Summer School 2015–Wrap-Up

Summer school this year, in which we learned all about our home state of Illinois, was very busy!

We had a great reading list, which helped us learn about the people, history, and regions and resources of our state. Turkey and Bunny were able to use these resources to write pretty detailed reports about our state.

In addition to reading and map work, we took a lot of field trips this summer. We visited Cahokia Mounds, which is the site of the largest ancient population north of Mexico. I gathered up all my courage for the drive to Kaskaskia, the home of the first state capital (even though it’s now on the “wrong” side of the Mississippi River), and current home of the “Liberty Bell of the West.” We also drove to Vandalia to visit the oldest capitol building still in existence in the state (even if was only the Capitol for a few years). Of course, we also had to visit Springfield, the current capital of our state, and home of the Old State Capitol, as well as the current Capitol building. It was very interesting to tour all three of those buildings, and see what was the same and what was different from one to the other (for example, the Vandalia State House had no space for an office for the governor!). The Illinois State Museum is also part of the Capitol Complex, and we walked through it, as well. It was fun to learn about the history of the natural resources and animals in our state! While we were in Springfield, we also visited Lincoln’s Home (and surrounding neighborhood), his Law Office just across from the Old State Capitol, and Lincoln’s Tomb. (We also stopped for dinner at the Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield, which is reportedly the home of the original corn dog!)


We learned a lot about Chicago this summer, as well. Partly because it’s the largest (and most famous!), city in Illinois, and partly because I grew up in one of its suburbs. So, to end our lessons, I made one of our family favorites, Chicago style pizza! (Made the Giordano’s way, for those of you in the know!)


I’m not going to lie…it wasn’t quite as much fun as last year’s baseball-themed summer school. But it was close, and definitely involved the most field trips we’ve ever taken in one summer!

The Illinois State Museum

When we visited Springfield a few weeks ago, one of our stops was at the Illinois State Museum, which is a free museum at the Capitol Complex that focuses on the history and natural resources of our state (there is also a children’s play museum and a paper weight collection on the lower level). There were a lot of cool things to look at, even though we didn’t find the reproduction tully monster we were hoping to see!

Tasty Tuesday–Cozy Dog Drive In

On our way out of town when we were in Springfield a few weeks ago, we had to stop for an early dinner at the Cozy Dog Drive In, an old Route 66 attraction that claims to have invented what is generally referred to today as a corn dog.


The inside is exactly what you’d expect from a Route 66 diner, and I loved it!


The food was exactly what you’d expect, too…very delicious, and very reasonably priced. We all enjoyed the “Cozy Dogs”…just don’t call them corn dogs!


This was a fun and kitschy addition to our Illinois history unit, combining a historic location with an Illinois original food!


Lincoln Tomb

While we were in Springfield last week, we stopped to visited the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. It was a somber moment in our fun day, and the rain clouds rolling in as we arrived were very fitting.




There is something deeply moving about seeing the final resting place of a president, especially one who was assassinated. It’s an experience I was glad to be able to share with my children.

Lincoln’s Law Office

We kind of just stumbled across the home of Abraham Lincoln’s Law Office when we were in Springfield. It’s currently closed for renovation, but it was still a fun thing to see!

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

While we were in Springfield, we visited Abraham Lincoln’s home, which still looks pretty much the way it did when he lived there (although when he first moved in with his young family, it was a smaller house…they added on over the years as he became more successful).


The tours are free, although you do need tickets. They keep them running frequently, and the way they lead you through the home is a very efficient process.

The first room we saw was the formal parlor…very pretty, and filled with breakables!


We briefly passed by the dining room:


And made our way to the more informal family room. Check out the wallpaper!


If the wallpaper in that room isn’t bold enough for you, perhaps the carpet is:


We then went upstairs (holding onto the same railing Lincoln himself used), and saw the guest room at the top of the stairs:


Then on to Lincoln’s bedroom, which contains his actual desk:

I don’t know how he ever got to sleep with this wallpaper surrounding him…and it is the original pattern…no best guess in this room as is the case in some of the others!


Mrs. Lincoln had her own bedroom adjoining her husband’s. Apparently that was a reflection of their status, not their marital happiness. She enjoyed the same crazy wallpaper as her husband!


After peeking into the boys’ bedroom, as well as the very simple room that belonged to the hired girl, we went back down to the kitchen, where we saw the stove that was the pride and joy of Mrs. Lincoln:

That was the end of the house tour. But we also walked around the neighborhood, which is a museum of its own. There are also two additional houses you can enter and look around.


The visitors’ center also has some displays, and two different Lincoln movies you can watch:

There’s something thrilling about visiting the home and neighborhood of a former president, and the park ranger who led our tour was very knowledgeable, and really made the house come alive for us! If you ever find yourself in Springfield, I highly recommend stopping by!


