A Day in Shelbyville!

day in Shelbyville

It was a visit to the Shelbyville Memorial Sunken Gardens that brought me to Shelbyville, Illinois. But there is a lot that would bring me back! After reading all there is to see and do, you too may want to spend a day in Shelbyville.

A day in shelbyville
Lovely Sunken Gardens

I made two trips to this lovely little town. The first was with my mom Lori Disque and we met our friend Annie Jansen. When I found that trouble with my new phone meant that I lost all my lovely photos, from trip #1, a few days later I returned.

With my husband Keith and brother-in-law Kim, I convinced them to retrace my steps and back we went!

The Sunken Gardens!

I almost want to sigh even when I say the name, Sunken Gardens. It sounds luxurious, and it is. Karen Cherry, is a master gardener that works with a bevy of wonderful volunteers. This summer they had help from workers from Forest Park. This lovely park was established in 1857! Together they maintain this lovely oasis.

The garden story

In 1932 Forest Park was given to the city of Shelbyville. The gardens were created through the Federal Civil Works Administration.

Rev. Wm. Knappe and Stan Young researched sunken gardens.  They incorporated the ideas they saw at Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, Alabama. Deciding to build a smaller version of their water feature, they used local stone as the point of interest.

Sunken Garden.
Karen Cherry said to limit space they don’t plant many trees. This lovely one caught my eye the day we were there.

Garden visit

Today the garden is a place of beauty where events like weddings often take place. Mom and Annie loved our stop. We were blessed to meet up with Karen Cherry who took out time from her weeding to share the history of the garden.

Karen gave us a garden tour and showed us what flowers are what. She described what grows well where. Gardener Annie duly took note. Mom and I enjoyed the lovely and calm atmosphere of the garden. Mom said, “The waterfall was her favorite part of the Sunken Garden”.

A day in shelbyville
Keith and I posing at this romantic garden where he said it would be a great place for a tractor photo op!

Second trip, Kim shot a few pictures of Keith and I. My farmer husband commented that the center of the garden which has been used for many a wedding, “Would be a great place for a photo op for an antique tractor!”

True, anything would look good in this setting! If you would like to donate or volunteer here is how. Sign up at the Friends of the Shelbyville Garden Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/520359638015104/.

Other Forest Park Finds

Forest Park
This bridge leads to the little island in Forest Park.

While at the garden with Keith and Kim we meandered over a cool bridge that leads to an island! Water surrounds the island that was filled with geese the day we were there. There is also a very old pavilion as well.

Shopping & Dining options Downtown

Mom and Annie and I stopped for lunch at the Longbranch Grill located downtown. We ordered grilled chicken and steak and a chocolate torte dessert. Then we split it three ways. The food was awesome!

We were pleased to see Shelbyville has several shopping options. It is easy to spend a day in Shelbyville. Two of the shops we stopped at and enjoyed were Simply Yours Boutique and My Little Bird which was a former bank.

This wonderful shop used to be a bank. They decorated with this amazing mural.

Mom, Annie and I all bought something while in this fun shop. Besides having clothing, jewelry and gift items, they also offer food. When Keith and Kim and I returned, we had lunch here. Great fruited chicken salad! The boys loved it as well as I did.

History downtown

Shelbyville truly is a historic town. It was founded in 1927. I was excited to learn the entire downtown neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places!

a day in Shelbyville
This statue reflects the Lincoln Thorton debate!

Besides just browsing, if you are like me and love statues, right outside the courthouse is some pretty amazing history. There is a neat statue of the Lincoln-Thorton Debate.

This occurred on August 9, 1854. In a 2009 article in the Decatur Hearld & Review, the sculptor of the statue John McClarey said “Thornton and Lincoln were political rivals, but they were still friends. And a little courtesy goes a long way in getting things settled. That is an important lesson from all this.”

Across the street there is also a WWI memorial along with a burning flame . This represents “Freedom Square”. The square is a reminder of those that sacrificed so that “all people might live in a world of peace and freedom.”

There is also a statue with Lincoln’s head. Below it says “Abraham Lincoln traveled this way. He rode the judicial district 1847-1857.” The statue was erected in 1921.

Further down the street on Main is a little park. Sister City Park commemorates Shelbyville’s close ties to their Sister City, Okuwa Village, Japan.

A day in Shelbyville plan ahead

Check the websites, see what times shops and restaurants are open. Then head on out! Mom and Annie and I also found a cool Mustang museum connected with a local dealership. There is also lovely Lake Shelbyville and a plethora of other things to see and do. My hair dresser Jeff Engel, of Engles on Edwards shared that his mother is from Shelbyville and that the cemetery along the Lake is a great place to stop as well!

If you enjoy gardens, you may also like Peoria’s Luthy Gardens, or the beautiful Chicago Botanical Gardens!

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  1. Peter Johansen


    I live in Canada’s capital, but I was raised in a small town near Ottawa and I have a special fondness for places like this. I may never get to Shelbyville but I know I would feel at home there, thanks to your evocative feature. It takes a special writer to see the gems in a place off the beaten track, and I’m glad you had a malfunction that brought you and Keith on a return trip. Two visits brought wonderful depth to the story.

    1. Cindy

      Peter, thanks so much for the kind words!

  2. Tami

    Shelbyville sounds like a cute place to stop for a day. I would love the Sunken Gardens! And the boutique shops and history statues, too. I’d totally be up for a stroll in the cemetery — another of my favorite activities

    1. Cindy

      It was a fun day indeed!

  3. Chrysa

    You have some great spots there in Shelbyville! I’m ready to take a walk through that park.

  4. Sage Scott

    The sunken garden looks absolutely gorgeous! I would love to see that in person some day! And if that weren’t enough, I love all things Lincoln!

    1. Cindy

      It is such an awesome place to see. The entire town is just well done!