Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup - Historic Landmarks

Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup - Historic Landmarks

Posted on 09/14/2021 by Andy Waterman

Regional road trips are all the rage right now. Many folks feel most comfortable hopping in the car with their loved ones and exploring sights that are off the beaten path. Some of those sights may even be in your own backyard! For plenty of regional travel ideas, check-in every Wednesday for a Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup on themed topics showcasing several destinations across the southern portion of the state. This week, we’ll focus on some historical landmarks that you can experience while you’re in our neck of the woods!



History buffs definitely need to make a stop in Effingham. We have plenty of historical landmarks to check out! The historic Effingham County Courthouse was built in 1871 on the site of the 1850’s courthouse, which tragically burned to the ground in March 1869, reducing most of the county’s records to ash. Located on the square in Downtown Effingham, the historical structure was built in second empire style and is made of brick, stone and wood with 18-inch outside walls. Special features of the building include stone window headers, with keystones above each window, and a mansard roof with dormers. Monuments recognizing the history of the city and county can also be viewed on the lawn surrounding the historic courthouse. You can visit the Effingham County Courthouse Museum on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. or by appointment. The Effingham County Veteran's Memorial wall is dedicated to all the men and women, of Effingham County, who served in any of the five branches of the armed forces. On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1991, the first three stones of the memorial were dedicated in honor of all Effingham County veterans. Later, on May 19, 2012 – Armed Forces Day – the “Memorial Names Stone” was dedicated. This memorial features close to 3,700 names of past, present and future men and women who have served our country and our community. Each year, more names are added to the wall, in remembrance, and there is room for more than 9,000 names total. The memorial is not only a tribute to our service members, but it is our history: a standing memorial to the living and the dead, our neighbors, family members and friends, and all those who have dedicated their lives to preserve, protect and secure peace for our nation. Across the street from the old courthouse is the Heart Theater, a 1930s landmark. The theater is one of two examples in Effingham of the Art Deco style that was popular from 1920 to 1940. The cream and maroon terra-cotta tiles are a perfect match for the neon and marquee lights. Oakridge Cemetery is the final resting place of many fascinating figures from Effingham’s past, including Ada Kepley, the first female law graduate in the United States. She was an ardent advocate of women’s rights, a friend of Susan B. Anthony and a talented writer. If history intrigues you, you’ll find plenty of unique sites to explore here in Effingham.



ILLINOISouth is an area full of rich history. Whether you’re a history buff or are just looking to learn more about southern Illinois’ past, there are several landmarks that you absolutely must check out! Fort de Chartres is a National Historic Landmark in Prairie du Rocher that serves as the heart of French Colonial Illinois! The fort was originally constructed in 1720 and has been occupied by several groups during different wars. In 1772, the Mississippi River caused the fort to collapse, but it has since been reconstructed. The powder magazine within the walls of Fort de Chartres, is widely considered to be the oldest building in the state! As you’re entering The Land of Lincoln from Indiana on Route 50 in Lawrence County, the first thing you’ll see is the Lincoln Trail State Memorial. This landmark is where, according to tradition, Abraham Lincoln first entered Illinois with his family in March of 1830. Another location that is rich with Abe Lincoln history is the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site near Charleston. The 19th-century home of Thomas Lincoln and Sarah Bush Lincoln is preserved here, a place where Abe visited often when his burgeoning law practice brought him to Charleston. The legendary entertainer Burl Ives’ grave lies in the Mound Cemetery in Newton, Illinois. Visiting the granite monument that marks his grave is a wonderful way to learn about the life of Burl Ives and to pay respect to the impact he had on the childhoods of countless children through his work. We hope you enjoy learning more about this history of southern Illinois! 


Mt. Vernon

Located in the center of Mt. Vernon, the Appellate Courthouse is a treasure awaiting discovery. The Courthouse was built in 1857 in the Greek revival style. Anyone interested in historic buildings and architecture won't want to miss this building and the beautiful courtroom appointed with walnut benches and judges' chairs along with other period furnishings. The Courthouse currently houses the Fifth District Appellate Court for the State of Illinois.

The Abe Lincoln Connection

One of the favorite U.S. presidents, Abraham Lincoln, argued cases at this location including a tax case where he represented Illinois Central Railroad. It is the only courthouse still in operation in which Lincoln tried a case.

The Building and The Ox-cart

Local legend has that it took three weeks to bring the twin wrought iron stairways on the outside front of the building from St. Louis to Mt. Vernon via ox-cart after it was shipped down the Mississippi River from Chicago. The building is a two-story brick built in the shape of a Maltese Cross. It has simple classic lines with two fluted pillars supporting the front gable in the center of which is a medallion of the scales of justice. Visitors will find rooms with extremely high ceilings, arched openings in the inner walls, and wide woodwork. Originally, the rooms were heated by huge fireplaces. The ground floor contains four bedrooms with private baths for the use of the justices when they are in Mt. Vernon and an apartment for the clerk. The second floor has the courtroom, the clerk's office, the judges' conference room, and the attorneys' waiting room.

Emergency Hospital and Clara Barton

Hospital records in Mt. Vernon show that at the time of the tornado on February 19, 1888, an emergency hospital was housed in the building under the supervision of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

The Appellate Court, Fifth District

The Fifth District Appellate Court is in session throughout the year and sits periodically as its judicial business requires.

Historic American Building

The appellate courthouse was selected by the Advisory Committee of the Historic American Building Survey as possessing exceptional historic and architectural interest and as being worthy of the most careful preservation for the benefit of future generations. A record of its appearance and condition has been made and deposited for permanent reference in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.


Please call 618-242-3120 in advance to schedule a tour Monday-Friday.  Tours are free of charge. Closed on weekends and holidays.


Southernmost Illinois

Tour the Safford Memorial Library, call ahead for hours 618-734-1840 (1609 Washington Ave) a working library of Queen Anne architecture which houses a valuable collection of Civil War documents and museum quality antiques and paintings.  Two niches on the outside of the building at the entrance hold statues of Clio, the Greek Muse of history, and Concordia, a Roman goddess of peace. A rare Tiffany grandfather's clock stands on the first landing of the stairs. On the second landing is a fourteenth century Italian rosewood credenza. Visit Ft. Defiance State Park, Fort Defiance, known as Camp Defiance during the American Civil War, is a former military fortification located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi where you can view the confluence from atop Boatman’s Memorial. It is the southernmost point in the state of Illinois. Tour the U.S. Custom House Museum, (call ahead for hours: 618-734-9632) which was built in 1872.  Today it houses several unique historical items.  Many interesting displays are shown in the museum, including Civil War memorabilia, a replica of the U.S.S. Cairo gunboat, an 1865 Cairo Fire Department hand-operated pumper, and an exhibit on the 1937 flood in Cairo. Information regarding the Custom House architect and a Civil War-era desk used by Ulysses S. Grant when he was in Cairo are also on display.The next stop is Magnolia Manor.  (call ahead for hours: 618-734-0201) This 4 story, 14 room mansion is full of history. Inside the home are many original, 19th century furnishings. Grab a sandwich at Shemwell’s BBQ, 1102 Washington Ave. See other sites as time allows: St. Mary’s Park, the Roosevelt Pavilion, the Hewer Statue, and historic churches.  


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