The Madison County seat, Edwardsville is in the Metro East region and part of Greater St. Louis.
The city is home to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), with a sprawling campus west of downtown, and swelling Edwardsville’s population during the semester.
The center of Edwardsville is a delight, with a bustling summer market, lots of independent businesses and architecture dating back a century or more.
Bike and pedestrian-friendly, the district is served by Madison County Transit’s network of bike trails, intersecting downtown and leading off across the county on the former roadbeds of railroads.
In Edwardsville you can tour the home of a man who helped establish the State of Illinois, and there’s a neighborhood that used to be a Utopian model village at the turn of the 20th century.
1. Downtown Edwardsville
Well worth some exploration, downtown Edwardsville has grand old buildings from the turn of the 20th century and a big directory of locally-owned businesses.
You can shop for antiques, homewares, fashion, handicrafts, pet supplies, athletic gear, furniture and there’s even a butcher shop by the Wildey Theatre.
Market day is Saturday, when a long-running farmers’ market attracts hundreds of shoppers downtown.
Take a picnic at City Park here, a setting for numerous community events, including outdoor concerts and movie screenings in summer.
For food and drink there’s an amazing choice in the space of a few blocks. Think boba tea, craft beer, sushi, pizza, tacos, steaks, afternoon tea, frozen custard, patisserie, and that’s just the start.
2. 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House
The oldest brick house in Edwardsville is owned by the city and open to the public as a museum.
In the Federal style, with five bays and an ell added in 1845, the Benjamin Stephenson house is valued for its architectural beauty but also its connection to Illinois history.
Benjamin Stephenson (1769-1822) was a colonel in the Illinois militia, commanding a regiment in the War of 1812.
Soon after he was a Congressional Delegate for the Illinois Territory, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention which enabled Illinois’ statehood.
The house is decorated as it would have been in Stephenson’s day, and you can learn about 1820s domestic life, Edwardsville’s origins and Stephenson’s compelling story on a docent-led tour.
3. Wildey Theatre
In downtown Edwardsville’s collection of impressive landmarks is an opera house built by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) and opened in 1909.
You can still see the initials IOOF, on a plaque above the facade’s cornice, and the fellowship had a meeting hall on the second floor. Experiencing many changes over the last 110+ years, the Wildey Theatre was a movie theatre for decades before it closed in 1984.
Then in the late 1990s, a state grant allowed the city to buy the building. A meticulous, long-term restoration followed, and in 2011 the venue reopened as a cherished stage for performing arts and a place to watch classic movies.
4. Leclaire Park
South of downtown Edwardsville, the Leclaire Historic District protects a neighborhood that was a separate village until it was incorporated into the city in 1934.
Leclaire was founded as a Utopian model workers’ cooperative by the manufacturing industrialist N. O. Nelson (1844-1922). He was inspired by the Ethical Culture movement, and Leclaire had a profit sharing system as well as an academy offering free adult education.
Set around a reservoir, the central park here opened in 1906 as a recreation space for Leclaire’s residents, while also supplying water to the Nelson Factory Complex.
Leclaire Park is arguably the prettiest in Edwardsville, with geese and ducks to feed, as well as a historic bandstand, picnic pavilion and three playground areas.
5. Madison County Transit (MCT) Bike Trails
Madison County Transit operates the only integrated bus and bikeway system in the country. This all stems from the tangle of railroads that crisscrossed the Metro East area during its industrial heyday.
Starting in the early 1990s, the rail corridors on these decommissioned lines were converted into more than 85 miles of pedestrian and bike trails.
No fewer than five of these trails can be accessed close to downtown Edwardsville. The longest in the system, the MCT Nickel Plate Trail, cuts through Troy Road by Edwardsville Children’s Museum.
A little further south, this trail intersects with the MCT Goshen Trail and the MCT Nature Trail (towards SIUE).
Then, to the northwest you can get onto the MCT Watershed Trail near the Madison County Courthouse, while the MCT Quercus Grove Trail begins just east at Brown Avenue & Vandalia Street.
6. Land of Goshen Community Market
An Edwardsville institution for more than 25 years, this thriving market takes place on Saturday mornings downtown from mid-May to mid-October.
The Land of Goshen Community Market attracts upwards of 2,000 shoppers every week, and everything sold here is grown, raised, made and crafted within a 100-mile radius of the city.
Rain or shine during the season you can shop for seasonal fruit and vegetables, flowers, farm-raised meat, eggs, honey, pickles, jams, jellies, baked goods, coffee, artisanal soaps, hand-crafted jewelry, garden decorations, painted glass and much more besides.
7. The Gardens at SIUE
Established in 1957, the expansive Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Campus is to the west of the city, with up to 13,000 students enrolled each year.
