Narrow brick buildings with neat‚ white trim. Black lanterns lighting the way. The clip-clop of horses. It’s easy to imagine Abe Lincoln striding toward his law office at Sixth and Adams‚ but a blast from an electric guitar jolts the downtown Springfield visitor back to the present. On a warm August evening‚ about 2‚500 people are enjoying music and smoked pork at the Old Capitol Blues and barbecue festival – one of many events held annually in Historic Downtown Springfield.
“Our objective is to be a 24/7 hub of entertainment‚ culture‚ dining and shopping‚” Victoria Clemons says. As executive director of Downtown Springfield Inc.‚ she and an events coordinator work to realize the organization’s goals of “promoting‚ preserving and enhancing” the heart of the community.
There is something to enjoy downtown during all four seasons. A visitor might want to mark Abe’s Feb. 12 birthday at the Old State Capitol‚ watching and listening as costumed interpreters provide a glimpse into “Mr. Lincoln’s World.” Mid-March brings the St. Patrick’s Day parade‚ featuring up to 100 floats. The many nightspots downtown aren’t all Irish pubs‚ but they keep the celebration going into the wee hours. Downtown activities really blossom in the spring‚ beginning in early May with the Upper Story Tour of renovated residences and businesses above the street. The Old Capitol Art Fair follows – a juried show featuring fine paintings‚ glass‚ ceramics and photography from regional artists. Architecture buffs can take a Pied Piper Architect Tour from May to October‚ while those keen on the 16th president can follow a trail of “Here I Have Lived” placards tracing Lincoln’s nearly 25 years in Springfield. Area residents can stock their larders twice a week during the growing season by purchasing fresh-picked vegetables‚ fruits and nuts at the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. Celebrity-chef demonstrations and local musicians enhance the shopping.
The ultimate happening for the food aficionado is the Taste of Downtown event in late July‚ featuring Middle Eastern‚ Italian‚ Asian‚ Caribbean and American cuisine. Holiday shoppers flock downtown in early December‚ where they shop among luminarias and trees decorated with mini-lights. Horse-drawn trolleys and carolers fill the streets on special shopping evenings. “It’s an old Main Street atmosphere‚” says Barb Malany. “Every shop is unique‚ and we know our customers by their first names.” Malany says her store‚ Flowers LeGrand‚ “is one of those quaint businesses everyone remarks about.” Downtown Springfield’s year ends with the First Night celebration on Dec. 31. Ann Frescura of the sponsoring Springfield Area Arts Council says the family-oriented‚ alcohol-free event presents “diverse music‚ theater‚ comedy and dance – the full gamut of the arts‚” capped by fireworks at midnight.