There are something like 750,422 Illinois historic sites that are connected to (or at least billed as connected to) Abraham Lincoln, but Ronald Reagan runs a close second. The Reagans moved around quite a bit in the early days – Tampico, Eureka, Galesburg… but of all the sites on the official Reagan Trail that celebrate the Gipper’s Illinois years, Dixon, Illinois clearly deserves bragging rights, not least for having the one, true Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home. Out of a bunch.
So why does this house get billing over the many other dwellings where young Ronnie lived? The National Park Service says the two-story white house on Hennepin Avenue “the site of his earliest childhood memories, and a place he recalled with great fondness” And he was eight when the family rented the place, so it really was a boyhood home. If they’d chosen a place the Reagans lived a few years later, it would have had to be called the Ronald Reagan Tween-hood Home, and that just wouldn’t be the same.
The Reagan family lived on Hennepin Ave for about four years, but stayed in Dixon until Ronald Reagan turned 21. Dixonians started a foundation during Reagan’s presidency to preserve and restore the house, which was dedicated on February 6th, 1984 – the president’s 73rd birthday. President Reagan and his brother Neil were on hand for the dedication, pointing out to Nancy Reagan where they used to raise bunny rabbits in the backyard.
A few years later the foundation added a statue of President Reagan to the side yard; at the risk of being picky I bring up two points about the statue. For one thing the plaque had a typo – it said “it’s” where it should have said “its” and you can see where it was fixed. The other is that the Reagan statue is holding corn kernels. Why? “Illinois is famous for its production of agricultural products; so it seems appropriate for him to be admiring the kernels of corn in his hand.” I mean, I guess so, but wouldn’t it have made more sense on this site to have him holding a rabbit and saying to brother Neil, “Dude, check this out”?