Most interesting landmarks of Illinois

Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of Illinois.

Natural landmarks

Cave-In-Rock. / David Wilson, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Cave-In-Rock – Hardin County. Enormous, shallow cave in the limestone bluff at Ohio River. For millennia it has served as a shelter for local people, including groups of river pirates.
  • Garden of the Gods – Saline County (and others), Shawnee National Forest. Uplifted sandstone plateau with diverse interesting rock formations – hoodoos, rock pillars, narrow canyons.
  • Little Grand Canyon – Jackson County, Shawnee National Forest. A system of small canyons which has been cut in the sandstone by perennial streams. Here are several perennial waterfalls.
  • Lusk Creek Canyon – Pope County, Shawnee National Forest. Impressive canyon on Lusk Creek which has formed in Pennsylvanian sandstone. Area contains many rare and endangered species of plants.
  • Natural Bridge in Bell Smith Springs – Pope County. Large natural arch which has formed in sandstone and has a span of 38 meters.
  • Pomona Natural Bridge – Jackson County. A beautiful, impressive natural bridge which has formed in sandstone rock. It is 27.4 m wide and only 2.4 m wide.
  • Starved Rock – LaSalle County. Prominent cliff at Illinois River which rises some 30 m tall. Around the Starved Rock, in the small side valleys of Illinois River have formed 18 beautiful canyons with waterfalls.
  • Wildcat Canyon Falls – LaSalle County. Some 38 m tall waterfall, possibly the tallest in the state. A small, perennial stream falls here over picturesque sandstone rocks.

Man-made landmarks

Archaeological landmarks
Monks Mound in Cahokia
Monks Mound in Cahokia. / Northfielder, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Cahokia – St. Clair County. The most significant pre-Columbian urban center north of Mexico Site, flourished around 1050 – 1350 AD. Some 80 man-made mounds remain in the central part of this former city.
  • Kincaid Mounds – border of Massac and Pope Counties. Remnants of a large city which was created and inhabited by the people of Mississippian culture, flourished around 1050 – 1400 AD. At least 11 large mounds, up 9 m high.
  • Monks Mound – St. Clair County, in Cahokia. The largest pre-Columbian earthworks in America and the largest pyramid north of Mexico. This 30 tall mound was built around 900 – 655 AD.
  • Piney Creek Site – Randolph County. The richest petroglyph site in Illinois – a sandstone outcropping with some 150 petroglyphs, created sometimes between 450 and 1550 AD.
Cities, towns
Streetscape in Chicago Loop
Streetscape in Chicago Loop. / Maciek Lulko, Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Chicago Loop – Cook County. Central business district of Chicago with numerous monuments of architecture – some of the earliest skyscrapers in the world, many skyscrapers in several historical styles of the 20th century, opulent movie theatres and other buildings.
  • Riverside Historic District – Cook County. The largest concentration of early modern architecture in the world. Some 25 properties have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – the greatest architect of the United States.
  • Riverside Historic District – Cook County. One of the first planned communities in the United States. Its development started in 1869 and had an aim to develop a possibly pleasant suburban neighborhood.
St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago
St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago. / Ronald Woan, Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette – Cook COunty, Wilmette. Gorgeous structure – the oldest of the existing Baháʼí temples. The enormous, round, white temple was built in 1912 – 1953.
  • St. John Cantius Church – Cook County, Chicago. One of the most beautiful Polish churches in Chicago, built in 1898. The interior of the church is especially ornate and even sumptuous.
  • St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago – Cook County, Chicago. Large, ornate building in the Polish Cathedral style. The church was constructed in 1914-1920 in Neo-Renaissance style, inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • St. Stanislaus Kostka Church – Cook County, Chicago. A beautiful church in the so called “Polish Cathedral” style – a localised variation of Neo-Renaissance style. This ornate building was constructed in 1881.
  • Unity Temple in Oak Park – Cook County. This church is considered to be the first modern building in the world, with immense influence on the development of architecture in the 20th century. Constructed in 1908 and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Private villas, houses
Farnsworth House
Farnsworth House. / Phil Beard, Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The modern family house to a large extent was invented in Illinois. Up to this day aficionados of architecture history can admire these milestones of Western culture which to a large extent have formed the way of life in modern society.

