Most people don’t know that the southern part of Illinois was once called Little Egypt. The name was pinned in the 1800’s when settlers in the North were forced to move due to poor harvests. Many say the names born in the region came because those farmers believed the Mississippi and the Ohio River valley’s were like that of the Nile Delta with rich golden soil. The first such place was Cairo, IL., the southern most city in the state. Purchased in 1818 on the land where the rivers converge, it was once a bustling city and major port outside of Chicago before it befell many economic and natural disasters. But that story is for another day. For now, let us now look beyond those waters to the land around it where the influence and majesty of Egypt lay its seeds in the soil. Surrounding Cairo many other settlements carried names of importance: Metropolis, Thebes, Dongola, Palestine, New Athens, Sparta, Karnak, and of course, Lebanon.
Lebanon, IL is a small town embroiled with history; a timeless relic that steals your heart with its stories. I first visited the town years ago on a wintry evening filled with the magic of a Victorian Christmas; one in which I hope to share with you another day. I was excited to return last summer to walk the brick lined streets surrounded by antique architecture. Most of the buildings have been partially or fully restored to appear as they had in the 1880’s. The most famous of them being The Mermaid Inn where Charles Dickens had stayed during his visit of the Looking Glass Prairie (the area now known as O’fallon, IL). Historians believe that Lebanon was the inspiration for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol-A Ghost Story of Christmas and anyone that takes the time to walk along “The Brick Street” during the holidays would certainly agree.
This was the first of our Family Adventures to surrounding cities, small towns and villages in Little Egypt and we decided to visit Dr. Jazz Soda Fountain for lunch and run around Horner Park, a 58 acre park and recreation facility tucked away on the outskirts of town. We were all entranced by Dr. Jazz, so much so that I had forgotten to take any photos! I was so engrossed in reading the menu and looking at all the antique trinkets lying around that my phone became its own history, tucked away in my purse. The only photo I happened to take was one for the Advertisement of the It’s a Wonderful Life Dinner and Show. How I wish I could have made it to that! They had served Ma’ Bailey’s famous turkey, Uncle Billy’s Christmas Ham, Heehaw! Mashed Potatoes, Mr. Potter’s Green Bean Casserole, Charleston’s Carrots, Clarence’s Cranberry Apple Salad, Grandma’s Stuffing, Little Tommy’s Hot Cross Buns and Mr. Gower’s Meticulously Measured Apple Crisp with the famous George Bailey Sundae! Just imagine! Alas, my husband and I’s work schedules didn’t allow for the few spots left on the reservation list. I truly hope to go this year and share it with all of you.
My boys had burgers and fries while I decided to try out the Italian Beef and an old fashioned Chocolate Ice Cream Soda. I swore next time I’d be brave enough to try an old fashioned Phosphate soda, a tangy type of soda that was popular in the 1870s. The food and ambiance was wonderful. I almost wish I could live there and be served by their kind staff every day! I promise you that if you get the chance to ever visit Lebanon that if you take the time to stop in at Dr. Jazz Soda Fountain you will NOT be disappointed.
With our belly’s and minds stuffed with food and history, we drove over to the park to play and relax. The first thing I noticed about it was how beautiful it was laid out. A 5 acre sparkling lake speckled with play areas for children and old magnificent trees. My son got to play on some old playground equipment that I didn’t even know existed! We made ourselves sick spinning around on animal carousels and old school merry-go-rounds before deciding to walk along the edge of the water.
I found all sorts of creatures for Judah to look at and we marveled at the geese and the huge cranes that dipped in the water. There were tiny treasures everywhere.
My husband found hiking trails we swore we’d eventually go down, but were too tired to do so then. Our family adventure was coming to a happy tiresome end with so many things left for other days.
Here are many other attractions to see in Lebanon, IL for your family adventures.
- Emerald Mound: A thousand year old Indian Mound outside of Lebenon, one of the largest in the United States. It is second in size only to Cahokia and Monk’s Mound near the Mississippi River. Believed to be built around 900AD, it was a ceremonial mound almost a city block long with a top that measures nearly 300ft.
- The Looking Glass Playhouse: The idea founded in 1972 by a small group of volunteers and opened during the spring of 1981, The Looking Glass Playhouse has helped to broaden the awareness of the arts in Southern Illinois.
- The Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center of the Arts aka The Hett: The premiere venue for all performing arts. From concerts, films and theater to The Idea Lab (think Ted Talk), puppetry and comedy! The Hett has everything!
- The Mermaid Inn: Built in 1830 by a retired sea captain Lyman Adams, it served as an inn and stage coach stop along the Vincennes Trail. It is the only place in Illinois that Charles Dickens has stayed the night and is rumored to have been where he gained the inspiration for the Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol.
I also want to add that if anyone winds up purchasing my dream house at 326 W St. Louis Street, I hope you one day let me walk along the floors and dream! This house seems as though someone carved it out of history! Just read the description on Zillow!
Built in the 1830”s this 4 story home holds much beauty and History for the City of Lebanon. Situated on a Corner Lot, this Home has original Woodwork, Pocket Doors, Original Floors, Custom Hand Made Light Fixtures made from Lamps, Beautiful Formal Dining Room Chandelier, 2 Staircases, Solarium Plant Space, Updated Kitchen, Main Floor Laundry Room with Doggie Half Door, Main Floor Office, Master Bedroom Wing with Sitting Room and Glass French Doors, Beautiful Fireplaces, Third Floor Ballroom, 4th Floor Look Out, Dozens upon Dozens of Awesome Windows, 5-7 Bedroom Areas if needed, Back to back 2-4 car garaged area, courtyard, and more.
I really want to see the Third Floor Ballroom! No one seems to have any inside pictures of this house.
Next on our list of adventures in Little Egypt is Edwardsville, IL., the third oldest city in Illinois and where I go on my Hotwheel Hunts! This city has a LOT of things to do and places to go; so I will definitely be breaking it up by visits. The first feature will be about Township Park’s Boundless Park, a all inclusive playground built by Boundless Playgrounds™. I have a soft spot for these special little places.
You can learn more about Lebanon, IL by visiting the City Website or the Chamber of Commerce. If you would like to learn more about Little Egypt I suggest checking out Illinois History’s page where it has a list of events that led to its name.
Where is the last place you went on your family adventure?