One great reason to pay a visit in spring and summer is to amble around the 36-acre botanical established here more than 30 years ago.
With a huge array of native plants and trees, this living laboratory has a sequence of spaces to discover, including a butterfly garden, Japanese themed garden, English cottage garden and a wind sculpture garden.
Programs and nature education classes take place at the Gardens Center, and there’s a kiosk at the entrance where you can pick up a map.
8. Recess Brewing
One of a contingent of exciting new businesses on Main Street is this community supported brewery and taproom.
With a five-barrel brewhouse run by a former Chicago public school teacher, Recess Brewing has ten taps in the taproom, where you can relax and sip a pint, or fill a growler to go.
The taproom has a choice of snacks, and you’re welcome to bring your own food or order something from the great choice of restaurants downtown.
When we wrote this list Recess Brewing was pouring fruity and hop-forward IPAs, a session Porter, an Imperial Stout, a hard seltzer and an unusual milk and honey Kosch.
9. Watershed Nature Center
There’s a glorious parcel of restored nature, a brief walk or bike ride from downtown Edwardsville.
Served by the MCTR Watershed Trail, this preserve is more than 40 acres of wetlands, open water, woodlands and prairie habitats.
You can amble through this land along paved trails, as well as a beautiful raised path across the marsh. Throughout, there are interpretive placards, informing you about the native bird, insect, mammal and reptile species in these habitats.
Go quietly and you’re likely to see turtles, frogs, deer, snakes, beavers, groundhogs and an abundance of birds.
A small welcome center greets you by the entrance, and there’s an observation tower on the north side for bird spotting.
10. Edwardsville Arts Center
Sharing a site with Edwardsville High School is a dynamic community arts center, fostering creativity and appreciation for the arts with exhibits, classes and cultural events.
Founded in 2001, the Center is open Wednesday to Saturday, and warrants a detour for its exhibits by talented local and regional artists.
There’s also a shop here, for a unique painting, sculpture, piece of pottery, jewelry, glassware or a one-of-a-kind fashion accessory.
The center offers classes for all ages, for anything from ceramics to flower arranging. One big annual event is the Edwardsville Art Fair at the end of September, featuring the work of dozens of accomplished artists and staged downtown at City Park.
11. Leon Corlew Park
The main attraction at this two-acre park at the south end of Main Street is the splash pad.
A hit with families with younger children, this fully-accessible amenity is open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, and is adorned with whimsical oversized spray features, from bubblers to giant buckets dumping gallons of water.
Beside the splash pad is a dry playground with separate areas for toddlers and bigger children, all paved with a safe rubber surface.
Away from these areas there’s a fitness trail curling through the lawns, and past three pavilions and barbecue grills.
12. Joe Glik Park
Edwardsville’s largest park for passive recreation is on more than 40 acres, close to the shore of Dunlap Lake.
The park is named for its benefactor, and is the location for several outdoor community events.
Relatively new, Joe Glik Park is still furnished with a lot of amenities, including almost half a mile of walking, biking and skating trails, two picnic pavilions, two stocked fishing lakes, a giant playground with soft surfacing, a basketball court and a huge, rolling grassy space.
Visitors with pups will love the fenced dog park, with ample foliage for shade in summer.
13. Edison’s Entertainment Complex
Several attractions rolled into one, Edison’s Entertainment Complex combines an enormous, full-service bar and restaurant with all the fun of a family entertainment center.
So there’s 12 lanes of bowling, a 4,000-square-foot laser tag arena and an arcade with 65 machines, some old-school classics and some new on the market.
Capable of seating groups of up to 24, the huge restaurant has a diverse choice of comfort food, from pizza, tacos, wings and burgers to childhood favorites like mac n cheese and chicken strips.
14. Madison County Historical Museum
While exploring downtown Edwardsville you could wander a little further north along Main Street to the second oldest brick house in the city.
The John Weir House (1836) at 715 N Main Street is in the Federal style, with five bays and a gable roof punctuated by three dormers on each side.
John Weir was a doctor and ran his practice in this building with his son until he passed away in 1878.
The property was acquired by the Madison County Historical Society in 1963 and turned into a museum.
15. Plummer Family Park
Newly developed on Edwardsville’s southeastern edge is a massive, publicly-owned family sports complex with room for future growth.
Plummer Family Park is designed for practice and competition, catering to a wealth of sports including baseball, softball, football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and pickleball.
On more than 80 pristine acres there’s a baseball/softball complex with four lighted fields, as well as 12 pickleball courts and six multipurpose fields, three which are lighted with synthetic turf and three with natural grass.
There’s also a full-service concession stand at the baseball/softball stand, serving real food as opposed to prepackaged snacks.