Reasons to Visit Decatur, Illinois
Farming and food enthusiasts know Decatur as the biennial home of the Farm Progress Show, one of the nation’s largest outdoor agriculture expositions. But even when colder temperatures put the growing season on hold, the central Illinois community has lots to offer.
“We’re very family friendly,” says Teri Hammel, executive director of the Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau of Illinois. “We have a very warm, welcoming community for guests and visitors to spend time with us.”
Museums to Visit
Notable Decatur residents from days gone by include businessman A.E. Staley and inventor Hieronymus Mueller. Both have museums dedicated to their contributions. The Staley Museum follows the life of A.E. Staley and the Staley Manufacturing Company. It features memorabilia and products manufactured by Staley’s over the years, as well as the history of the Decatur Staleys football club. That team would eventually move to Chicago to play at Wrigley Field and be renamed the Chicago Bears.
Hieronymus Mueller obtained more than 500 patents during his lifetime. Inventions like the fire hydrant, drinking fountain and water pressure valve are still in use today. The Hieronymus Mueller Museum displays many items he developed, from roller skates to bicycle kickstands to automobile innovations.
Abraham Lincoln also spent time in Decatur, and the Shadows of Lincoln Tour features 15 wayside exhibits throughout the area that are replicas of historical events. Part of the Looking for Lincoln trail, the tour includes “Lincoln on the Circuit” and “Lincoln’s First Political Speech,” as well as “The Rail-splitter Candidate” celebrating the 1860 GOP Convention.
The Underground Railroad and other Lincoln-era exhibits feature heavily at the African-American Cultural & Genealogical Society of Illinois Museum, which also highlights influential African-Americans and hosts community events, including one for Black History Month in February.
Other venues celebrating history and diversity include Birks Museum, located on the Millikin University campus.
The Macon County History Museum includes the outdoor Prairie Village, which Hammel describes as an opportunity to step back in time. Visitors can sit in a one-room schoolhouse and see the courthouse that has two logs from the time when Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas there. The village also features a replica of a Lincoln-era home, while the museum displays indoor exhibits important to the history of Macon County.
History buffs and car enthusiasts will enjoy the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum, which recently added a Corvair exhibit.
“When I went in to see the Chevrolet Museum, it brought back so many cool, fun memories and thinking about the boys in high school and what cars they had, and my first car is even in there,” Hammel says. “Even if you’re not a car buff, it’s still really neat to see the history and where they came from.”
Nature and Adventure
For nature fans, Rock Springs Nature Center draws visitors year round, with indoor and outdoor opportunities to learn about history and the environment. Located on the southwestern edge of Decatur, it features walking and biking trails with the opportunity to rent cross-country skiing equipment when enough snow has fallen.
“Rock Springs is beautiful. It’s a great adventure,” Hammel says. “They also have a bird viewing room that is unbelievable. You can sit in front of this big, giant window and see every kind of bird you can possibly imagine. There are a lot of wonders everywhere that we can offer.”
In addition to the Window on Wildlife display, the center’s Bluestem Theater shows short films on nature and history in Macon County.
Another Decatur gem, the Children’s Museum of Illinois, features hands-on, interactive fun, with exhibits such as Young at Art, Illumination Station and Seed to Shelf. A new “Heroes Hall” law-enforcement exhibit opened in July 2018. The museum sits next to Scovill Zoo, home to 400 animals and the unique Endangered Species Carousel.
An inviting downtown atmosphere with distinctive restaurants gives people another reason to visit.
“Our downtown is beautiful. You can walk all over downtown,” Hammel says. “You can go to the Avon Theater and then walk over across the street and go to a nice restaurant and enjoy so many cuisines.”
Explore more Decatur attractions at decaturcvb.com.