Although Illinois is known as the “Land of Lincoln,” Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, not Illinois. The motto “Land of Lincoln” came from the fact that Lincoln lived in Illinois for a significant portion of his life, and also became its senator. Barack Obama also served as senator of Illinois. However, Ronald Reagan was the only U.S. president actually born in Illinois.
Ronald Reagan was born in an apartment in rural Tampico, Illinois, which is about 2 hours west of Chicago. It is maintained by the Tampico Historical Society, which provides tours for visitors. On your tour, you not only see the apartment unit owned by Reagan’s parents, but also have a chance to see the recreated bank that would have been located below it when Reagan was a boy. Reagan was born in Tampico on February 6, 1911, but did not live in his birthplace for long. His father was an alcoholic, so the family’s income was unsteady, meaning that they moved around often.
Reagan’s family moved to Dixon, Illinois in 1920. Dixon is about 30 minutes northeast of Tampico (about 1 hour and 40 minutes west of Chicago). Even in Dixon, Reagan’s family did not stay in one home for long. However, one of the homes that he lived in has become a historic site that provides tours for visitors. Reagan lived there with his parents and older brother from 1920 to 1924. After that, the family moved around to other parts of Dixon.
The Reagan Boyhood Home became a historic site, because in 1980, when Reagan was running for president, the local mailman informed the city of Dixon that the home was for sale, and might be a profitable investment if Reagan won the presidency. He was ultimately correct.
For both of Reagan’s tours, you learn a lot about Reagan’s life, and how his job as a radio sportscaster eventually led to his career as a Hollywood actor. Although never becoming a well-renowned actor, his first wife (married 1940-49), Jane Wyman, was an Academy Award winner for the 1948 film Johnny Belinda. Reagan eventually entered the political arena, and served as a Republican President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
Admission to the Reagan Boyhood Home has a fee, however, admission to his Birthplace site is free. My favorite part about the Boyhood Home was that when Reagan visited it after it became a museum, he pulled out a loose brick that was right outside the fireplace hearth, to show that he used to hide his money from his brother under there. My tour guide then proceeded to pull up the loose brick. As for the Birthplace site, my favorite part was when the tour guide explained that when Reagan visited there after his presidency, he went through the window of his apartment into the apartment next door, to recreate how his mother used to hand him over to his neighbor through the window when she needed someone to babysit him. After telling me this story, my tour guide then permitted me to go through the window and recreate this incident.
If you decide to visit Reagan’s Boyhood Home, try to also stop by his Birthplace site, since they are only 30 minutes apart from each other. Be sure to check the visitor hours for both locations, especially since they are not open during the colder months. If you drive to Dixon and Tampico from Chicago using Interstate 88, you may notice signs that say “Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway,” in honor of Reagan.
P.S. The John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Illinois is only 10 minutes away from Reagan’s Boyhood Home, so may also be worth visiting if you are in the area. Admission is free. I wrote about that site here: https://arkeh.travel.blog/2019/08/11/john-deere-company/
Sources and Further Reading
McClelland, Edward. “How Reagan’s Childhood Home Gave Up on Reaganism.” Politico. November 23. 2019. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2019/11/23/ronald-reagan-childhood-home-072935 (accessed November 28, 2019).
“Ronald Reagan Birthplace.” Tampico Historical Society. https://www.tampicohistoricalsociety.com/R_Reagan_Birthplace_Museum.html (accessed November 28, 2019).
Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home. https://reaganhome.org/ (accessed November 28, 2019).