ILLINOIS, the Prairie State

What to see

Chicago Wrigley building - City Tour by Boat - City Tour by Bus - Botanic Gardens - The Melting Pot
Brussels Brussels, Illinois...
Arcola Amish Rockome Gardens
Peoria Wildlife Prairie State Park
Utica Starved Rock State Park
   
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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North East - Part 2

In the travel series View America, North East - Part 2 covers Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 90 full-sized photos.

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OVERVIEW

ILLINOIS is also known as the Prairie State, given the vast prairie plains that once covered almost the entire state. The state slogan is Land of Lincoln, as a tribute to the famous president, who lived in the capital Springfield for some time. The largest city is Chicago, a huge metropolis and the third largest city in the U.S. In 1788 Illinois joined the Union as the 21st state.

The name Illinois is also the name of the confederation of several Indian tribes, that lived in the area at the time of the French exploration. They called themselves the Illiniwek. The French called them "les Illinois" (Illin-wa), and the British anglicized this to "Illinois". Illinois has a population of approximately 12.5 million, with a density of 87 per km2, but 86% of the population lives in the cities. Chicago has more than nine million residents by itself.

Initially the fur trade was the only industry in Illinois, but after 1850 agriculture developed rapidly. After 1900 Chicago started to play a very important economic role. Though the state's revenue from industry and finance is 15 times higher than that from agriculture, Illinois is still number two in the cultivation of corn and soya after Iowa, and number four in industrial output after California, Texas and Ohio.

The metropolis of Chicago is the nation's most important trade center, and its airport O'Hare International is the busiest airport.

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THINGS TO SEE

Chicago

Wrigley building

The Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue is the starting point of several guided cruises on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

Wrigley, the chewing gum emperor, actually didn't start his career with chewing gum but as a soap manufacturer. Unfortunately his soap didn't really do well and during a promotional campaign, Wrigley added a piece of chewing gum to his bar of soap. But the chewing gum in itself turned out to be such an tremendous success that he quickly switched his production to Chewing Gum...

Chicago City

The water cruise will allow you to admire the famous Chicago skyline as seen from the lake, and you will receive a thorough explanation of the history and the construction of numerous buildings. Architecture has always been extremely important in Chicago, as much for buildings as for the city's more than eighty bridges, of which fifty-two are drawbridges. No two bridges are alike, and for every bridge a completely different plan was required from the architects.

In 1892 the famous surface-Subway rode out for the first time, and in 1885 the world's first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building (9 floors), was built in Chicago's LaSalle Street. Around 1930 and in the middle of the Great Depression, the advent of the Prohibition Law gave rise to notorious figures such as Al Capone and John Dillinger.

Much of the city, next to the shoreline, has been constructed in two or even three levels, because the lower level was reserved for the railroads. This is a "legacy" from their glorious past, when the federal government gave them vast tracts of land as an incentive to build railroads. The railroad companies received almost immeasurable properties throughout the entire U.S., and even today they still are the largest landowners in Chicago. They lease all the space above their railroad tracks to investors. These may erect a building on it, but after 99 years the lot automatically returns to the railroad company. This is called an Amphiteotic lease.

Another great way of exploring Chicago is with the Double Decker bus, a pleasant and well documented tour that presents many interesting facts about the city.

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Navy Pier

The Chicago Navy Pierwas originally a maritime quay, that was acquired by the Navy during World War II, to establish a training camp, hence the current name of Navy Pier. Now it seems to be a copy of San Francisco's Pier 39. Large crowds stroll along many small stands and attractions.

Chicago Double Decker bus Chicago : Navy Pier

Botanic Gardens

The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is a 385-acre (156 ha) plant museum, divided over nine islands and featuring 26 display gardens. It is surrounded by four natural habitats: woods, prairie, river corridor, and lakes and shores. It has nearly one million visitors per year.

The first item on the agenda is undoubtedly the Grand Tour with a bus through the entire domain. During the forty-five-minute tour, the guide presents a meticulous and interesting explanation of each part of this 385-acre estate.

The entire Botanic Garden is exceptionally magnificent, and the construction and maintenance of beds and plants are performed with great care and expertise. Next to the extraordinary visual aspects the visitors enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and the unmatched luxury of the many flowers. During the weekend the gardens are very popular with the public, and the location of choice for many wedding pictures. Truly worth not one, but many visits!

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Arcola : Rockome Gardens

The city of Arcola is located in the south of the state, where the panorama is predominantly agricultural, with vast fields and only scarce farms. Arcola lies in the middle of Amish Country, and its most interesting attraction is the Rockome Gardens.

Rockome Gardens was built in 1937 and operated by members of the nearby Old Order Amish Community. Unfortunately, ownership of Rockome has changed hands many times throughout the park's history, changing and remodeling its features.

It is actually a large Amish farm, where two generations of the Yoder family enjoyed a somewhat special hobby. After their daily work they made all kinds of remarkable stone fences, 3 bottle-houses, various constructions and flower beds. Eventually this hobby developed into a sort of Amish theme park. Unfortunately, during renovation under new ownership in 2006, the bottle houses were destroyed.

The gardens contain a collection of old sheds, each of which is exuberantly decorated with the traditional sarcastic American humor, the understatement. Even though the constructions may seem somewhat amateurish, the concept of Rockome Gardens is most original. Due to neglect, the park is now somewhat worn, and many of the attractions have been torn down and abandoned. In January 2011 Rockome Gardens was sold once again.

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Peoria : Wildlife Prairie State Park

The Wildlife Prairie State Park is located near the city of Peoria. In 1968 approximately eight hundred acres of land were purchased to establish this park, mainly from mining companies. The State Park's aim was to recreate an area in which the original Illinois flora and fauna would be restored to their former glory, and open it to the public. Thanks to the benign sponsorship of several large companies such as Caterpillar, and the efforts of many unselfish volunteers, the park opened its doors in 1978.

The park houses wolves, bison, elk, deer, bears, cougars, and many birds, including the majestic Bald Eagle. Beautiful walks can be made, and even fishing is possible. There is also a mini-train ride, which consists in two fifteen-minute-tours. The train chugs ahead at an easygoing speed, and it is most pleasant for the children. Unfortunately, adults may have to be somewhat careful not to bang their heads against the low ceiling... A nice visit!

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