Lincoln's Festival in Bloomington-Normal was launched in July 2009 as an annual, enthusiastic celebration of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, the Sixteenth President of the United States, and his personal connection to the community.
Many people know a bit about Lincoln's early life, and his years spent in Washington, D.C. leading the nation through the turbulent period of the Civil War, but few are aware of his strong ties to Central Illinois, especially to the Bloomington-Normal area. Abraham Lincoln became acquainted with many local people and places owing to his work as an attorney serving the Eighth Judicial Circuit. The attorneys in the circuit, accompanied by Judge David Davis, traveled by horseback and socialized together throughout the spring and fall months each year. Sometimes they handled routine legal matters such as wills and real estate transactions. Other times they took adversarial roles in a broad range of civil and criminal trials. Abe Lincoln quickly earned a reputation for being a good attorney and a gifted adversary in the courtroom. He also became renown among his peers for his lively wit and humor. Not surprisingly, the members of this group became some of Lincoln's closest friends and confidants, and these friendships helped to shape him as a person and as a national leader.
Lincoln, through his work as an attorney and as both a congressman and state representative, played a key role in the expansion of the railroads in Illinois. He became an early and ardent advocate of the railroads because he saw their potential as engines of economic growth. The advent of the railroad changed the fortunes of individuals and communities throughout the state, bringing an influx of people and expanding commerce across Illinois and the nation.
In recognition of the fact that McLean County has long been part of an important Midwestern corridor for travel, in late 2016, the Lincoln's Festival in Bloomington-Normal committee made the decision to expand the scope of the festival to include events and venues highlighting the area’s connection to “trails, rails and roads,” specifically historic Route 66, “America’s Mother Road.” The significance of Route 66 in our nation’s history is not to be underestimated.
Established in 1926, Route 66 stretched more than 2,000 miles, from downtown Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. It was one of the first highways in the U.S. Highway System. It was decommissioned in 1985 following the building of a new interstate highway system.
Route 66 brought travelers through the heart of many communities, like Bloomington and Normal, as it wound its way across the country, introducing them to interesting new sights, places and regional cultures. It also boosted local economies by increasing demand for auto repair services and the sale of fuel, food and lodging. Notably, Route 66 served as a conduit for the mass migrations of people to our Western states during the Depression and following World War II, when America’s car culture burst into full bloom. In addition, it increased the ease of transporting goods and produce to new markets along its long route.
The 2017 Festival
Now renamed, Lincoln's Festival on Route 66: Trails, Rails & Roads, this three-day event brings together a wide variety of people, businesses and organizations from throughout the Bloomington-Normal area who feel a shared sense of pride in our area's deep connection to Abraham Lincoln and Route 66. Drawing upon this well-spring of community support, the festival is able to offer our multi-generational attendees a rich array of Lincoln related programming and experiences as well as new events such as a classic car show and a cruise-in at Franklin Park along with visits to Sprague’s Super Service, built in 1931 on Pine Street in Normal, part of the historic Route 66. The Cruisin' with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center at the McLean County History Museum in downtown Bloomington is another great place to explore the impact of Route 66 on the Bloomington-Normal area.
All festival events are open to the public. Most are free.
Festival events are held at several different locations in the community (see map below).
On Saturday, July 15 from 10 am to 4 pm, take a step back in time and enjoy some old fashioned forms of transportation.
Wagon rides are to and from the Bloomington Public Library and Franklin Park.
New this year, take a trolley to all Bloomington venues.
Carriage rides through the Franklin Park neighborhood begin and end at the east side of Chestnut (at McLean Street).
The map also notes free parking lots available to those attending the festival.