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Free Illinois Travel Books – Free Chicago Travel Guides

Free Illinois Travel Books - Free Chicago Travel Guides

Free Illinois travel books and Chicago travel guides. Pioneer and 19th century Travel accounts. Collection and suggested titles.This webpage contains links to:

Dozens of Illinois & Chicago Travel Guidebooks, published from the early 1900s until recently,
Narrative descriptions of Illinois by historic explorers from the 1600s to the 1800s,
Accounts of Chicago and other Illinois places by pioneers and travelers in the 19th century.

Book Collections of Illinois and Chicago Travel Guides, Exploration

Chicago Guidebooks Collection

Free online books at the Internet Archive, resulting from a search for books on “Illinois – Chicago Guidebooks”. Among these Chicago travel guides are books for walks in Chicago, living in Chicago, best Chicago attractions, cheap places to eat, a guide to ethnic Chicago, a running guide, and many more specialized and general travel guides.

Illinois Guidebooks Collection

Free online books at the Internet Archive, resulting from a search for books on “Illinois – Guidebooks”. Includes a variety of travel guides, including fun with the family, the Illinois countryside, hiking in Illinois, Illinois attractions off the beaten path, weekends in Illinois, strange places, a nature guide, and day trips from Chicago.

Chicago Region Collection

Free online books at the Internet Archive, resulting from a search for books on “Illinois – Chicago Region”. Some of the guidebooks here include where to take your dog in Chicago, weekend escapes from Chicago, a shopper’s guide to outlet stores, Chicago museums, hiking in the Chicago region, natural wonders in Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Chicago, and historic preservation sites in the region.

Suggested Illinois Travel Guides and Explorers’ Books

Documents, Papers, Materials and Publications relating to the Northwest and the State of Illinois

Beckwith, H.W.
Springfield, ILL: Illinois State Historical Library. 1903

This is a collection of documents (translated into English) for the early history of French Canadian exploration of the Illinois region, and also for the conquest of Illinois country by George Rogers Clark during the Revolutionary War. The editors have added introductions and explanatory notes to each group to assist readers and provide background information. There is a separate index for each document group. Illinois explorers.

The topics or titles of documents are:

-Voyages and Discoveries of Father James Marquette in the Mississippi Valley
-French Plans of Conquest
-Hennepin’s Narrative
-La Salle’s Voyage down the Mississippi
-Memoir of Henry de Tonty of 1693
-The Aubry Manuscript
-George Rogers Clark’s Conquest of the Illinois
-Letters from the Canadian Archives

Also see: Explorers and Travelers in Great Lakes History; Illinois General History; and Great Lakes General History

See the Menu at the top of every page for Directories of Free Online Fiction and NonFiction Books, Magazines, and more, on 400 pages like this at Century Past

Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City

Bielski, Ursula
Thunder Bay 2009

See our free books on Illinois economic topics

Letters from Illinois

Birkbeck, Morris
London: Taylor and Hessey. 1818

Morris Birkbeck (1764-1825) was a political ‘radical’ who emigrated from England to Illinois in 1817 with George Flowers to establish a colony of English emigrant farmers. They bought 26,000 acres in Edwards County, calling it the English Prairie Settlement, and also laid out the town of Albion. Birkbeck was a progressive farmer, and organized the Agricultural Society of Illinois.

For this book, Birkbeck collected a number of letters that he had written to acquaintances in England, providing information about Illinois and encouraging them to come to the English Prairie. The book was very widely read in Great Britain, and was also translated into German and French.

For several early-19th century descriptions of the Great Lakes states and adjoining areas, see: Settlers’ Guides for the Great Lakes Region

Literary Landmarks of Chicago

Brown, Alan
Starrhill 2004

Travel and Description, 1765-1865, together with a list of county histories, atlases, and biographical collections and a list of territorial and state laws

Buck, Solon
Springfield, ILL: Illinois State Historical Library. 1914

This is Volume 2 in the Illinois State Historical Library’s Bibliographical Series. It contains annotated bibliographies of books that are significant in Illinois history for the following subject areas:

Travel and Description, 1765-1865
-County Histories, Atlases and Biographical Collections
-Historiography of Illinois Counties
-Territorial and State Laws

Also see: History of Illinois Cities, Counties & Regions

Western Portraiture, and Emigrants’ guide: A Description of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa; with Remarks on Minnesota, and Other Territories

Curtiss, Daniel S.
NY: Colton 1852

“Based in part on personal observation, this is one of the best descriptive books of the period. The first part is in the form of “trips from Buffalo by the lakes to Chicago and by the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to St. Paul with descriptions of the towns and counties along the route. Later a section of about a hundred pages is devoted to a more formal description of the state of Illinois, its towns, counties, people, rivers, canals, and railroads. Another section contains extensive extracts from letters written by a Mr. Thompson while traveling down the Illinois and up the Mississippi rivers in the summer of 1851 ; his accounts of Chicago, La Salle, Peoria, Jacksonville, and Galena being of especial interest. Valuable, also, is the list of papers and periodicals in Illinois which gives the location of each, its frequency of publication, and its political or other character.” – Solon Buck in ‘Illinois Historical Collections


Des Garennes, Christine
Moon Handbooks 2009

A volume from the ‘Moon Handbooks’ travel guide publisher, for the present-day Illinois explorer.

