I've had the good fortune to see nearly all of the great stadiums in North America and many in Europe, some of which date to antiquity. This one, however, is particularly close to my heart. It's out in the middle of the East Central Illinois prairie and far off the beaten track. If you're passing anywhere near it, however, (on I-57, I-55 or I-74) take a detour and see it. Built in 1923 and dedicated in 1924 it features beautiful colonnades on both sides of the stadium with each column dedicated to one of the 183 students and alums who died fighting during World War I. Walking along the colonnades is a truly beautiful and moving experience. And keep in mind while you're inside the stadium Illinois' 39-14 victory over Michigan on the day when the stadium was dedicated. Red Grange scored six touchdowns that day in one of the greatest single-game performances in football history.
On the east side of the stadium (adjacent to the football practice field and Fourth Street) one enjoys a view of Mt. Hope Cemetery and a view south toward the outdoor athletic complex and the South Farms, which house the experimental agricultural facilities for the University as well as some splendid examples of round barns unique in the United States. On the west side the colonnades look out over First Street, the memorial statue of Red Grange and across playing fields and the railroad tracks toward the city of Champaign.
One of my favorite spots, during the four years when I lived across Peabody Drive from the stadium as an undergraduate at Illinois, is at the top of the east balcony. The view of the west side, now renovated with sky boxes and a new press box, and to the south with the splendid, spaceship-like Assembly Hall and some of the richest farmland on earth stretching away to the horizon to the south, is just gorgeous. Assembly Hall is itself a landmark. Built in 1963 it was the largest edge-supported dome in the world at the time, and the first concrete-domed arena. It's one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century.
Standing atop the east balcony, one can imagine what the landscape looked like when European settlers migrated west onto the tall-grass prairie that existed here. And one can imagine the decades of sweat and toil it took to turn that prairie land into productive farmland. Reaching farther back, contemplate the native tribes that formed the Illinois confederation, also known as the Illiniwek or Illini (after which the University's sports teams are named), traversing the prairie in search of game.
Many people will dismiss this landscape as flyover land. They're missing a great deal. I've been around the world during the past 20+ years and this remains among the most beautiful places I know. Seek out the stadium and the University, as well as the splendid Allerton Park in nearby Monticello, if you're in the vicinity. These are lovely, inspiring places that will stick with you long after you depart.
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