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Tourism officials bank on Lincoln

Local leaders discuss how to promote connections to historical figures

DIXON – City leaders, historians and tourism officials are identifying area sites with a connection to Abraham Lincoln and Chief Black Hawk to bring in visitors.

The group, which included tourism leaders from all over Lee and Ogle counties, met Thursday at the Dixon Historic Center for Round 2 of talks to promote the area’s connection to Lincoln and complement the city’s appeal as the hometown of Ronald Reagan.

Officials first met in November, shortly before the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” with the idea of capitalizing on the film’s popularity with its own Lincoln ties.

Their primary goal is to be a part of the state tourism bureau’s overseas advertising campaign through a regional branding focused on Lincoln and his involvement in the Black Hawk War.

“The No. 1 thing Germans google is Lincoln,” said Ann Lewis, former chairwoman of the Reagan Centennial commission. “We want to be a part of that advertisement in Europe and show them there are places to come in northwest Illinois. To do that, we’re going to have to bring a good product forward for them.”

Since the area’s Lincoln history ties so much into his involvement in the Black Hawk War, the group also focused on telling the story of Chief Black Hawk.

“Those are the unique stories we can tell about Lincoln,” Lewis said.

Volunteers will come up with a list of the area’s historic sites. Once that’s complete, tourism groups and officials from those cities will meet to develop a regional plan. Ideas included bringing local historians together to create a storyline tying together all the sites and another meeting after for tourism officials to discuss the advertisement of it.

Mayor Jim Burke suggested reaching out as far as Galena, Galesburg, Freeport and Ottawa.

Aside from Lincoln’s efforts in the Black Hawk War, Lincoln visited the area to give Fremont speeches and Lincoln-Douglas debates were conducted in Freeport.

Norman Wymbs, founder of the Dixon Historic Center, pointed out the rich history of those in the Black Hawk War, including President Zachary Taylor, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Robert Anderson, who commanded Fort Sumter where the Civil War started.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Burke said. “Organizing it and branding it as a region, we think we’ll have something to sell.”

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