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Best things to do in Bloomington

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Where in the world: USA  /  Illinois  /  Bloomington-Normal  /  Bloomington

Top 15 things to do in Bloomington

1. David Davis Mansion State Historic Site

The David Davis Mansion, completed in 1872, combines Italianate and Second Empire architectural features and is a model of mid-Victorian style and taste. Known as Clover Lawn, it was the home of David Davis, the friend, mentor and campaign manager for Abraham Lincoln. As President, Lincoln appointed Davis as United States Supreme Court Justice in 1862.

Judge Davis commissioned French-born architect Alfred Piquenard (1826-1876) to design the Victorian-style mansion, primarily as a residence for his wife, Sarah Davis (1814-1879), who wanted to remain in Bloomington rather than move to Washington, D.C. Piquenard, one of the Midwest's leading architects of the time, could boast of several important commissions, including the state capitol buildings in Des Moines, Iowa and Springfield, Illinois.

The David Davis Mansion stands as an impressive reminder of the important role that Illinois played in America's history during the nineteenth century. The elegant Victorian home tells the story of the generation of men and women that created an orderly society out of a chaotic frontier world and then led the United States through the Civil War and early years of Reconstruction. This generation, which included David Davis, Sarah Davis and Abraham Lincoln, based its leadership upon a set of rules and values that might be called genteel. The David Davis Mansion embodies and reflects those refined values.

In the 1850s and 1860s, the citizens of Bloomington, Illinois (including Sarah and David Davis) endorsed many of the Whig political values that Abraham Lincoln had embraced. The Whig ideology espoused gentility and middle-class behavior, and Whigs argued that individuals could become successful if they adopted the values of self-initiative, self-discipline, and a solid work ethic. Both Lincoln and Davis shared the Whig desire for self-improvement, believing that individuals could free themselves through their own efforts from the constraints imposed by circumstances of birth or by the region where they lived.

Neither Lincoln nor Davis rose to prominence solely because they were self-made men, however. It was the genteel lifestyle of women such as Sarah Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln that also played an important role in their husbands' accomplishments. Sarah Davis was a cultured woman who helped to bring gentility and middle-class values to the masculine frontier when she arrived in Illinois in 1839. Her influence, and the influence of her female contemporaries, culminated in the building of large, impressive houses in post-war Victorian America. The story of the transformation of the Davis property from working farm to suburban estate is the story of the intertwined social, political and legal networks, which developed on the western frontier and which then catapulted Lincoln and Davis into national prominence.

The three-story, yellow-brick, genteel home, which Sarah Davis helped to design at the eastern edge of downtown Bloomington, comprises 36 rooms and was very advanced for its day. It not only had elegant furnishings and architectural features, it also had the most modern technological conveniences of the era: indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, a central furnace, the most up-to-date gas lighting, and two modern communication systems. These were, indeed, the precursors to the modern, comfortable and convenient systems that Americans take for granted today.

A wooded, park-like setting originally enhanced the rural atmosphere of Clover Lawn. What remains today are 4.1 acres, containing an 1872 wood house, an 1850s barn and stable (dating back to Abraham Lincoln's day), two privies, a foaling shed, a carriage barn, and an ornamental, flower garden. The circular drive around the Mansion remains as it was originally configured. The property was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and in 1975 was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about David Davis Mansion State Historic Site

2. Miller Park Zoo

Miller Park Zoo is a zoo located in Miller Park; a public park in Bloomington, Illinois, United States. It is administered by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Bloomington.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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3. Dana-Thomas House, Springfield

Designed in 1902 for wealthy Illinois widow Susan Lawrence Dana , Dana-Thomas House serves as an excellent preserved example of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright's "Prairie Style" houses. The dwelling reflects both Dana's passion for organic architecture and Wright's ability to seamlessly blend the inside and outside of a house into one. The 3,658 sq m (12,000 sq ft) home includes 35 rooms, 16 varying levels, three main floors, and approximately 450 individually designed glass windows. Take a guided tour of the home to learn more about its history. Tours involve taking many steps and do not provide a chance to sit down, so it is not recommended for those with limited mobility. Photos are not allowed inside, but you can purchase a photo book at the gift shop.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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4. McLean County Museum of History

