Discover the Charm of Charleston, Illinois
Many visitors to Charleston, Illinois first notice its colorful murals, which have earned it the nickname City of Murals. This Eastern Illinois city, population 21,000, has nine murals, many of which are downtown. They depict scenes from history, including Lincoln’s last train ride to Charleston and the Charleston Riot of 1864.
You can find Charleston via state Route 16, 10 miles east of Interstate 57. Spend a weekend exploring Charleston’s late 19th-century architecture, specialty shops and restaurants, and historic attractions.
Land of Lincoln’s Parents
Though Abraham Lincoln never lived in Coles County, he visited Charleston often to see friends and relatives, including his father and stepmother, Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln. Get a close-up look at their 1840s home at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, an 86-acre living history farm. An accurate reproduction of the Lincolns’ two-room cabin stands on the original site, surrounded by a working farm that gives visitors a glimpse of 1840s rural life in Illinois.
In 1858, Charleston set the scene for the fourth presidential debate between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. It took place at the Coles County Fairgrounds, where you’ll find the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum and its interactive exhibits on the debates, children’s area, sculpture courtyard and gift shop.
Eastern Illinois University
Places to Eat
Stroll the campus of Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and take in its diverse architecture, reflecting a history dating back to 1895. EIU has about 12,000 students and hosts a variety of cultural programs throughout the year at its Doudna Fine Arts Center and the Tarble Arts Center.
Sports fans can root for the EIU Panthers at an NCAA Division I athletic event, including baseball, soccer, basketball, football and swimming. A number of EIU student-athletes have gone on to the professional ranks, including Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys and Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints.
Fox Ridge State Park
Outdoor lovers shouldn’t miss Fox Ridge State Park, with its 2,000 acres of rolling hills, lush valleys and scenic hiking trails. Located eight miles south of Charleston on State Route 130, Fox Ridge State Park sits along the wooded bluffs of the Embarras River. It offers endless opportunities for hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking, horseback riding and wildlife watching.
The state developed the park in the 1930s, but its history dates back to the 1600s. Arrowheads and artifacts have been uncovered in the park, testifying to its early inhabitation by Native Americans including the Piankashaw and Illinois tribes.
It may not look impressive, but the historic Five Mile House situated five miles southeast of Charleston along State Route 130 is one of the oldest remaining structures in Coles County. Built about 1840, the restored home hosts living history events and educational programs.
The Queen Anne-style Dudley House is another landmark, built in 1892. Now the headquarters of the Coles County Historical Society, the Dudley House illustrates affluent family life in the rural Midwest during the early 20th century.