The location of Princeton, Illinois, two hours west of Chicago on Interstate 80, has made it a popular satellite town in the Chicago metro area. The town has much to offer, with over 200 acres (80.9 hectares) of parks, a historic downtown, a championship public golf course, and seasonal festivals. The downtown is divided into two retail districts, connected by a well preserved main street, lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. The main street, coupled with historic houses, gives visitors a glimpse of what small town living was like, almost a century ago.
The south end of downtown contains the Apollo, the city’s only movie theater, the courthouse, a historic library, the main bank offices, and other businesses. The north end of downtown is referred to as the Art District and contains a business district, park, and the city’s train station. In the past several years the north end has undergone a transformation, with the addition of upscale clothing stores and the restoration of the Hotel Knox, a historic hotel.
If you are planning a trip to Princeton, Illinois, make sure you are prepared with this list of top things to do in the city. There’s everything from parks to historical sites, so study up and get packing!
1. Princeton Park District
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Created in 1946, the Princeton Park District maintains over 200 acres (80.9 hectares) of parks, each of which offers a wide range of outdoor and indoor activities. For indoor recreation, The 50,000 square foot (4645.2 square meter) Bureau County Metro Center is a recreation center with a full-size gymnasium, an elevated walking/running track, a 25-yard (22.9-meter) indoor swimming pool with wading pool, racquetball courts, a weight room, a cardio room, and locker rooms.
Adjacent to the Metro Center is 12 acre (4.9 hectare) Alexander Park and Alexander Park Swimming Pool, with a separate wading pool. Alexander Park also has a 9-hole disc golf course, six tennis courts, horseshoe pits, barbecue and picnic areas, shelter, restrooms, a playground and sand volleyball.
West Side Ball Park has two ball fields, restrooms, and concession stand. Zearing Park is a 72-acre (29.1-hectare) park that has three ball fields, soccer fields, shelters, picnic and barbecue areas, sand volleyball, horseshoe pits, a playground, and concession stand. There is also a pond, walking path, and an outdoor soccer complex. City County Park has 65 acres (26.3 hectares) with trails, barbecue areas, a log cabin shelter, a playground, ball field, and restrooms. Also part of the park district is Joe Meyer Woods, a 30-acre (12.1-hectare) forest preserve of native timber.
Princeton Park District
Opening Hours Monday-Thursday, 5:30 am - 9:00 pm. Friday, 5:30 am - 7:00 pm. Saturday, 8:00 am - 7:00 pm. Sunday, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm.
Address: 837 Park Ave W, Princeton, IL 61356
Website: Princeton Park Disctrict
2. Soldiers and Sailors Park and Monument
The Soldiers and Sailors Park is the focal point of Princeton’s Courthouse Square and the focal point of the park is a monument originally dedicated to Civil War Veterans of Bureau County. Plaques on the sides list the fighting men from Bureau County that participated in the Civil War. Built in 1913, the monument has been rededicated to all Bureau County veterans.
The monument stands 50 feet (15.2 meters) high and is made of granite and bronze, topped with a winged victory statue. In the summer, the park is the setting for Shakespeare in the Park and in December, a candy cane hunt for children.
Soldiers and Sailors Park and Monument
Address: 14 Park Ave E, Princeton, IL 61356
3. The Bridges of Bureau County
Just outside Princeton, you can easily travel to two covered bridges, one historic, the other recently built to modern highway standards. Located one mile (1.6 km) west of Princeton is the Captain Swift Covered Bridge. Built in 2006, the bridge is the only two lane covered bridge in Illinois. Made entirely of wood, with outer walls made of Douglas Fir, the bridge was built using 1800’s concepts. It has a 16 foot, 3 inch (4.9 meter) vertical clearance and a 128 foot (39 meter) span over the Big Bureau Creek.
Travel 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of Princeton, on Route 26, to visit the historic Red Covered Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1863, it is one of only five surviving covered bridges in Illinois and remains open to traffic, more than 150 years later. The Red Covered Bridge crosses Big Bureau Creek and is a favorite spot for artists and photographers.
