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Lincoln the new Reagan?

Officials aim to form regional coalition to promote tourism

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT
(SVM file photo)
The Lincoln Statue in Dixon on the north bank of the Rock River is the lone statue of the nation’s 16th president in military uniform.

DIXON – Can Dixon tourism capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln?”

That’s what officials were asking Tuesday as the city continues to brand itself as a destination point.

The idea is to identify Dixon’s Lincoln history and collaborate with surrounding communities to sell a regional attraction that complements the city’s appeal as the hometown of Ronald Reagan.

“This Lincoln stuff has really cranked up with the success of the movie,” said Mayor Jim Burke, referring to the movie starring Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln that registered $36.1 million at the box office over Thanksgiving weekend. “There’s going to be various people coming to Illinois. How can we capitalize on all that? We have a lot of great sites that seem to get overlooked.”

Notably, the group of local officials talked about two Lincoln stays in Dixon: his time volunteering in the area during the Blackhawk War, and a speech he gave supporting then Republican presidential hopeful John Fremont. Dixon also boasts the lone statue of Lincoln in uniform.

Getting recognition in Springfield with state tourism groups will be important to the process, since the area will be competing with others throughout Illinois to attract tourists, Director of Public Works Shawn Ortgiesen said.

To do so, these historical connections will have to be documented to gain that recognition.

That is also why those in attendance expressed a desire to see a regional effort. Many surrounding communities have their own historical ties to Lincoln, notably the Manahan Home in Sterling, the Lincoln/Blackhawk statue in Oregon and the Lincoln-Douglas debate site in Freeport.

“We have to create a product for tourists to even get on board,” said Diane Nicholson of the Lee County Tourism Council. “That will take work up front.”

After they meet with other area tourism organizations, Dixon officials suggested starting a website dedicated to Lincoln attractions in northwest Illinois, which includes Lee, Stephenson, Jo Daviess, Carroll, Whiteside and Ogle counties.

Burke said bronze historic plaques and signage also will be needed to designate certain sites and help potential tourists find their way to each.

Fundraising for the project was noted as a challenge. Corporate grants and local trusts were discussed as possible cash sources.

“We have a lot to tie together,” Burke said. “I feel we have something to attract people here.”

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