Central Illinois is like a colorful tapestry, woven together with the threads of its unique history and strong heritage, all of which visiting groups are encouraged to explore.
Highlights that tell the story of the region include the renowned Route 66, sites honoring President Lincoln and Amish Country. The variety of attractions provide many opportunities for fun group outings and memorable off-site gatherings.
To visit Springfield is to step back in time during the days of Abraham Lincoln.
Groups can see the now-iconic places where Lincoln raised his family and began his political career, including the only home he ever owned and the Old State Capitol, which, according to the Springfield CVB, offers great space for receptions.
The newest Lincoln-inspired attraction in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where groups can browse 40,000 square feet of galleries, theaters and historic displays that recount the particulars of the life of our 16th president.
Opportunities for social media posts include selfies taken with a life-size version of the Lincoln family in front of the White House and Lincoln as a boy in his old Kentucky home. The attraction also has event space for up to 450 people.
Lincoln’s Tomb, where the President, his wife and three of their four children are buried, is another popular site.
At the entrance to the tomb is a bronze bust of Lincoln and, according to the Springfield CVB, visitors from around the globe have rubbed his nose for good luck.
Groups can also “get their kicks” on Route 66, the historic Mother Road that runs through Springfield and sports intact features from bygone days, including the fiberglass Lauterbach Giant, standing tall since 1978, and the circa-1946 Cozy Dog Drive In, where “hot dogs on a stick” are the must-order menu item.
A newcomer on Springfield’s portion of Route 66 this year will thrill gearheads in the group. At press time, Motorheads Bar & Grill was on track to open this spring with original signs of popular Route 66 stops on display. It will also feature a beer garden decorated like a retro Shell service station and is scheduled to host weekly car events.
Held throughout Central Illinois are several annual festivities that celebrate Lincoln’s life, including the Bloomington- and Normal-based Lincoln’s Festival on Route 66, which was launched in July 2009.
According to Brie Lohr, communications and marketing manager for the Bloomington-Normal Area CVB, groups meeting in the area at the same time should visit this event that commemorates Lincoln’s personal connection to the community.
“Visitors can enjoy Civil War reenactments, traditional craft demonstrations, live music, talks, tours and wagon and carriage rides,” she said.
Few places in Illinois, she added, played a more important role in shaping Lincoln’s political success than Bloomington-Normal, which was home to some of his closest friends and colleagues, as well as supporters as he pursued national office.
“The Looking for Lincoln Tour offers you a chance to walk in Lincoln’s footsteps,” Lohr said. “See the places where he stayed, worked and visited during his time here.”
The galleries at Bloomington-based McLean County Museum of History further showcase local history, and the museum also houses several spaces for meetings and the Cruisin’ with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center.
There is a notable visitors center in Peoria as well.
At the Caterpillar Visitors Center (CVC), groups can learn about the machinery and people that helped turn Caterpillar, which opened in the 1800s, into a worldwide brand.
“I would recommend the CVC for groups because it is such a large part of Peoria history, and you are able to learn and be hands-on with the exhibits and simulators,” said Don Welch, president/CEO of Enjoy Peoria.
Groups can also take care of some business at the CVC, which has over 4,700 square feet of space divided among three meeting rooms that all feature up-to-date audiovisual and teleconferencing capabilities.
Room rental rates, Welch added, include same-day complimentary access to the exhibit areas.
The Peoria Historical Society leads several fun and informative tours that explore Peoria’s past, including its founders, whiskey history and historic architecture.
“Peoria has a rich history that not many people know about,” Welch said. “If you’re a history buff, you will definitely find yourself fascinated by Peoria’s story.”
Groups interested in a waterborne excursion can book an Illinois River cruise on the Spirit of Peoria, a turn-of-the-century paddle wheeler that offers private charters.
“A trip up and down the river is perfect for a group wanting to feel like they went back in time,” Welch said.
Groups can also step back in time when meeting in Champaign County, which is located just north of Arthur, Ill., in the heart of the state’s Amish Country.
A guided tour showcases a very different way of life, including one-room schoolhouses, Yoder’s Kitchen for a large Amish buffet and a visit to a local Amish buggy maker where the group will learn about building the buggy body and the old art of wheel-making.
“A visit to Amish Country is a tremendous escape from our fast-paced world,” said Terri Reifsteck, vice president of marketing for Visit Champaign County. “This tour offers modest and peaceful moments for meeting delegates to unwind before or after their event.”
Other opportunities for groups include a visit to the recently remodeled Champaign County History Museum, which resides in the historic Cattle Bank, and a guided walking tour of downtown Champaign that highlights the people and events that helped shape the city.
“Groups will enjoy learning about the history of Champaign, which maintains much of its original architecture in the vibrant downtown district,” Reifsteck said. “Upon concluding the tour, delegates can enjoy one of over 40 locally owned bars and restaurants downtown.”
And at the Monticello Railway Museum groups will learn about the history of the Illinois Central Railroad.
“After exploring railcars and other equipment, delegates will board a historic train car for a lunch they’ll never forget,” Reifsteck said. “As the railcar cruises down the track, enjoy a tasty meal and tea as you discover the magic of Central Illinois’ most beloved treasure.”
LATEST & GREATEST: WHAT’S NEW IN CENTRAL ILLINOIS
President Abraham Lincoln Springfield–a DoubleTree by Hilton completed renovations on its over 13,000 square feet of meeting space at the beginning of 2017. The property is located downtown and is connected via indoor walkway to the Bank of Springfield Center.
The Crowne Plaza Springfield, which has more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space, recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of all 288 of its guest rooms and suites, as well as public areas and meeting rooms.
The 158-room Radisson Hotel & Conference Center Bloomington-Normal opened in Normal in August 2017 with 12,000 square feet of meeting space, an on-site restaurant and complimentary shuttle service to and from the Central Illinois Regional Airport.
At press time, the 323-room Four Points by Sheraton Peoria was on track to reopen after a multimillion-dollar renovation in early October. The property, located just a few blocks from the Peoria Civic Center, features more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space.
A new 80-room Hampton Inn and Suites (www.hilton.com) is set to open in Champaign in July.
CENTRAL ILLINOIS CVB CONTACT INFORMATION
Bloomington-Normal Area CVB
Visit Champaign County