We left Caesar Creek on Monday morning and made a fairly easy, four-hour drive just west of Indianapolis to Crawfordsville, IN. Here we made an overnight stop at Sugar Creek Campground. Sugar Creek is a Passport America campground. For those not familiar with Passport America, membership costs $45 a year and provides half-price camping at nearly 1500 campgrounds nationwide. There are sometimes limits on the number of days, the days of the week, and the time of the year the discount is given. We've found some campgrounds that are very nice, others not so nice. But overall we have found our membership to be worthwhile, especially for one or two night stops.
Sugar Creek CG is a fairly decent campground, especially for half price of $12.50 a night (2 night limit, excludes weekends). They could use a little fresh gravel on the roads and parking pads, but the site size isn't too bad for a private campground. They have a lot of shade, but the office was very accommodating in allowing us to change sites to be able to get satellite. We were even able to get a pull-through so we didn't have to unhitch our toad.
The next morning we headed out to Springfield, IL, our next destination. We drove through moderate rain about half the time, but there was a 20-30 mph cross wind (with higher gusts) from the south that meant Paul had to give steering his undivided attention the entire way. There was one point just past Champaign, IL, when a turn in the road unexpectedly headed us right into the path of a very dark, ominous-looking storm. The rain began to pelt us and reduce vision, but Paul was not comfortable pulling such a large vehicle as the motor home onto such a narrow a shoulder leaving us so close to the traffic lane with such poor visibility. We, and most of the rest of the traffic, turned on our flashers and slowed to about 40 mph. The wind began to blow even harder and changed direction to blow from the opposite side as though it were being sucked into the storm. Fortunately, we were on the northern edge of the storm instead of in the middle of it, and the real heavy rain and wind subsided after a few minutes. Those few minutes, however, were pretty scary.
We didn't have campground reservations for Springfield because we were intending to check out Riverside Park, which is run by the city of Springfield and which does not accept reservations. We were arriving early enough in the day (the time change going into Illinois worked in our favor) and early enough in the week that we weren't worried about not having reservations. We have found city and county campgrounds in the midwest can be real gems. This campground had 67 sites with water and electric, but only 8 with full hookups. Having spent 2 weeks in Caesar Creek with electric only, we were looking forward to full hookups.
As we approached the campground, we saw numerous large trees and branches down. The road just inside the park entrance was strewn with small branches and leaves and there were recently-cut logs, large branches, and tree trunks along both sides of the road. We wisely decided to park the rig and walk into the park to investigate.
It turns out the trees were brought down by a big storm the night before. Judging from the fact the majority of the trees fell the same direction, it was probably a micro-burst rather than a tornado. The main road into the campground had been cleared and the main part of the campground itself farther in the park was untouched. But since they didn't have any sewered sites left, we decided to move on to our backup plan, which was Double J Campground south of Springfield.
Double J Campground got excellent reviews on rvparkreviews.com, but we wanted to try Riverside Park first because Double J is considerably more expensive and a little farther from some of the things we wanted to see in Springfield. Double J is a very well-maintained campground with nice landscaping at the entrance, neat grass patches between fairly well-spaced sites, and shade trees between most of the sites. Double J is located right on Old Route 66 and just off I-55, so there is a fair amount of traffic noise, although nowhere near as much as the KOA in Washington, PA where we stayed in early April.
It was very hot and humid the whole time we were in Springfield so we did something we don't often do - we closed the windows and cranked up the air conditioning. Not only did that help with the heat, it made the traffic noise less noticeable.
Double J was very accommodating in allowing us to pick a site where we could get satellite after the first site they gave us had a large tree blocking our dish. We probably would have been OK if our satellite dish were on the front of our rig where most TV dishes and domes are located, but since ours is the larger internet dish, there wasn't room at the front so they had to put it at the rear.
The primary reason for our visit to Springfield was because fellow RVers we met last year highly recommended it. It is the home of Abraham Lincoln during his law and early political career. Springfield has numerous historical sites including Lincoln's home, law office, and tomb as well as other interesting attractions such as a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and a botanical garden.
At the Union Station Visitors Center we met up with a wonderful gal by the name of Katie. Katie, who was originally from Monroeville, PA (near where we used to live just east of Pittsburgh), moved from San Diego to Springfield several years ago because she liked the area so much, and you could certainly tell that from her enthusiasm. She was delighted to learn we would be in the area for a week (she said most visitors don't allow enough time and want to know what they can cram into a day or two), and she went to work outlining all the things we should see.
We were pleased to learn most of the tourist attractions around the area are either free, low cost, or by voluntary donation. Even the downtown parking is reasonable with a good deal of on-street, metered parking at $.25 per half hour with a more than ample 5-hour limit. In the event you don't have change for the meters, parking lots and garages charge a little more at $1.50 to $2.00 per hour.
Armed with a whole bagful of brochures and maps from the Visitors Center, we headed back to the campground to decide what we wanted to see and do. On the way back, we made a stop at Lincoln Home National Historic Site. This historic site is a four square block area right in the middle of downtown Springfield that has been preserved to look the way it did back in 1860. There are tours of Lincoln's home, which is in the center of the historic site.
Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky on Feb. 12, 1809. In 1816, the family moved to Indiana because of land title difficulties in Kentucky. Then in 1830, they moved again to Illinois because of more land and economic problems in Indiana.
At age 22, Lincoln struck out on his own and moved just to the west of Springfield to New Salem. He was elected to the state legislature in 1834. In 1837 he was admitted to the bar and moved to Springfield to start a law practice. In 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd, daughter of a prominent Kentucky family. The Lincolns bought the house that is now part of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in 1843. The house was a small cottage when they first purchased it; but because of their growing family, they expanded it to 2 full stories by 1856.
When Lincoln campaigned for the presidency in 1860, he wanted to overcome the popular misconception that he still lived in a log cabin so he commissioned several photographs of his home to show he was now a successful, upper middle-class lawyer. The vantage point of these photos is marked by reproductions of period cameras and is shown in the photo below.
The absolute gem in the Springfield area for Lincoln history is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. The museum is one of the few places in the area that charges admission ($10 for adults with $3 discount for seniors, military, and students) and it is worth every penny!. There are exhibits that cover Lincoln's early, pre-election years. This part of the tour starts through a reconstructed log cabin.
There are also exhibits that cover the White House years including the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination. Entrance to these exhibits is through a reconstruction of the South Portico of the White House. Here you can see Mary Todd Lincoln in a reproduction dress with embroidered violets, her favorite flower. There were more dresses on display worn by prominent women of the day and a short narrative of their 'place in society.'
The photo below shows Margery and Paul with wax figures of the Lincoln family as they appeared in 1861 in front of the White House. The children shown are (L to R) Thomas ("Tad"), Robert (the only child who would survive past the age of 18), and William ("Willie"). Their first son, Edward, died back in 1850 at age 4.
If you go to the museum, be sure to see the two shows. These are very well done, high-tech, special-effect productions equal to just about anything Disney could do.
The first show we saw was "Lincoln's Eyes" which attempts to get the viewer to see the issues of Lincoln's day through his eyes. It uses multi-layer projection screens, rotating sets, and special effects to explore Lincoln's personal and political life.
The second show is "Ghosts of the Library" which uses holograms, special effects, and a real actor to convey the stories and discoveries behind some of the artifacts and documents that are found in the Lincoln Presidential Library. Paul had to see this show twice just to try to figure out how they did some of the astonishing things they did.
After visiting the Lincoln Presidential Museum, there were still many more things to see in the Springfield area. Fortunately, we were still planning to stay in the area several more days.