  • Coonley House – Cook County. This residential estate was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed in 1912. This complex of buildings is a fine example of Prairie School – a style in architecture.
  • Dana–Thomas House – Sangamon County. This family house was built in 1904 in the Prairie School style and inspired by the Japanese aesthetic. The best-preserved of all buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • F. F. Tomek House – Cook County. A private house which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed in 1906. As it is characteristic of Prairie School, the furniture and many interior details also were designed by the same architect to keep the style.
  • Farnsworth House – Kendall County. Small house for weekend retreats in minimalist International Style. The house was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and constructed in 1945-1951. It has left a profound influence on small architecture forms up to this day.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio – Cook County. The family house of the greatest architect of the United States – Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed it and constructed in 1889 and extended later. Wright and his wife raised in the house their six children.
  • Laura Gale House – Cook County. A beautiful example of early modernism – a family house in a matured Prairie School style. The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed in 1909.
  • Robie House – Cook County, Chicago. The most prominent example of Prairie School. This family house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed in 1909. Interior of the building has the characteristic muted colors of the style.
  • Pleasant Home – Cook County. Large family house in Prairie School style. It was constructed in 1897 and designed by George Washington Maher.
  • Walter Gale House – Cook County. A private house of Walter H. Gale, a comparatively modest but charming family house. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed in 1893.
  • Winslow House – Cook County. A family house – the first independent design by then young Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was built in 1894 and Wright himself considered this to be the first example of his new style – Prairie School style.
Historical highrises in Chicago style (Chicago school)
Marquette Building in Chicago
Marquette Building in Chicago./ Eric Allix Rogers, Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Chicago has been the testing ground for new construction technologies since the late 19th century. One of the main aims has been: to build possibly tall and safe buildings on the increasingly expensive land in the centre of the city. With the new technologies came new architecture and a specific style evolved, called simply – Chicago style.