The McLean County Museum of History is an AAM accredited institution located in Bloomington, Illinois. It is the principal asset of the McLean County Historical Society, an Illinois nonprofit organization, which was founded in 1892 to study local history. The Museum moved into its current location in 1991.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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5. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield

Pay tribute to one of the nation’s most iconic leaders at Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. One of the most-visited presidential libraries in the country, the museum features an extensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia documenting the life and political career of the 16th U.S. president, as well as the events of the American Civil War. Venture through the “Pre-Presidential Years” exhibit to tour a life-size replica of Lincoln’s childhood home, then head to the “Presidential Years” section to view an original handwritten Gettysburg Address and signed Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t miss a visit to the life-size diorama of the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre, the site of Lincoln’s 1865 assassination.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
Learn more about Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

6. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Springfield

See Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the house where Abraham Lincoln and his family lived before moving to the White House. You can take a guided tour to learn what their life was like and see treasures like Lincoln's small corner desk. To get a better sense of his life and work, watch the site's film. Stroll down the street to see exhibits such as "If These Walls Could Talk" and "What a Pleasant Home Abe Lincoln Has."
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Lincoln Home National Historic Site

7. Lincoln Tomb & War Memorials, Springfield

A monument to the American history, Lincoln Tomb & War Memorials is the final resting place of one of the most distinguished presidents and a memorial to those who died for their country. The exterior design of the tomb features a 36 m (117 ft) obelisk, a statue of the president, and four statues of the military branches from the Civil War: infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navy. At the entrance, rub the nose on the sculpture of Lincoln's head for good luck. The interior is adorned with marble and bronze statues and excerpts from Lincoln's speeches. The president, his wife, and three of his sons are buried at the tomb. Close to the tomb, you also can see war memorials for Illinois residents who died in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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8. Illinois State Capitol, Springfield

The Illinois State Capitol, located in Springfield, Illinois, houses the legislative and executive branches of the government of the U.S. state of Illinois. The current building is the sixth to serve as the capitol building since Illinois was admitted to the United States in 1818. Built in the architectural styles of the French Renaissance and Italianate, it was designed by Cochrane and Garnsey, an architecture and design firm based in Chicago. Ground was broken for the new capitol on March 11, 1868, and the building was completed twenty years later for a total cost of $4.5 million.
The building contains the chambers for the Illinois General Assembly, which is made up of the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate. An office for the Governor of Illinois, additional offices, and committee rooms are also in the building. The capitol's footprint is cross-shaped, with four equal wings. Its tall central dome and tower roofs are covered in zinc to provide a silvery facade which does not weather. Architecture scholar Jean A. Follett describes it as a building that "is monumental in scale and rich in detail." The interior of the dome features a plaster frieze painted to resemble bronze, which illustrates scenes from Illinois history, and stained glass windows, including a stained glass replica of the state seal in the oculus of the dome.

Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Illinois State Capitol

9. Evergreen Memorial Cemetery

Evergreen Memorial Cemetery is a beautiful respite that lies south of downtown Bloomington. Rich in local, state, national and international history, this cemetery tells stories. Come out and listen.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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10. Prairie Aviation Museum

The Prairie Aviation Museum is an aviation museum located at in Bloomington, Illinois.

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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11. Constitution Trail

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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12. BEER NUTS Brand Snacks

Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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13. Old State Capitol, Springfield

Old State Capitol provides a look the architecture and design of Illinois' most important state building from 1839 to 1876, a period during which Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor. It was here that Lincoln gave his famous "House Divided" speech, declared his candidacy for Senate, and laid in state before his funeral. Watch a video detailing the restored Greek Revival building’s history before embarking on an interpreter-led tour of government offices, libraries, the Supreme courtroom, and legislative chambers. Take a stroll around the gardens surrounding the building and see the nearby fountain. Tours are free.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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14. Lil Beaver Brewery

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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15. Caterpillar Visitors Center, Peoria

Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Learn more about Caterpillar Visitors Center