Illinois in 1837: a sketch descriptive of the situation, boundaries, face of the country, prominent districts …

prairies, rivers, minerals, animals, agricultural productions, public lands, plans of internal improvement, manufacturers, &c., of the state of Illinois : also, suggestions to emigrants, sketches of the counties, cities, and principal towns in the state, together with a letter on the cultivation of the prairies, by the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth: to which are annexed the letters from a rambler in the West

Ellsworth, H. L.
Philadelphia: Mitchell. 1837

From the publisher’s Preface:

“The first 72 pages are devoted to the illustration of the Natural Geography, Minerals, Animal and Vegetable Productions of the State, also its Civil Divisions, Public Lands, Plans of Internal Improvements, Manufactures, Education, Suggestions to Emigrants, Travelling Routes, Remarks on Location and Manner of Building in newly-settled Countries.”

“The next 58 pages are occupied with a descriptive sketch of the Counties, Cities and Towns in Illinois; the remainder of the work is filled up with a Letter from the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth on the Cultivation of the Prairies, together with the Letters of a “Rambler in the West”.

Memorable days in America; being a journal of a tour to the United States …

principally undertaken to ascertain, by positive evidence, the condition and probable prospects of British emigrants; including accounts of Mr. Birkbeck’s settlement in the Illinois; and intended to shew men and things as they are in America

Faux, William
London, Simpkin &Marshall, 1823

Faux describes his trip to America, which began in November 1818. Emigration to America was a hot political issue in England at that time, and some of the accounts coming from America were suspected of being inflated. Faux writes that he was determined to write an objective and factual account of America to help people in England make the right choice about whether to emigrate. Among his stops in America was the English Prairie Settlement of Birkbeck and Flowers, which he described in detail. He also spent two months in Indiana. The book contains a lot of information about frontier life and conditions. Illinois explorers, travel accounts of Illinois.

For several early-19th century descriptions of the Great Lakes states and adjoining areas, see: Settlers’ Guides for the Great Lakes Region

See our books on Illinois cities & other places

Chicago: The Marvelous City of the West. A History, An Encyclopedia, and A Guide

Flinn, John J.
Flinn and Sheppard 1891

Very ambitious compendium of information about Chicago.

“Lewis and Clark in the Illinois Country”

Illinois History Teacher Vol 10, No. 3, 2003, pp 29-33

Hartley, Robert E.
Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

Illinois Explorers, Illinois Exploration

Chicago the Beautiful

Heise, Kenan
Bonus 2001

Hands on Chicago

Heise, Kenan
Bonus Books 1987

A Winter in the West; by a New Yorker

Volume 2

Hoffman, Charles F.
NY: Harper, 1835

Hoffman spent most of the first three months of 1834 in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, visiting Chicago, Galena and Peoria. He wrote letters to friends throughout his travels, and published some in newspapers in New York. After seeing northern Illinois he went to St. Louis through Springfield, Jacksonville and Alton; and later down the Mississippi and up the Ohio.

Chicago, the Vacation City

Illinois Central Railroad
Chicago: Passenger Department, Illinois Central 1930

For Illinois explorers of the 1930s.

Illinois Tourists Guide

Illinois State Chamber of Commerce
Springfield: State of Illinois 1930?

An early guide for Illinois explorers of the 1930s, on their vacations.

See our Seamanship PDF books

“Following the Westward Star”

Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association Vol X, 1918-21, 49-56

Jenks, Chancellor L.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

Brief article describing migration of author’s ancestors from Pennsylvania to Illinois in 1836, drawing upon extended quotes from a travel journal.

Illinois and the West: with a Township Map, Containing the Latest Surveys and Improvements

Jones, Abner Dumont
Boston: Weeks 1838

“Jones was a New Englander on a prospecting tour in Illinois. He tells of his trip from St. Louis through Alton and Peoria to Tremont in Tazewell County, where he stopped some time; of a side trip to the Rock River country; and of the return to the East via Peru, Joliet, and Chicago. The book contains, also, chapters on education and agriculture in Illinois, advice to emigrants, and Ellsworth’s letter on the cultivation of the prairies, which had previously been printed in ‘Illinois in 1837’.” – Solon Buck in ‘Illinois Historical Collections.

