Illinois Celebrates 200 Years in the Making
Illinois turns 200 years old Dec. 3, and communities across the state plan to celebrate throughout the year in honor of the bicentennial.
Along with the many large-scale events supported by the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, residents can enjoy more intimate celebrations in small towns and cities – some of which predate the state’s inclusion in the Union.
Illinois Bicentennial Commission Champions Yearlong Celebration
Established by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016, the Illinois Bicentennial Commission supports, creates and implements events and activities leading up to the state’s 200th birthday.
For example, one of the commission’s first events – the Illinois Bicentennial Craft Beer Competition – took place in August 2017 at the Illinois State Fair. Fair attendees had the opportunity to vote on their favorite brewer at the Illinois Bicentennial Craft Beer Tent, and the winner, Hand of Fate Brewing Co. in Petersburg, created a commemorative beer called 1818 that is currently available across the state as part of the bicentennial celebration.
Additionally, the Illinois Bicentennial Commission supports the creation of the new Bicentennial Plaza in downtown Springfield, which will be dedicated Aug. 26 – the 200th birthday of the Illinois constitution.
Funded by the City of Springfield, Illinois REALTORS® and private partners, the $2 million plaza is built on land owned by Illinois REALTORS®. It showcases Springfield’s history and ties to Abraham Lincoln, and it features a pedestrian walkway linking the Abraham Lincoln Home Historic Site with the Illinois Executive Mansion and Illinois State Capitol.
“The Bicentennial Plaza is a legacy project,” says Stuart Layne, executive director of the Governor’s Office of the Illinois Bicentennial. “Not only will it help beautify our state capital, but it’s also something important we will leave behind for future generations.”
Another legacy project supported by the commission, the Bicentennial STEM Fusion Campaign consists of a three-year initiative established in partnership with the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora. According to Layne, a committee will choose 25 underserved middle schools across the state, and IMSA will implement the IMSA Fusion Program in which teachers learn unique ways to present math and science to their students.
“The IMSA Fusion Program is award-winning, impactful and designed to inspire young children to study math and science, and pursue careers in technology, medicine and education,” Layne says. “Thousands of Illinois students will be served by this bicentennial effort, and it will be life-changing for many of them.”
The Illinois Bicentennial Commission will also host the Illinois Bicentennial Birthday Party Dec. 3 at the United Center in Chicago. The culmination of a yearlong celebration, the party will recognize the Bicentennial Veterans HONOR 200 – 200 veterans who’ve gone “above and beyond the call of duty” – and include live music from Illinois performers of all genres.
“We encourage everyone to visit illinois200.com to learn more about the events and celebrations taking place throughout the year,” Layne says. “Illinois is an incredible state, and there’s a lot for us to be proud of. That’s why our social media hashtag is #IllinoisProud.”
Small Illinois Communities Celebrate the Bicentennial
One of Illinois’ first bicentennial events look place Aug. 26, 2017, in Randolph County, which is known as “where Illinois began” as it lays claim to the state’s first capital city. State, county and local officials and state historians held a ceremonial signing of the 1818 Illinois Constitution during the event, and local re-enactor groups performed on the Kaskaskia/Cahokia Trail, which was the first road in Illinois.
In Peoria, established in the late 1600s as the state’s first European settlement, the Peoria Riverfront Museum was the first museum in the state to host an Illinois bicentennial exhibition, which opened Feb. 3. The exhibition, called “Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years in the Land of Lincoln,” featured a collection of statewide artifacts celebrating the state’s influential people, places and the many innovations in Illinois history.
“The bicentennial is a great time to remind folks of our rich history in Illinois,” says Dr. Samuel Wheeler, Ph.D., state historian and director of research, collections and library services at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. “Our state has played a major role in American history, and Illinois residents have a lot to take pride in.”
Edwardsville, Illinois’ third-oldest city and home to the Leclaire National Historic District, is celebrating the state’s bicentennial through a legacy project, permanently setting aside 200 acres of green space for parks, playing fields and wildlife habitats to ensure future generations can enjoy the community’s natural beauty for years to come.
The city will also celebrate the bicentennial by playing host to the Madison County Community Rock Concert and serving as the last destination along the Illinois Bicentennial Route 66 Motorcycle Ride. Both events will take place Aug. 26, and the daylong motorcycle ride – led by Gov. Rauner – will begin in Chicago and include communities such as Riverside, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington/Normal, Atlanta, Springfield, Carlinville and Litchfield.
For more about bicentennial celebrations throughout the state, visit illinois200.org.