Why You Should Visit Shelby County This Summer
While the pleasures of Shelby County remain undiscovered by some, its small-town charms – and jewel of a lake – bring many back summer after summer. Those in the know share author Colleen Hoover’s sentiment: “You keep your ocean, I’ll take the lake.”
Escape to the Great Outdoors
Nearly 50 years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers created the Lake Shelbyville Dam & Spillway to prevent flooding and draw recreation to central Illinois. Wildly successful on both counts, the liquid playground – the state’s largest man-made lake – draws outdoor enthusiasts like a magnet.
“We are lucky enough to be the home of Lake Shelbyville – it’s the No. 1 reason people visit the area,” says Freddie Fry, executive director of Shelby County Tourism. “We offer almost any kind of recreation – camping, fishing, boating, swimming, horseback riding and miles of trails.”
In fact, Lake Shelbyville boasts 11,100 acres of water, four public beaches, three marinas, five federal and two state parks – featuring more than 1,500 campsites – and more than 65 miles of trails.
“We offer affordable activities for every age, and it’s all public,” Fry says. “The Army Corps of Engineers is very proactive about offering kid-friendly activities throughout the summer.”
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, visitors can tour the 108-foot-tall dam every weekend. Stroll through the Visitors Center to learn about the lake, local wildlife and history of the land. Take in the view from atop the observation deck, or flutter through the butterfly house and gardens.
Circling the lake and downtown, the 6-mile General Dacey Trail invites you to hit the ground running (or hiking or biking, as the case may be). The trail also offers a haven for birdwatchers and photographers.
Another local treasure, Forest Park, continues a 160-year tradition of family fun. Highlights include a Family Aquatic Center and idyllic Memorial Sunken Garden. At the historic 20-sided Chautauqua Auditorium, locals once tapped their toes to the likes of the John Philip Sousa Band.
More unique destinations are an easy drive away. “If people are coming to the area for a getaway,” Fry says, “we have three wineries in Shelby County, the Thompson Mill Covered Bridge east of Cowden and one of the world’s only goat towers.”
Yes, you read that right – the goat tower near Findlay has 276 steps spiraling around the 31-foot-tall brick structure, which serves as a playground for goats and amusement for passersby.
More to Explore Downtown
After exploring the outskirts, dive into downtown Shelbyville.
“We are a tourism city,” says Jody McCormick, director of the Greater Shelbyville Chamber of Commerce. “We have a lot of interesting-looking buildings and nice places to eat downtown – from cafés with signature sandwiches to a mom-and-pop diner, pizza, pub food and a steakhouse. We also have several unique boutiques – even a new archery business with an indoor shooting range.”
Hungry for history? You can’t miss in Shelbyville.
With a population under 5,000, this small town – founded in 1827 – offers more than its fair share of historic buildings and stately Victorian homes. In fact, the entire downtown neighborhood earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Self-guided CityWalk tours and five Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits explore the town’s history, including its connections to Illinois’ favorite son, who practiced law in Shelbyville.
At Lincoln Public Square, an eternal flame and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, designed by local artist Robert Marshall Root, pay homage to those who served.
History meets Hollywood at Boarman’s Roxy Theatre, where the movies are new, but the building (and ticket prices) maintains a vintage vibe. Just down the road, the Boarman family revs up interest in 1950s-era cars at the Chevy Bel Air Museum.
Whether peeking into the past or escaping to the great outdoors, Shelbyville offers a great place to savor summer.
“There’s lots to see and do in Shelbyville – and a lot of places are free to the public. It’s an incredibly special place,” McCormick says. “Shelbyville manages to keep up with the times while keeping its small-town charm. We’re a good little community.”