next day.

This was primarily a Route 66 trip, but we veered off the path whenever we saw anything interesting in Lincoln, hence...

Just a couple blocks off Route 66, one finds the Logan County Courthouse which was built from 1903-1905 on the site of two previous courthouses in which Abraham Lincoln practiced law before his election to the presidency. Cleveland sandstone was used for the exterior.

Throughout this post, I will refer to one of the most complete and annotated websites I've seen assembled about any city, Mr. Lincoln, Route 66 and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois by Darold Leigh Henson, Professor Emeritus of English at Missouri State University. Henson lists a great deal of history about the courthouse, here.

I was really attracted to this cool dome. It is 52 feet in diameter and is 60 feet high from the base. Atop it is a lantern that is 18 feet high and nine feet in diameter. Those four clocks were originally made by Seth Thomas and are nine feet in diameter.

Northwest of the courthouse stands this 1869 monument to soldiers of the Civil War.

I've read that the statue itself is of marble. I'm amazed that erosion has taken this much of a toll on it in only 139 years.

The statue to the south of the courthouse is called the Indian Mother and was sculpted from Tennessee Pink Marble by Charles Mulligan. It was dedicated over 101 years ago - on October 26, 1906 - by the Lincoln Woman's Club. The inscription reads "A GIFT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE." On October 26, 2001, the statue was repaired and restored by David Seagraves using funds raised by local citizens and handled through Main Street Lincoln.

One of our readers, Andrea Springer, was kind enough to reminisce about the years she spent in Lincoln. Springer writes: "There's an arcade on the square and one of the places it leads to is a little courtyard. You enter the courtyard, go up the stairs and there's Guzzardo's Italian Restaurant. It's been around forever (my parents dated there) and still has great food."

I didn't see a lot of neon in Lincoln, but Becherer Jewelry on the square has some.

I always enjoy walking around a square and seeing the little touches.

Also on the square is the Griesheim Building which was built in 1932 to replace an earlier structure which burned, killing two people. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A group of sign painters called the Letterheads repainted this ghost sign for the Lincoln Evening Courier, using an old photograph as a guide. The newspaper still exists, but is now called "The Courier."

The Lincoln Theater is about a half block off the square at 215 South Kickapoo Street. According to sources quoted by this page, construction on the theatre started 86 years ago, on Feb. 12 (Lincoln's birthday), 1922. Although it once hosted live theater and had an organ well past the silent era, it is now an extensively remodelled four-plex. However, some original elements remain inside. You can also see a more concise summery of its history at

I had time to do a little more shooting of downtown buildings to the northwest of the square. This is the 100 block of South Chicago Street.

This is the south corner of the intersection of Pulaski and South Chicago streets.

Nearby is the Lincoln train station, which opened in 1911 as the Chicago & Alton railroad station.

It closed as a train station in 1972 and was renovated in 1977 into a restaurant. Four Illinois Central passenger cars were added in the renovation.

In 2006, McCarty's Restaurant morphed into a banquette facility.

Near the train station is the site of a key piece of Lincoln history, the site at which Abraham Lincoln christened the town on August 27, 1853.

He did so with juice he squeezed from a piece of watermelon, an event which is commemorated with this statue. Lincoln was the first city to be named for Abraham Lincoln; he wasn't even President then. By the way, Lincoln was fond of referring to water as "Adam's ale."

There's a handy-dandy explanatory sign nearby.

This Gulf, Mobil and Ohio (GM&O) railroad mural at Sangamon and Pekin streets was painted in 2004 by the aforementioned Letterheads, and was the particular project of Andy and Lori Gretzky of Tomahawk, Wisconsin. The GM&O is long-gone, as are most of the American Locomotive Company (Alco) diesel passenger locomotives shown in the mural.

If you want to see a working Alco streamliner similar to the one in the mural, check out the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona.

This Welcome to Downtown Lincoln mural was painted by Adam May of AMP Studio, a Lincoln photo and graphic design studio, in October of 2005.

Back on Route 66, I'd never seen double stop signs. According to Bobbi Abbot, Director of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, this one at 5th and Washington had the top sign added because it was being overlooked by too many truck drivers.

Further west on Route 66, at 914 5th Street, one finds this replica of a building with which Lincoln was familiar. This reproduction of the Postville Courthouse was built in 1953 as part of Lincoln's centennial celebration. The original was moved to Michigan by Henry Ford, according to Bobbi Abbot, Director of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. Specifically, Ford moved the building to his Dearborn, Michigan, Greenfield Village museum. Read more about the replica, here and here.

Yule aficionados might note that a Christmas Open House is held here the first Saturday in December. It features 1840's decorations, including a tree, along with other entertainment. If I lived in the area, I'd check that out.

Another handy sign: From 1839 to 1848, the seat of Logan County was Postville, which centered in the court house located on this site. In this structure, Abraham Lincoln, A member of the traveling bar of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, attended court twice a year. Postville eventually became part of Lincoln.