Captain Swift Covered Bridge
Address: 1600 N. Epperson Rd. Princeton IL 61356
Website: Captain Swift Covered Bridge
Red Covered Bridge
Address: Route 26 North Princeton IL 61356
Website: Red Covered Bridge
4. Lovejoy Homestead
The Lovejoy Homestead, in Princeton, Illinois, was the home of Reverend Owen Lovejoy, an abolitionist and outspoken preacher. He was a founder of the Illinois and National Republican Parties and a congressional leader. During the 1840’s and 1850’s, Lovejoy’s home was part of the Underground Railroad that harbored slaves on their way north and as a result, he faced prosecution, several times.
Today the house, a National Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open to the public as a museum. The annual Homestead Festival honors Reverend Owen Lovejoy and his contributions to America’s history.
Opening Hours Friday to Sunday, 1 - 4 pm. Monday to Thursday, closed.
Address: 905 E Peru St, Princeton, IL 61356
Website: Lovejoy Homestead
5. Hornbaker Gardens
Opened in 1987 as a wholesale business, Rich and Kathy Hornbaker began selling plants, trees and shrubs. The next year, the couple held an open house and received such an overwhelming response that they started a retail operation, the Hornbaker Gardens. They eventually became known for their daylily, iris, and hosta collections, as well as several other hundred varieties of perennials in their nursery.
Since opening the retail business, they expanded their offerings and added display gardens, that have since grown into a botanical garden and arboretum. There are also display ponds for their aquatic plants. In 2008, they opened the Shop at Hornbacker Gardens, which stocks pottery, bronze sculptures, metal artwork, and other garden accessories. In 2012, the Barn at Hornbaker Gardens was built as an event center for wedding receptions, meetings and community events.
Address: 22937 1140 North Avenue, Princeton, IL 61356
Website: Hornbaker Gardens
6. Pin Splitter Lanes
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Princeton’s Pin Splitter is the area’s go-to bowling alley, a one stop shop for bowling, sports, drinks, pizza, darts & billiards. After a recent remodeling, the bar area is now separate from the bowling lanes. Watch televised sports on big screen TV’s, play darts, billiards or video games.
Along with the full bar, you can munch on pizza or take advantage of the pizza and bowling packages. Pin Splitter has a banquet room for rentals, perfect for all kinds of parties. They host bowling leagues and Cosmic Bowling is available on Friday and Saturday.
Pin Splitter Lanes
Opening Hours Tuesday to Thursday & Sunday, 12 pm - 10 pm. Friday to Saturday, 12 pm - 2 am. Monday, 12 pm - 9 pm.
Address: 1402 W Peru St, Princeton, IL 61356
Facebook: Pin Splitter Lanes
7. Chapel Hill Golf Course and Events Center
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Originally a private golf club, Chapel Hill Golf Course and Event Center is now a public, 18 hole golf course and event venue, located southeast of Princeton. The original club, the Bureau Valley Country Club (BVCC), is steeped in tradition and history, dating back to 1909. The Chapel Hill Golf Course today is known for its scenic views, championship course with tree-lined fairways and plantation style clubhouse, which is a popular venue for wedding parties and other celebrations.
Two other outside venues, under the three oaks on Fairway 10, or at their Wine Cellar Patio, are also available for parties. The new wedding chapel on the grounds was constructed in a 1920’s style and can host 108 guests. The golf course has both nine and eighteen hole packages, cart rentals, as well as a driving range.
Chapel Hill Golf Course and Event Center
Opening Hours Sunday to Saturday, 9 am - 5 pm.
Address: 12927 Co Rd 26, Princeton, IL 61356
Princeton: A Chicago satellite, with much to offer
Princeton, Illinois, has become a popular satellite city, since it is easily accessible from Chicago, by Amtrak. However, its small town ambiance and slower pace, makes Princeton an attractive town to live and work. With over 200 acres (80.9 hectares) of municipal parks, there are a wide variety of indoor and outdoor recreational activities to choose from, year round, including a championship golf course. The downtown, with its two retail districts and a well preserved main street that includes shops, bars, restaurants, an art district, and a historic theater, add a touch of sophistication to small town living.
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