  • Auditorium Building – Cook County, Chicago. A prominent building that was built in 1890. This highrise is 73 m high and has 17 floors. It was built as the world’s largest theater and now houses university as well.
  • Fisher Building – Cook County, Chicago. This skyscraper was constructed in 1896 and is 83.8 m high. The older part has 18 floors, in 1906 was added part with 20 floors.
  • Chicago Building – Cook County, Chicago. One of the best examples of the Chicago School in architecture. This office building was constructed in 1905. It is 49.5 m tall and has 14 floors.
  • Marquette Building – Cook County, Chicago. An excellent example of the Chicago School in architecture. This 17 floors high office building is 62.5 m high and was built in 1895.
  • Marshall Field and Company Building – Cook County, Chicago. Enormous department store building which has set many standards for luxurious downtown department stores around the world. This enormous building has 13 floors and is 46 m high. It was constructed in 1902-1906.
  • Monadnock Building – Cook County, Chicago. One of the most prominent examples of Chicago School in architecture with outstanding, distinct architecture for its time. 17 floors tall structure, constructed in 1893. The tallest load-bearing brick structure in the world – 60.5 m tall.
  • Reliance Building – Cook County, Chicago. Early skyscraper, constructed in 1890-1895. It was the first highrise whose glass area takes most of its surface. The building is 61 m high and has 15 floors.
  • Rookery Building – Cook County, Chicago. One of the oldest early high-rise buildings, an office building that was constructed in 1888. This ornate building has numerous technological innovations, has 12 floors and is 55 m high.
  • Sullivan Center – Cook County, Chicago. An enormous office building, 63 m high and with 12 floors. Very impressive is the façade of the first two floors which has very rich ornamentation.
Other historical highrise buildings
Chicago Board of Trade Building
Chicago Board of Trade Building./ Russell Mondy, Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Carbide & Carbon Building – Cook County, Chicago. Gorgeous Art Deco style skyscraper. It was built in 1929 and has 37 floors, 153 m tall. The building is covered with black granite and adorned with ornamentation.
  • Chicago Board of Trade Building – Cook County, Chicago. Historical skyscraper in Art Deco style with many beautiful architectural details and works of art. The massive building is 184 m tall and has 44 floors, it was constructed in 1930.
  • Jewelers Building – Cook County, Chicago. This gorgeous historical skyscraper was built in 1927. It is 159 m high and has 40 floors and for some time period was the world’s tallest building outside New York City.
  • Manhattan Building in Chicago – Cook County, Chicago. The oldest existing skyscraper where has been used the skeletal support system. This 16 floors tall building was constructed in 1891 and was a huge construction innovation.
  • Merchandise Mart – Cook County, Chicago. A giant department store which was built in 1930 in Art Deco style. It was the largest building in the world at this time. The massive building is 104 m tall and has 25 floors.
  • Tribune Tower – Cook County, Chicago. Beautiful historical skyscraper. It was constructed in 1925 with many features of the Neo-Gothic style. The tower is 141 m tall and has 34 floors.
  • Wrigley Building – Cook County, Chicago. This impressive skyscraper with two towers was constructed in 1924. The tallest tower has 30 floors and is 130 m tall, it is topped by an enormous clock and designed to resemble the Giralda tower of Sevilla’s Cathedral in Spain.
Modern skyscrapers
John Hancock Center in Chicago - the tallest building in this group
John Hancock Center in Chicago – the tallest building in this group./ Bert Kaufmann, Flickr / CC BY-2.0
  • 860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments – Cook County, Chicago. One of the earliest examples of International Style in architecture, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and constructed in 1949 – 1951. This highly influential design has been repeated all over the world up to this day.
  • Aqua in Chicago – Cook County, Chicago. A beautiful skyscraper with unusual, “fluid” form created by the wave-like form of its balconies. It was constructed in 2009 and is 262 m tall, with 87 floors.
  • John Hancock Center – Cook County, Chicago. This supertall skyscraper was built in 1969 and was the second tallest building in the world at this time. Its antennas are 457 m tall, the building itself – 344 m tall. It has 100 floors.
  • Marina City – Cook County, Chicago. A novel “city in city” concept, constructed in 1968. It started the reversal in the development of American cities from the suburbs back to the centre. The complex is dominated by two round towers – 179 m tall, each with 65 floors.
  • Willis Tower – Cook County, Chicago. The world’s tallest skyscraper in 1973-1998. The building is 442 m high (tip is 527 m high) and has 110 floors. It has the tallest observation deck in the USA at the height of 412.4 m.
Theatres and movie theatres
Chicago Theatre
Chicago Theatre./ Rob Young, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Cadillac Palace Theatre – Cook County, Chicago. Enormous and ornate theatre which was opened in 1926. The design of premises is inspired by the Palace of Versailles and Fountainebleau. Impressive is the rich brass ornamentation.
  • Chicago Theatre – Cook County, Chicago. One of the unofficial symbols of Chicago City – ornate theatre building with its flashy outdoor marquee with the name “Chicago”. The theatre was built in 1921 for the demonstration of motion pictures.
  • Coronado Theatre – Winnebago County, Rockford. Beautiful, very ornate theatre which was built in 1927 and designed by Frederic J. Klein. This unusually splendid building is a pride of the city.
  • Nederlander Theatre – Cook County, Chicago. Enormous, very ornate movie theatre. It was opened in 1926 and decorated in style which has been inspired by the architecture of India.
  • Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet – Will County, Joliet. Gorgeous movie theatre building in Neo-Baroque style, built in 1926. Now it is used for musicals and standup comedies. The theatre is considered to be a haunted place.
  • Uptown Theatre – Cook County, Chicago. A beautiful movie theatre which was built in 1925. The interior of the main hall is breathtaking.
Field Museum of Natural History, the main hall
Field Museum of Natural History, the main hall./ Allison Meier, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Art Institute of Chicago – Cook County, Chicago. Large and important art museum which was founded in 1879. The museum has evolved a cutting-edge educational and research program which involves the hundreds of thousands of artworks in its collections.
  • Field Museum of Natural History – Cook County, Chicago. One of the world’s largest natural history museums. It was established in 1893 and has a permanent collection of more than 24 million specimens.
  • Shedd Aquarium – Cook County, Chicago. One of the world’s largest and most exciting aquariums. It was opened in 1930 and hosts some 32 thousands of animals of some 1500 species.
Other monuments of architecture
BP Pedestrian Bridge
BP Pedestrian Bridge./ Russell Mondy, Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
  • BP Pedestrian Bridge – Cook County, Chicago. Pedestrian footbridge over a busy inner-city highway. The bridge was built in 2004 and designed by Frank Gehry. The bridge has unusual, snake-like planning. It is plated with curving, stainless steel plates.
  • Chicago Water Tower – Cook County, Chicago. Historical water tower which was built in 1869. The second-oldest water tower in the United States. This tower is 55 m tall. One of the few buildings in this area which survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
  • Fort de Chartres – Randolph County. Partly reconstructed historical fortress. Initially, it was built by the French in 1720, rebuilt in the 1750ies.
  • Gateway Geyser – St. Clair County. An enormous fountain that shoots up to 192 m tall. It forms an ensemble with the Gateway Arch across the Mississippi River, in St. Louis, Missouri. The fountain started to operate in 1995.
  • Illinois State Capitol – Sangamon County. One of the most prominent state capital buildings in the United States, constructed in 1868 in the French Renaissance style. The building is 110 m tall – taller than the U.S. Capitol.
  • Old Cahokia Courthouse – St. Clair County. The oldest existing European structure in Illinois. This wooden building was constructed by the French-Canadians.