See our Illinois government & politics free books & articles


McCormick, Henry
NY: Appleton 1888

Geography – small tourist booklet, with state map.

Not for Tourists Guide to Chicago

Nelson, Craig, ed.
Skyhorse 2012

A city guide that covers neighborhoods, facilities, organizations, etc. with a focus on information important to residents, not tourists.

Eight Months in Illinois, with Information to Immigrants

Oliver, William
Chicago: Hill 1924

A reprint of an 1843 book. Travel account of Illinois.

A River Through Illinois

Overturf, Daniel V.
Southern Illinois University 2007

“A River Through Illinois, a collaboration by journalist Gary Marx and photographer Daniel Overturf, carries readers down the 330 miles of the Illinois Waterway, from the urban landscape of Chicago to the state’s most rural areas. Combining literary impressions, history, and personal narrative with stunning color photographs, this remarkable book transports readers to places most have never been: three hundred feet below the city of Chicago to a wastewater pump station, above the Illinois River to a lift-bridge operator’s hut, and into the wheelhouse of a towboat pushing twenty thousand tons of steel and grain.
The story of the river is told by the people who live along the waterway and work between its banks, people who rely on it for their livelihoods, their recreation, and their spiritual sustenance. More than one hundred original color photographs and dozens of conversations with waterway residents, workers, and visitors capture the essence of the waterway, exposing its course and uncovering its past.”–Jacket

The Present State of the European Settlements on the Mississippi, with a Geographical Description of that River, illustrated by Plans and Draughts

Pittman, Philip (Captain)
London: 1770

Captain Pittman was an engineer in the British army when he was assigned to a unit that sailed up the Mississippi River about 1763 to take possession of French military posts in Illinois country, after the conclusion of the French and Indian war. He also described Spanish towns and posts on the lower Mississippi, on the way north. This is was the first English report of these Mississippi towns in Illinois.

Pittman’s plans and maps of several of the locations are at the back of the volume, including a plan of Kaskaskia and maps of the Mississippi.

Illinois Explorers, Illinois Exploration

Oddball Illinois: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places

Pohlen, Jerome
Chicago Review 2000

See our free novels set in Illinois

Hiking Illinois

Post, Susan L.
Human Kinetics 1997

Rand McNally & Co.’s Pictorial Guide to Chicago: What to See and How to See It

Rand McNally
Rand McNally 1886

An early tourist guide for Chicago, with many drawn illustrations of the city’s highlights.

Illinois: The “Prairie State”

Smith, Carl Willard
Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius 1946

24-page booklet.

Seeing Chicago by the Photograph Route

Chicago: 1912

60 pages of photos.

Illinois Historical Tour Guide

Wilson, D. Ray
Crossroads Communications 1991

Two Year’s Residence in the Settlement on the English Prairie, in the Illinois country, United States …

with an account of its animal and vegetable productions, agriculture, &c. &c; a description of the principal towns, villages, &c. &c. with the habits and customs of the backwoodsmen

Woods, John
London, Longmans. 1822

The title of this book is a little misleading. There was great interest in England around 1820 in the English Prairie settlement of George Flowers and Morris Birkbeck, so the emphasis on the settlement may have been the publisher’s way of marketing the book. (See Birkbeck’s Letters from Illinois and William Faux’s Memorable Days in America on this web page for more on the English Prairie.) About half this book by Woods is a description of the trip from England to southern Illinois, and the second half is about the English Prairie as well as descriptions of other towns in the area and of many aspects of the region.

Illinois; A Descriptive and Historical Guide

Writers Program of the Work Projects Administration in Illinois
McClurg 1939

A volume in the American Guide series, in which the New Deal WPA hired unemployed writers for a project to write guidebooks for U.S. states. For most of the profiled states, these became the most comprehensive guides available. In this volume, Part I surveys the history of the state, the economy, government, education and culture. Part II profiles 20 cities and towns. Part III is made up of 12 road tours through various regions of the state.

Kids Love Illinois: Your Family travel Guide to Exploring ‘kid-friendly’ Illinois

500 fun stops and unique spots

Zavatsky, George
Kids Love 2011

Breaks Illinois into 7 regions and groups the sites into those regions. It appears that most of the sites would be of interest to all age groups.

Chicago City Guide

Zimmerman, Karla
Lonely Planet 2011

A guidebook from the distinctive ‘Lonely Planet’ approach.

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