Now here's a structure that leaps out at you, no matter what its condition. The Mill, 738 Washington (Route 66), opened as a Dutch theme building with blue trim in 1929 under the name, "The Blue Mill." The windmill itself once revolved and waitresses dressed in blue and white aprons. In 1945 the building got a new owner and a barroom and dance hall were added, along with a coat of barn red paint. Fried schnitzel became the restaurant's forte. The place had lost most of its Dutch theme interior by the 1980's and, according to, "was becoming a museum of rather strange objects, including a mechanical leg protruding from a hole in the ceiling." The Mill closed in 1996 and began to be an object of deterioration, fines and controversy.

Things have changed since I took these photos in July of 2006. You can read about the complexities at, but the important thing for the tourist is that the original portion of the building has been saved, and the additions were demolished. That sounds like a practical solution to me.

You can see a video of the demolition of the back portion of the building, here.

Ace Jackalope rarely gets to wear a Route 66 pin and a tiki shirt at the same time. That's because there isn't much tiki left on the Mother Road. Out on the beltline version of Route 66, now business Route 55, we ran across the defunct Tropics Restaurant. There's no evidence the Tropics ever had tiki statues, but the sign is still worthy of note.

The Tropics was opened in 1950 by Vince Schwenoha, who chose the name because he'd done military service in Hawaii. He was also influenced by a trip to California, in which he saw a sandwich made of a bun with two patties of hamburger. When brought to Lincoln, this became the "Tropicburger."

The website Mr. Lincoln, Route 66 and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois shows this photo of the exterior from 1950. There was obviously a drastic remodel, if not a completely new building. A post at, mentions a fire. (photo used by permission of Leigh Henson)

Henson's website also shows this undated Tropics postcard. Tiki aficionados will note that although the "South Seas Cocktail Lounge" in the upper left looks somewhat Polynesian, the other views do not. (photo used by permission of Leigh Henson)

The Tropics closed sometime between 2001 and 2006, and is still vacant.

We previously posted about a very atmospheric treat one should not miss when visiting Lincoln: the Ghost Bridge. The bridge supports can be found by walking down a narrow stretch of abandoned 1926-1940 Route 66 pavement which happens to start between two cemeteries. How cool is that?

February 2009 Additions

I visited Lincoln again on June 21 of 2008 while attending the National Route 66 Festival.

Work has progressed on the Mill Restaurant building.

I managed not to overlook the phone booth on the roof of a building on the square this time. I'm told it was part of a previous civil defense plan.

Most importantly to me, though, was the addition to the city of a huge fiberglass Abraham Lincoln in a wagon, which was moved from nearby Diverton.

Ace tried to sneek a peek at Abe's book.

That's a law book he's reading.

Abe looks kind of sad, I think. But then he is usually portrayed as rather serious.

I thought the juxtiposition with the "supersizer" car wash across the street to be rather funny.

We'd like to thank Darold Leigh Henson, Andrea Springer, Bobbi Abbot and Adam May for their help.

For other "Ace does Illinois" posts, see:
The Beginning of Route 66
Breakfast at Lou Mitchell's
Where is Ace Jackalope (Episode 5)
A Sacred Grove on Route 66
He Belongs to the Ages, But You Can Still Buy a Souvenir
Ghost Bridge
Belvedere Motel
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 26)


Blogger JDP said...

Great post and photographs as usual.


Fri Feb 15, 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see some things that I still recognize in this post.

Mon Feb 18, 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Brer Lope,

I appreciate the credit and publicity you have given to my community history Web site of Lincoln, Illinois. In gratitude, I have placed a link to your site on my site's homepage.

BTW, what is the secret of your magnificent photos? Tricks and mirrors? Million-dollar equipment? Decades of experience? All of the above?

Tue Apr 01, 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed the political banner at the top of the site.

Funny how a poor society like Lincoln, IL still votes for the War hungry, Anti-Social Security benefit, MORE spending than a democrat, tax cuts for upper class party. Pretty much opposite what ABE wanted. Change the towns name to BUSH, IL.

Wed Aug 13, 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Ace Jackalope said...

To which banner do you refer? I have a Google ad banner, which can be either "real" candidate. Ace's banner runs there until election day.

Wed Aug 13, 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote "I noticed the political banner at the top of the site.

Funny how a poor society like Lincoln, IL still votes for the War hungry, Anti-Social Security benefit, MORE spending than a democrat, tax cuts for upper class party. Pretty much opposite what ABE wanted. Change the towns name to BUSH, IL."

That's absolutely uncalled for. Get off your high-horse, calling Lincoln a "poor" society. What are you, some up-state rich tool? The community is trying to do the best we can, and we're going to survive.

Tue Dec 09, 04:44:00 PM  

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