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Nearly everything in ILLINOIS revolves around Chicago , the
largest and most exciting of the Great Lakes cities. At the
state's northeastern corner, on the shores of Lake Michigan
, Chicago has a skyline to rival any city's, plus a gamut of
top-rated museums, restaurants and cafés, and innumerable
bars and nightclubs paying homage to the city's strong jazz
and blues heritage. Seventy-five percent of the state's twelve
million population live within commuting distance of Chicago's
energetic center, which controls the bulk of the state economy
- Illinois is the third largest agricultural producer in the
US. The sole exception to the endless flat prairies elsewhere
is far to the south, where the forested Shawnee Hills rise between
the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
The contrast between the quiet rural hinterlands and the buzzing
urban center could hardly be greater. That said, Illinois does
hold a few places to head for, though, apart from a couple of
mildly exciting college towns, most are of historic rather than
current interest. First explored and settled by the French,
in 1763 the area that's now Illinois was sold to the English.
Granted statehood in 1818, Illinois remained a distant frontier
until the mid-1830s when, after a series of uprisings, the native
Sauk were subjugated and settlers began to arrive in sizable
numbers. Among these were the first followers of Joseph Smith,
founder of the Mormon Church, who established a large colony
along the Mississippi at Nauvoo. The Mormons met with suspicion
and persecution and, after Smith was murdered by a lynch mob
in 1844, fled west to Utah.
Other early immigrants included the young Abraham Lincoln ,
who practiced law from 1837 onward in Springfield , the state
capital and home of a wide range of Lincolniana, including his
restored home, his law offices and vari ous other period buildings
and artifacts, as well as his monumental tomb. Indeed, Illinois'
self-proclaimed nickname - emblazoned on its car license plates
- is "Land of Lincoln," and many other central Illinois
towns claim important roles in the making of the sixteenth US
Because Chicago is the site of O'Hare Airport (the world's
busiest), as well as the hub of the national Amtrak train network,
you're likely at least to pass through it. If you plan to spend
time in the rest of Illinois, Amtrak, numerous commuter railroads
and, to a lesser extent, Greyhound, make getting around on public
transportation feasible, and cycling is generally easy on these
endless flat plains.
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