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Barnstorming in Abe Lincoln country
By Mike Michaelson | Daily Herald Columnist

A historic 1891 mansion is the home of the Quincy Museum.

 

Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Prairie Mills Windmill has the same stones and gears as when it was first put to use in 1872.

 

Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Published: 5/10/2008 6:51 PM

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Although the city of Springfield is dubbed "Mr. Lincoln's hometown," there are plenty of communities west of the Illinois capital in which the lanky circuit-riding lawyer felt comfortably at home.

You'll meet many of his friends and associates as you explore the Mississippi Valley, especially in downtown Quincy and in Pittsfield, where stops on Abe Lincoln's Talking Houses Tour include the former mayor's residence. That's where Mrs. Scanland's turkey dinner grew cold while Lincoln was spinning yarns at the drugstore, her husband the mayor an attentive listener.

As you explore Adams and Pike counties, territory Mr. Lincoln tramped frequently in his size 14 shoes, you'll find plenty of fun activities. These include catching a flick at a revived drive-in movie theater and visiting Spirit Knob, a family-owned winery tucked into the Mississippi River bluffs at Ursa, about 10 miles north of Quincy along the Great River Road.

Unusual events at a pair of out-of-the-ordinary structures are hallmarks of a trip to these neighboring counties. The Lewis Round Barn in Mendon was Amish-built in 1914. It hosts two large flea markets annually (May 17 and 18 and Sept. 20 and 21) as well as a midsummer threshing show (July 25-28). The Prairie Mills Windmill at Golden is known for its annual Heritage Days and Sweet Corn Festival (July 26 and 27).

This popular summer event presents demonstrations and exhibits depicting life in the late 19th century. Entertainment is provided by area bands while a 100-vendor flea market might yield unexpected bargains. Locally grown sweet corn, along with grilled pork chops and brats, provide a Sunday feast; sandwiches and ice cream are available Saturday.

Built in 1872, the mill has the original stones and gears in place and offers guided tours on weekends (1 to 4 p.m.). It has a small museum and gift shop and stages events that include a mystery theater and annual "Windmill Follies" (with roast beef dinner and comedy performances).

The round barn is a striking landmark moved to its current site on the Adams County Fairgrounds in 2000. Measuring 80 feet in diameter, it was built to house and feed the owner's 200 beef cattle and hogs. It contains an exhibition of turn-of-the-last-century agricultural tools and equipment and a realistic diorama of a 1930s farmhouse. It is open by appointment and every Sunday Aug. 12 through Oct. 28, 1 to 4 p.m.

Quincy, the quintessential colorful Mississippi River town, is richly endowed with Lincoln sites, including the venue of one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. It took place in Washington Park on Oct. 13, 1858, before an audience of more than 12,000. Look for new commemorative Lincoln sites as the community celebrates the 150th anniversary of the debate and next year's 200th Lincoln birthday. These include 21 Looking for Lincoln storyboards that interpret history surrounding the 16th president.

Park your car and "go green" in Quincy astride a loaner bicycle available free (with a $10 refundable deposit) at six locations across Quincy. Bikes, painted neon blue, come with a helmet and chain lock.

You'll need your car, though -- and its radio -- to follow the Abe Lincoln's Talking Houses Tour in Pittsfield, the leafy Pike County seat. Head for the Visitor Center at 224 W. Washington St., pick up a self-guided brochure, tune your radio to 1620 AM and begin a tour with stops at 11 sites with Lincoln significance, including the Joseph Heck Bakery where Lincoln drank cider and ate gingerbread.

The octagonal Pike County Courthouse dates from 1894 and is considered one of the prettiest in Illinois. It is surrounded by handsome two-story business buildings from the same period. Worth a stop is the Pittsfield Post Office, elegant inside and out. Take a peek at a 1938 painting by William Schwartz of the bridge over the Illinois River.

On a warm spring evening head for time-warp Clark 54 Drive-In Theatre at Summer Hill (located on U.S. Route 54 between Pittsfield and Louisiana, Mo.). It is open Fridays through Sundays April through October, showing two features each night.

In these tough times, it pays to track down bargains. Quincy's Museum Passport is valid for free admission for one adult per group into nine museums and landmarks.

Start at Villa Katherine, which doubles as a tourist information center. This Mediterranean-style villa was built by a Quincy native who was a world traveler. His dog, a 200-pound mastiff named Bingo, is said to be buried in the rose garden wearing a diamond-studded collar -- a legend that has led to more than one futile late-night treasure hunt.

Architectural buffs head for the Gardner Museum of Architecture & Design, housed in an architecturally significant Romanesque building. Exhibits interpret architecture's 100-year march from Greek Revival to art deco and beyond.

The Mississippi Valley Antique Auto Museum displays more than 35 antique cars, while the All Wars Museum -- an especially appropriate destination for Memorial Day -- chronicles American military history from the Revolutionary War onward. The pass also includes admission to the Quincy Art Center and Quincy Museum, the latter occupying a handsome 1891 mansion on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you go

Information: Quincy Convention & Visitors Bureau, (217) 223-100, (800) 978-4748, www.seequincy.com; Illinois Tourism, (800) 226-6632, www.enjoyillinois.com.

Mileage: Quincy is about 280 miles southwest of Chicago. Amtrak service from Chicago provides two daily departures in each direction.

MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."