IllinoisstatehoodOn Dec. 3, 1818 Illinois entered the union as our 21st State. At the time, the estimated population of total European settlers and Native Americans was around 35,000. The treeless prairie was very different from the adjacent forests of Kentucky and Tennessee, and was still largely unsettled. Most of the early Illinois settlers remained in the southern part of the state, where they built homes and farms near the trees that grew along creek and river bottoms. The southern part of the state, known as “Little Egypt,” was mainly settled by migrants from the South, who had traveled there via the Ohio River.  Eventually, a few farmers took on the task of plowing the prairie and discovered that the soil was richer than expected. The development of heavier prairie plows and improved access to wood and other supplies, accessible through new shipping routes, encouraged more farmers to head north.

In 1819, Vandalia became the new state’s first capital, and over the next 18 years, three separate buildings were built to serve successively as the capitol building. In 1837, the state legislators representing Sangamon County, under the leadership of state representative  Abraham Lincoln, succeeded in having the capital moved to Springfield, where a fifth capitol building was constructed. A sixth capitol building was erected in 1867, which continues to serve as the Illinois capitol today.

The state experienced rapid population growth almost immediately. The 1820 census counted 55,211 Illinois residents, a gain of 16.2% from 1810. Since then, Illinois has gained population in every decennial census, although the rate of growth has slowed. As of 2020, the state is approaching 13 million residents. Since 1840, the center of population in Illinois had shifted to the north. Chicago, once a remote hamlet, rapidly emerged as a bustling city. Today, Illinois is one of the most dynamic and diverse states in the nation and it all began in Dec. 1818.

Clark BridgeThe Clark Bridge, linking Illinois to Missouri in Alton, is a cable-stay bridge, unique in its structure in the United States. The bridge is named for explorer William Clark, who helped lead the Lewis & Clark expedition from 1804 to 1806. The bridge is a 4,620 foot gateway inviting visitors to discover the region.

Requiring 8,100 tons of structural steel, 44,100 cubic yards of concrete and more than 160 miles of cable wrapped with four acres of yellow plastic piping, the Clark Bridge is expected to be a part of the area's scenery well into the next century. The bridge is supported by 44 steel cables looped over saddles and perched on top of a pair of ten foot wide concrete pylons 250 feet above the Mississippi River.

Design work on the bridge began in 1985, with construction starting in June 1990. Designed by Hanson Engineers under contract to Illinois Department of Transportation, the Clark Bridge was the first in the United States in which a light steel-framed cable-stayed design was combined with a cable saddle type of pylon. The bridge used 8,100 tons of structural steel, 44,100 cubic yards of concrete, and more than 160 miles of cable wrapped with four acres of yellow plastic piping. The span carries four lanes of traffic and two additional paths for bicycles and pedestrians. It is the northernmost river crossing in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The new Clark Bridge was built to replace the Old Clark Bridge, which was built by the Alton-St. Louis Bridge Company in 1927 and demolished after the completion of the new bridge in the 1990s. The old bridge was a toll bridge while the new one is not.

The new Clark Bridge is sometimes referred to as the “Super Bridge.” Its construction was featured in a NOVA documentary entitled Super Bridge, which highlighted the challenges of building the bridge, especially during the Great Flood of 1993.

morrowplotsThe College of Agricultural Sciences on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is home to the oldest and largest experimental crop field in the United States and the second oldest in the entire world. The plots were established in 1876 and continue to be used today, although now with three plots of much-reduced size, instead of the original ten half-acre lots. Some of the land formally included in the plots was used to build the campus observatory or tuned into green space. Now only three plots remain, but they are protected as a National Historic Landmark. The Morrow Plots is one of two such landmarks on campus, achieving its status in 1968. The neighboring observatory also achieved the status of National Historic Landmark in 1989.

The Morrow Plots were started in 1876 by Professor Manly Miles, who established three half-acre fields with different crop schemes. These were expanded to 10 plots in 1879 by George E. Morrow. At first, record keeping was not of the highest caliber, but by the turn of the 20th century, it was clear that crop rotation was a useful component in preventing the depletion of soil quality. In the early 20th century, the number of plots were reduced, and their size was also reduced, in order to facilitate expansion of the university facilities. The northernmost plots are the only ones that date to Miles' 1876 establishment-his other plots are now occupied by the University of Illinois Observatory.

Alumni of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will be pleased to learn that the Morrow plots were instrumental in in gaining knowledge on crop rotation, soil nutrient depletion, and the effects of synthetic and natural fertilizers. With crops being consistently grown in the same place for well over 100 years, research and records on the Morrow Plots continue to provide valuable information for a variety of topics, including soil carbon sequestration and long-term effects of fertilizers on soil bacteria. Corn, wheat, soybeans and other crops are still grown on the plots to this day.

Movie theater seats and screenLincoln Theater in downtown Belleville observed its 100-year anniversary this year. Established in 1921, the theater has entertained locals for a century, offering silent films, black-and-white movie reels, and the masterpieces that shake box offices today.

Located on 103 E. Main St., the Lincoln Theater is owned by Dave and Sandy Schoenborn after Sandy’s father, Richard Wright, bought the business in 1980 and ran it with his wife, Betty. The Schoenborn family took over management in 2007. The family will celebrate the Lincoln’s 100th anniversary with “A Century of Entertainment,” a variety show with music, dance and theater reflecting the 1920s through today. It will be performed on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. This show will also be live-streamed. More information about the event and its live stream can be found here.

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Shelf filled with products inside glass jars The Illinois Office of Tourism has announced a list of new additions to the Illinois Made program, which recognizes businesses classified as hidden gems for locals and visitors to discover. The businesses highlighted by this initiative, called Makers, are recognized because they offer unique products and experiences to their customers and passersby.

The Illinois Made program, which now features over 200 Makers from all parts of Illinois, continues to plant people into small businesses around the state by promoting the unique destinations that make the state a one-of-a-kind place. Some of the products offered by Makers include music shops, art galleries, bakeries, farms and more.

The new round of Makers provides visitors with a range of vegan desserts, crafts, candles, general wares and other products that diversify and improve the lives of people across the state. This class of Makers includes 28 small businesses from every region of the state and comes just in time for the holiday shopping season. While the majority of these 28 Makers reside in the Chicago area, a healthy handful are sprinkled in the northwest, central and southern parts of Illinois.

The IOT celebrates Illinois Makers through its road trip itineraries, which run along paths created to endorse these local businesses. The IOT also operates Enjoy Illinois through which travel magazines, events, seasonal campaigns and the annual Illinois Made Holiday Gift Guide can be found. People can nominate businesses for the Illinois Made Program on a year-round basis here. Nominations are open to all businesses, but chosen businesses must adhere to criteria regarding location, visitor experience, manufacture process and history or origin.

The contributions made by Makers shape the state. Because Makers reflect a variety of business types—restaurants, breweries and wineries, farms and orchards, and even international markets that have humble beginnings as small businesses in Illinois—the artisan nature of the state facilitates visitor attraction and boosts tourist activity. Celebrating these contributions is one of many ways to support local businesses. Discover the many available experiences in every region of the state here.