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DECATUR — Along with many other celebrations coming in 2018, the Rock Springs Conservation Center is taking a look back at the history of Illinois as the state reaches its 200th year, said Richie Wolf, nature center manager for the Macon County Conservation District. 

“It is a special year in Illinois history. We do have an interest in portraying our past,” he said. “It does a pretty good job of capturing Illinois history.”

Through the end of January, the conservation district will display an exhibit that covers famous politicians, sports teams, transportation and more. Aaron Martin, historic sites intern for the conservation district, created the exhibit. It is free and can be viewed during normal business hours.

It is part of the center’s mission to preserve local history as well as natural history, Wolf said.

Other historic exhibits include the homestead farm, the Oglesby Mansion and the Bethel one-room schoolhouse, which are real-life examples of Illinois history.

Some of the highlights from the exhibit include: 

People of Illinois

The display showcases immigration patterns through history — when and from where people came to Illinois, and some of the tensions caused by the melding of different lifestyles.

Early in the state's history, many settlers came to Illinois from Kentucky, seeking new farmland. This caused a conflict because some settlers brought slaves with them, leading to a statewide debate. Voters in 1824 rejected a proposal for a constitutional convention that could have made slavery legal, and the Illinois Constitution of 1848 specifically outlawed slavery in the state.

A love of sports

Sports fans, this one's for you: Illinois sports teams are showcased, and visitors can weigh in on their favorite Illinois sports team and player. Late last week, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls was in first place, with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs were in second and third place, respectively.

Geography of Illinois

How did Illinois look when settlers first arrived? Visitors to the exhibit can get a feel for the prairie, which surveyors said covered 54 percent of the state, and forests, which covered 40 percent. The rest was a makeup of waterways, swampland and marsh.

Focus on conservation

A number of species have been brought back from near-extinction in Illinois. They included the Bald Eagle, river otters, the North American Beaver, the Eastern Wild Turkey and bobcat.

Looking ahead, the exhibit also focuses on species that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources hopes to save through conservation efforts. These include the Greater Prairie Chicken, Short-Eared Owl, Indiana Bat and 26 species of mussels.

Past celebrations of Illinois

In 1918, the history of Illinois was published to mark the 100-year anniversary of statehood. The Centennial Commission also flew a flag featuring 21 stars in honor of Illinois the 21st state.

Pageants were held across the state, monuments were erected and the Old State Capital was restored between the two events. New songs and books were also created to celebrate.

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