The Illinois State Capitol

In the last week, we have visited the location of Illinois’ first capital, Kaskaskia (although there is no longer a Capitol building there), the site of Illinois’ second capital, Vandalia (where the fourth state Capitol building still stands), and the Old Capitol Building in the current capital city, Springfield. And while we were in Springfield, we also toured the sixth building to serve as the Capitol, the current Illinois State Capitol (which is referred to as the “new” Capitol, even though it was built in 1868). Confused yet?


It’s hard to explain how beautiful and grand this building is. It’s not only the tallest classically designed state Capitol building in the country at 361 feet, it’s also taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.! I guess Illinoisans have a very high opinion of themselves!


There is a very welcoming statue in the center of the building:


The interior details are amazing, and everywhere you look…walls, ceilings, and floor. Turkey commented that this building is about as close as we get to something like Buckingham Palace, and he’s totally right…it has a very regal feel!

We saw both the House and Senate chambers, but as there was a committee meeting in the House chamber, I was only permitted to take photographs in the Senate chamber:


The highlight of the interior of the building is, without a doubt, the dome. Pictures really don’t do it justice, but I’ll try anyway:




Back outside, you really need to walk all the way around the building to admire all of the exterior details:


I have lived in Illinois for most of my life, and this was still my first visit to our state capital. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m glad I finally had the chance to see Springfield, and tour our amazing Capitol Building!

The Old State Capitol

Yesterday, we visited Vandalia, IL, which was the second capital of our state. While we were there, we toured the Capitol building, which was the third such building in Vandalia alone, and the fourth total for the state of Illinois (the first having been in Kaskaskia).

Of course, the capital moved to Springfield not long after that building was completed, and a new Capitol was built (conveniently just across the street from Abraham Lincoln’s law office)…the fifth for the state. We had the chance to tour that building today.


Although it’s laid out in a similar fashion to the Vandalia Capitol, with two main floors for business, and a third-floor gallery, it’s a much, much bigger building. And unbelievably, even it wasn’t large enough, which is why it’s the “Old Capitol Building!”



It is a beautiful building, and it’s dripping with history…this is the place from which Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech. We were lucky enough to get to meet “Lincoln” himself while we were there!



It’s amazing to think that he actually walked the streets around this building!

It’s a shame that it served the state for a relatively brief period of time, but at least it’s still around for us to enjoy and learn from!


The Second Illinois State Capital

Last week, we visited Kaskaskia, home of the “Liberty Bell of the West” and site of the first Illinois state capital. Today, we visited the second Illinois state capital (and fourth Capitol building), the Vandalia State House, which was built in only 89 days in 1836. That town boasts the oldest existing capitol building in the state (even though that building was the third Capitol building in Vandalia, and was only the seat of state government for a few short years after it was built).



There are three floors to the old Capitol building. The first floor had offices for the Secretary of State, the Illinois Supreme Court, the Treasurer, and the Auditor. (Interestingly, the governor was given no office in this building.) Among the notable things that happened on this floor were the chartering of the city of Chicago, and the awarding of Abraham Lincoln’s law degree.

The second floor was home to the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate. Lincoln and Stephen Douglas both spoke from this floor, where they each earned $4 a day as representatives. This is also the place from which Lincoln made his first public comment regarding slavery.


The third floor, which is not accessible to the public, was home to the galleries, from which the constituents could watch the proceedings in the House and Senate.


As far as I understand, the building was renovated pretty extensively after it ceased being the Capitol building…originally, it was a simple red brick structure; the Greek influence was added for the building’s tenure as a courthouse.



This was another interesting piece of Illinois history. Next up…Springfield!

The First Illinois State Capital

Today we drove down to Kaskaskia, IL, to check out the site of the first state capital. The town has both a complicated history and geography. It was founded by French Jesuits as a mission to Native Americans, and later became the capital of Upper Louisiana. It remained an important western location in the early years of American colonization and independence, and is known as the home of the “Liberty Bell of the West,” which was a gift from King Louis XV of France (inscribed with the words “For the Church of the Illinois, by gift of the King across the water”), and which was rung after George Rogers Clark and his men liberated the town on July 4, 1778.



Kaskaskia became the capital of the new Illinois Territory, and was briefly the capital of the state of Illinois after it was admitted to the union. The area has always been prone to flooding, however, and in 1881, the Mississippi River changed course, destroying most of the town, and leaving it on the wrong side of the river from the rest of the state. While it is still part of Illinois, despite being west of the river, it is today almost a ghost town, with just about a dozen residents calling it home. There is still a church there, however, which does hold weekly services.