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More than three centuries ago, two scraggly French explorers "discovered" the Illinois country and the Native Americans who had lived there since prehistoric times. Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette-an unlikely coupling between a fur trader and a Jesuit priest-first opened the door to French tourism in the territory. In those days amenities were scarce, so later French tourists (notably de la Salle) built some nice forts in the area; think of them as bed and breakfast precursors. But it's too hard to keep a good vacation find a secret, and before long the British showed up and tried to take over.

Illinois State Flag

Illinois State Bird The Location of Illinois


A lot of water has lapped the shores of Lake Michigan and flowed down the Mississippi River since those first travelers showed up, and the tourism business is still a big economic player in this state. In the intervening centuries, Illinois has emerged at the center of America's transportation network and boasts the second largest city in the country-Chicago-not to mention a large number of internationally recognized universities and museums, the headquarters of Caterpillar, and some of the most productive and fertile farmland in the country. Modern-day visitors can tour the forts established by the early visitors, but the beds at the local Hilton are a lot more comfortable.

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