Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Dillon Home Museum
1005 E. 3rd St., Sterling, Ill., (815) 622-6202, sterlingparks.org
This Italianate mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The history of the family that occupied it until then mirrors that of their city.
Built in 1858, the house was sold 11 times before Washington Dillon bought it in 1882. In 1879, Dillon founded Northwest Barbed Wire Co. in Rock Falls, Ill., producing baling wire, barbed wire and nails. The facility moved to Sterling in 1912. In 1936, Dillon’s son Paul installed furnaces and began producing steel; two years later, the name was changed to Northwest Steel and Wire. By 1976, the company possessed the two largest furnaces in the world, and by 1979, was the largest employer in Whiteside County.
Paul, born in the family home in 1838, lived there until his death in February 1980, when Dillon heirs gave the land, structure and all of its furniture and artifacts to the Sterling Park District. Opening in May 1980, the museum had more than 5,000 visitors in its first year. Set on 4.5 acres, the two-story brick home has a veranda, spacious rooms and a turret with an observatory. The property’s carriage house/barn is home to the Sterling-Rock Falls Historical Society Museum.
The Dillon home is open Tues., Thurs. and Sat., 10 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.; Sun. 1-5 p.m.; and for scheduled group tours. It can be rented for weddings, showers, anniversaries and other events. ❚
Stephenson County Historical Society
1440 S. Carroll Ave., Freeport, (815) 232-8419, stephcohs.org
This group’s headquarters is in the historic, Victorian-style Taylor home, built in 1857 on 17 acres from locally-quarried limestone.
The Taylor family was influential in the area; father Oscar was a lawyer, banker, real estate agent and insurance salesman. He was openly opposed to slavery, and the home is rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Jane Addams was a frequent guest of the family.
The property was given to the historical society in 1944, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Today, its three acres feature an 1843 log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse, and the house, which serves as a museum. Still decorated in Victorian style, its collections include cast iron toys, Dirksen silverware, and Abraham Lincoln and Jane Addams artifacts.
Among its exhibits are military uniforms and weapons; Blackwood dioramas; and the African-American room, where escaped slaves may have hidden.
The museum hosts traveling exhibits and holds special events like ice cream socials and an annual Christmas Tea. The Society also sponsors a local history lecture series at the Freeport Library and a classic film series at the Lindo Theatre.
The museum is open Wed.-Sun., noon-4 p.m. and by appointment. ❚
National Mustard Museum
7477 Hubbard Ave., Middleton, Wis., (800) 438-6878, (608) 831-2222, mustardmuseum.com
A museum dedicated to a condiment, founded by the former Wisconsin assistant attorney general. How could you not want to visit? On Oct. 28, it will mark its 25th anniversary.
Lawyer Barry Levenson sought solace in the yellow sauce when the Boston Red Sox lost the World Series in 1986. His collection grew, and in 1992, he opened the Mustard Museum in Mt. Horeb, Wis. He’s CMO (Chief Mustard Officer). He moved it to nearby Middleton in 2009.
With more than 5,000 varieties of mustard on hand, Levenson and his museum have been profiled on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” HGTV, The Food Network, USA Today and other national publications.
Downstairs, learn the history of mustard and its types, and view historic mustard artifacts. Upstairs, sample up to 500 types of mustard, buy the ones you like, and pick up a few mustard-related souvenirs. There’s also Mustard Piece Theater and Poupon U.
August brings National Mustard Day, with games, a parade, and free hot dogs – as long as they’re topped with mustard. Ask for ketchup and pay $10.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Christmas. Admission is free. ❚