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Genuine Northwest, Spring-Summer Edition

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Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.

Stillman’s Run Battle Site
Roosevelt (Ill. Rte. 72) & Spruce streets, Stillman Valley, Ill.

This is the site of the first battle of the Black Hawk War.

Sauk warrior Black Hawk, attempting to reclaim the land of his birth, brought members of the Sauk, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Fox and Ho-Chunk tribes from Iowa across the Mississippi River into Illinois. After several futile attempts at negotiations, Black Hawk and his group, numbering in the low hundreds, headed to the Rock River, intent to solicit native tribes to join the effort.

Perceiving it as an act of aggression, Illinois Gov. John Reynolds ordered his militia, led by Maj. Isaiah Stillman, to stop the Indians at Old Man’s Creek. SinceBlack Hawk’s attempt to ally with Illinois tribes failed, he planned to return to Iowa, and sent scouts and emissaries under a white flag to broker a peace, but the soldiers attacked the delegation, killing one member.

Warned of the pursuing militia, Black Hawk ambushed the soldiers, who retreated to their camp and said “thousands” of natives were coming. Stillman ordered his men to fall back, leaving a group of 12 to cover the retreat, sacrificing themselves in a last-ditch stand. The dead were buried in a mass grave the next day, and the event became known as “Stillman’s Run” because of the major’s quick retreat.

A tall marble and granite monument surrounded by tombstones was built on the site in 1901, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Chainsaw Sculptures at Amboy City Park
E. Main St./CR-10 Amboy, Ill.

Laid out in 1854, Amboy, Ill., is the result of the expansion of the Illinois Central Railroad. Its population of about 2,500 is fiercely proud of its community history and works to preserve it. Amboy Depot Museum is a prime example (see Genuine Northwest, Summer 2012).

So is Amboy City Park, about 40 acres east of the city, along the banks of the Green River. Today, it boasts not just natural wooded areas, but also first-rate facilities for many kinds of recreation: a baseball diamond, playgrounds, picnic shelters and restrooms.

One of its distinctive features is the hundreds of mature, native oak trees that support local wildlife and provide shade to park visitors. During a violent storm in 1999, however, dozens of those century-old trees were destroyed and upwards of 60 were damaged.

Following the clean-up, a local man, George Kaleel, contacted chainsaw artists and former Amboy residents Bob and Marie Boyer. The pair came and transformed the devastation into more than 30 works of art with their chainsaws. Among the carved statues: a baseball player and umpire; former Illinois Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert; a train representing Amboy’s historical ties to the railroad; an ear of corn; and various depictions of wildlife, service personnel and historical figures.

The park is open daily until dusk. An online guide to the sculptures is available at chrisdunmire.com.

U.S. Mailboat Tour
Lake Geneva Cruise Line, 812 Wrigley Dr., Lake Geneva, Wis., (282) 248-6206, cruiselakegeneva.com

Back before maps and navigable roads, mail was delivered by means dictated by the topography. Often that meant by boat.

Today, a small number of mailboat delivery routes still exist in the U.S., and most are seasonal, in rough and remote spots like Old Forge, N.Y., Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H., the Magnolia River in Alabama (which is year-round), and in the Old Northwest Territory, in Lake Geneva, Wis., where the practice is called “mail jumping.”

Established in 1837, Lake Geneva became a resort town for for Chicago’s wealthy following the Civil War. After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, many of them moved there permanently, building extravagant mansions lakeside, most of which still stand.

Despite the presence of such influential residents, roads weren’t built around the lake until the 1920s, so water was the main means of transportation. People used boats to procure groceries, supplies and other goods; visit their neighbors; and of course, receive mail.

Today, Geneva Cruise Lines operates the mailboat, delivering from June through September, using six college-age mailboat jumpers who vie for a spot during strenuous “sink-or-swim” tryouts each season. The mailboat has been featured on TV, on “CBS Sunday Morning” and The Travel Channel.

Tourists can ride along on the Walworth as mail is delivered daily to about 50 homes along Lake Geneva’s shores, watching the process and learning about the history of the community at the same time. Jumpers must leap onto a recipient’s dock, deliver the mail and return to the boat while it’s moving. They also assist in the narrative tour.

The Walworth departs promptly at 10 a.m. to cover its route around the entire lake, and returns to the Riviera Docks around 12:30 p.m.

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