Illinois is surrounded by five states and Lake Ontario, which makes it the perfect travel destination for thousands of people. As beautiful as the large city of Chicago is the smaller towns that share the best of what rural Illinois has to offer. Here are the 10 most beautiful and charming small towns to visit across the state.
Situated in the very top Northwestern corner of the state is the town of Galena. The town is named after the mineral that the Native Americans mined in the area hundreds of years ago. Inside the Galena Historic District, there are more than eight hundred properties that are all included on the National Register of Historic Places. Guests can tour the homes of former president Ulysses S. Grant and congressman Elihu B. Washburne, which lies within the Galena historic district. Visitors can also learn more about the social history of the town when they tour the Old Market House State Historic Site. The Old Market House was built in 1845 and is now used as a museum.
Mount Carroll is one of the coldest places in all of Illinois due to their elevation and location. Despite the cold temperatures, people flock to this town for the architecture, art, and culture. Inside the local post office there is a canvas mural, Rural Scene Wakarusa Valley, that was painted with oils by Irene Bianucci in 1941. The local downtown area looks as magnificent as it did decades ago and the bricks that line the streets give it a real old-time country feel. Every year, locals perform a play at the Timber Lake Playhouse. The original building was completed in 1961, but was destroyed by a fire on July 22, 1974. The current building was erected later that year and is surrounded by fourteen more buildings that are used to keep the plays successful.
It would not be too surprising if everyone in Elmhurst has a sweet tooth, since Sunshine Biscuits and Famous Amos cookies are distributed from this small town. Keebler cookies used to claim this town as their home as well until they were bought out by Kellogg. Elmhurst focuses on community which is evident with their parades and other events. Their Memorial Parade has been a tradition since 1918 and their St. Patrick’s Day Parade is third in popularity just behind Chicago’s and the South Side’s. The limestone quarry that is located just West of downtown is quite the sight especially since it is one-hundred-fifty feet deep.
Robert Fulton invented the steamboat and people decided that they needed to name this town after this ingenious man. The town is filled with people of Dutch descent and they love to show how much they love their heritage. To express their Dutch heritage even more, the town ordered a Dutch windmill that native millwrights in the Netherlands constructed and shipped over to Fulton. The windmill, called De Immigrant, was completed on November 19, 1999, and began grinding wheat, buckwheat, cornmeal, and rye in 2001. One of the best times to be in the town of Fulton is the first weekend of May when the Dutch Days Festival is held. The weekend is filled with arts and crafts, music, food, dancing, windmill tours, Dutch heritage displays, and a parade.
Back in 1844, the town of Nauvoo had a population of 12,000 people which was approximately the same amount of people that were in the city of Chicago. The population declined shortly after that and now it is a small town that is rich in history. A few of the best historic sites are the Joseph Smith Homestead, the Nauvoo House, the Red Brick Store, and the Smith Family Cemetery.
There are quite a few museums in the town of Greenville which shows that they are proud of the history of their little town. Visitors can walk through the Richard Brock Museum, the American Farm Heritage Museum, the Armed Forces Museum, and the Demoulin Museum. The Greenville Public Library was built in 1905 with the assistance of Andrew Carnegie’s money and it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Any history buff will be thrilled with the idea of being able to read every issue of the Greenville Advocate, from 1858 to today, since the library has them all.
Sycamore could potentially be known as the pumpkin town, since they have hosted the annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival since 1962. The festival begins on a Wednesday and concludes on Sunday and is filled with arts and crafts, carnivals, pumpkin displays, food, fireworks, and a parade. Walking tours of the Sycamore Historic District are offered every summer and people can learn about many of the buildings from a local historian who guides the tours.
Not too many towns or cities have town squares anymore, but the one in Woodstock has both the Woodstock Opera House and the Old McHenry County Courthouse nearby. Once people arrive in this town, they feel like it looks or seems familiar to them and this is because they probably remember it from some scenes in the movies Groundhog Day and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. After the popularity of the movie Groundhog Day, the town decided that they needed to celebrate this unique holiday every year and they now have their own honorary groundhog, Woodstock Willie.
Four of the original taverns in the town can be found on LaSalle Street along with all but one building that was constructed prior to 1861. While history is prominent in this town, many people find themselves visiting when they are trying to spot a bald eagle or riding the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail.
The oldest college in Illinois, McKendree University, is in cute little town of Lebanon. Students, locals, or visitors will want to see the Emerald Mound and Village Site. This archaeological site has five mounds and village remains. The Mermaid House Hotel was built in 1830 and visitors are now able to tour the building and see what Charles Dickens was talking about when he mentioned the hotel in his American Notes book after his visit there in 1842.