Maybe it’s something in the water, or maybe it’s Illinois’ warm, pragmatic nature. Four American Presidents have called Illinois their home at one time or another but one of them stands above them all in Northwest Illinois. Ronald Reagan, 40th American President, the man who helped end the Cold War, Hollywood movie star and hometown hero of the Blackhawk Waterways region.
The Reagan Trail allows visitors to walk in the footsteps of this young man’s life and witness the communities, neighborhoods, parks and churches that shaped his personal character, and ultimately, the character of the United States. This self-guided driving tour takes you to 13 Illinois cities, from his birthplace in the small town of Tampico Illinois to the grounds of Eureka College where Reagan graduated in 1932. The other towns along the way stretch from Northwestern to West central Illinois, including Ohio, Princeton, Henry, Chillicothe, Peoria Heights, Washington, Galesburg, Monmouth and Fulton.
You can begin your trek along the Ronald Reagan Trail in historic, downtown Dixon where a sculpture titled “Begins the Trail,” sits majestically along the bank of the Rock River. The life-size bronze sculpture is the centerpiece of Dixon’s new Heritage Crossing. The $4.5 million project transformed the riverfront into a pedestrian-friendly outdoor plaza with a pavilion, performance spaces, places to sit, places to walk and places to enjoy the view of the Rock River.
"Begins the Trail"
The sculpture depicts a young, smiling Ronald Reagan astride a horse. Artist Donald Luppen Reed named his piece “Begins the Trail” to illustrate that the values Reagan developed in Northwest Illinois served him through his long political life. A short walk up Hennepin Ave from the Reagan statue will lead you to many of the buildings and institutions that shaped his life in Dixon. Learn more...
The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home is a simple Victorian era farmhouse that has been lovingly restored to life as it was in the 1920s. The Dixon Historic Center is where Reagan attended high school, the Dixon Public Library, the First Christian Church, Loveland Museum all have been restored to what life was like in small town America. Don’t forget to visit Lowell Park where a teenage Reagan worked as a lifeguard on Rock River and reportedly saved 77 lives from drowning. Each August, Dixon celebrates Ronald Reagan Trail Days, a community event that honors Dixon’s most famous hometown boy who went on to play a major role on the world stage. Learn more...
From Dixon visitors can take the short drive to Tampico, Illinois where Ronald Reagan was born in an apartment above a bakery in 1911. From here visitors can drive northwest to scenic town of Fulton.
Newly added to the trail, Fulton’s connection to the United States President runs deep. The President’s parents were both born and married in Fulton at the church rectory of Immaculate Conception. A number of Ronald Reagan’s grandparents, aunts and uncles called Futon home, weaving a rich tapestry of small town family life at the turn of the 20th century. The Reagan family burial plot is located in the former Fulton Catholic cemetery. An Illinois State Historical Marker will be erected at the Reagan Family Plot in 2011. The marker dedication will coincide with the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. The Fulton Historical Society also has a Ronald Reagan History Room inside the Fulton Museum. Learn more...
During his two terms as president, Reagan launched what later became known as the Reagan Revolution, a movement that emphasized individual freedom, conservative values, military strength and economic policies that brought inflation under control. Reagan is also credited with forcing the Soviet Union to stand down in its long Cold War with the West.
In the 1990s, the Illinois cities that figured prominently in Reagan’s early life banded together to create the Ronald Reagan Trail. Their goal was to make it easier for history buffs and admirers of the 40th president to see the places that shaped Reagan as an adult. The Illinois General Assembly officially designated the Ronald Reagan Trail on May 21, 1999.
The trail itself is actually 300-mile triangle that takes you from Dixon south to Washington and Eureka and west to Galesburg and Monmouth and north to the newly added town of Fulton.
For more information about the Ronald Reagan Trail, visit http://www.ronaldreagantrail.net/.