Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Jarrett Prairie Center Museum
7993 N. River Road, Byron, Ill. (815) 234-8535, byronforestpreserve.com
If you haven’t yet visited the newly renovated, award-winning Jarrett Prairie Center Museum at Byron Forest Preserve, you’re in for a treat. The 4,000-square-foot space tells the story of northern Illinois’ vanishing tall-grass prairie ecosystem and the complexity of our interactions with it. Wide expanses of the Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve are visible outside the large windows of the museum and hands-on learning opportunities abound for all ages.
There’s a new immersive theater that delights children by incorporating a “wolf den” bur oak tree from the old museum and another immersive theater that teaches visitors about local prairie ecology. There are several large natural history dioramas and fossil exhibits, plus prairie restoration information and a prairie agriculture exhibit in which visitors design their own farm. A new 2,600 square-foot observation deck wraps around the museum.
Byron Forest Preserve recently received an Award of Merit for the renovation project from the prestigious American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).
The Jarrett Prairie Center Museum is open seven days a week, at no charge.
Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center at Taliesin
5607 County Road C, Spring Green, Wis. (608) 588-7900, Taliesinpreservation.org
This year marks 150 years since legendary architect and Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright was born. This Midwest son is said to have shaped the country’s architectural identity more than anyone since. Special activities are taking place across the nation at museums and sites designed by him.
Wisconsin is promoting the first Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, a 200-mile self-guided motor route leading to nine of his buildings. It begins on I-94 at the Illinois state line, continues to Madison and then to his 800-acre home, Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wis.
Taliesin is located in the rolling hills of the Driftless Area, the landscape that inspired Wright to take his design cues from nature. Visitors can enjoy “Taliesin by Twilight” tours through Sept. 29. The two-hour guided tour includes time to wander gardens and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and locally made wines. The evening ends with a light dessert on Wright’s bedroom terrace. Taliesin also offers two concert series, art workshops and architecture camps.
Also, a new exhibition titled “Frank Lloyd Wright: Buildings for the Prairie” runs at Milwaukee Art Museum through Oct. 15.
Don’t forget that Rockford boasts one of Wright’s favorite accomplishments, Laurent House, at 4646 Spring Brook Road. It’s his only home built specifically to accommodate a wheelchair-bound person and he selected it as one of the 35 most significant designs of his 70-year career.
Go to laurenthouse.com for tour information or call (815) 877-2952.
Washburne Garden & Elihu B. Washburne House
422 S. Main St., 908 Third St., Galena, Ill., (815) 777-3310
A visit to the Elihu Benjamin Washburne house at 908 Third St., built in 1844, is a fascinating excursion any time you visit Galena. Now, there’s also a public garden named in this luminary’s honor.
Washburne Garden, dedicated in July, is adjacent to the Peck Building, 422 S. Main St., a building Washburne once owned and the place where he practiced law. It’s a collaborative effort of the The City of Galena, the Galena Belles Questers and the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners.
Washburne was a friend to both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant and introduced these men to each another. During the Civil War, Washburne advocated with Congress for Grant’s advancement in military rank. Given the extremely important role Grant played in leading the Union to victory, this was surely one of his greatest accomplishments. But he served his country in many other ways, too.
Washburne managed presidential campaigns for both Lincoln and Grant. He was the 25th U.S. Secretary of State and ambassador to France under Grant. He supported African American suffrage and civil rights and was known abroad for his diplomatic integrity and humanitarianism during the Franco-Prussian war.
Washburne and his wife, Adele, reared seven children at the Greek Revival-style home in Galena. This Illinois Historic Site provides a wonderful glimpse of life in Lincoln’s era and is open to the public May though October on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.