Described landmarks of Illinois

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Even if there are some fine natural and archaeological landmarks in Illinois, the architectural heritage dominates here by a wide margin. This is the state where much of the contemporary modernity in design and construction technologies were invented.

Unity Temple in Oak Park
Unity Temple in Oak Park – one of the first truly modern buildings in the world./ Brian Crawford, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Today we can admire the creative courage and futuristic thinking of such engineers and architects as Henry Hobson Richardson, Louis Sullivan, William Le Baron Jenney or the much better known Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe… even if their ideas and approaches were conflicting and cause much discussion of to this day.

A vast majority of Illinois architectural heritage is in Chicago and its suburbs. This giant city boomed in the late 19th – early 20th century and created its own style in almost everything. Here the people invented the modern urban working place and modern suburban family life, the modern street network and public transport and then – the modern renaissance of the city center. The first highrises here were shy of their height and hid it behind diverse visual tricks including very ornate facades of the first floors so that the eye of onlooker stays at this level.

Elements of the facade of Sullivan Center, Chicago
Elements of the facade of Sullivan Center, Chicago./ Darren & Brad, Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

But then came the real giants and the initial shyness was forgotten: Chicago has been the home of the tallest buildings in the world.

Featured: St John Cantius Church

Interior of St. John Cantius Church
Interior of St. John Cantius Church. / Erik Drost, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The history of Chicago is also a history of the great immigration of diverse European nations to America. One of these nations – Polish – created the greatest churches in this giant city. St John Cantius Church is one of the most prominent among them.

Recommended books

The Illinois Chronicles: The Story of the State of Illinois – From its Birth to the Present Day

In celebration of its official Bicentennial year, take a trip through the incredible history of Illinois with this fascinating timeline book that brings to life 200 years of the State’s history.

Exploring Nature in Illinois: A Field Guide to the Prairie State

Loaded with full color photographs and evocative descriptions, Exploring Nature in Illinois provides a panorama of the state’s overlooked natural diversity. Naturalists Michael Jeffords and Susan Post explore fifty preserves, forests, restoration areas, and parks, bringing an expert view to wildlife and landscapes and looking beyond the obvious to uncover the unexpected beauty of Illinois’s wild places.

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