Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Historic Dixon Theatre
114 S. Galena Ave., Dixon, Ill., dixontheatre.com
In 1876, the Dixon Opera House opened as an entertainment mecca and operated until fire destroyed it in 1920. That’s when Dixon resident Leonard G. Rorer purchased the site and announced he would erect “the finest show house to be found between Chicago and Des Moines and from Rockford to La Salle.” The new, fireproof theater opened in 1922 at a cost of $200,000.
It hosted vaudeville acts, orchestra concerts and silent films shown with live organ music accompaniment. The Rorer family operated the theater for 30 years before it was sold and eventually fell into disrepair, closing in 1984. The following year, Dixon Theatre Renovation, Inc., a group of people determined to restore the theater, purchased it and put it to good use as a showcase for the arts, touting its large stage, orchestra pit and acoustics.
By the mid-1990s, the theater was only being used a few times a year. A new group of trustees addressed repair issues and charted a new course for its future. It received an extensive update.
More recently, a new lighted marquee was placed on the front of the building, a new boiler system was installed, all stage and balcony lights were replaced and a new sound system was installed. More updates are planned, including new windows on the front of the building and plasterwork repair.
Today, the theater is rented out for events at user-friendly prices and hosts live stage productions, concerts, opera, ballet, classic films, lectures, meetings, seminars and conferences.
Owned by the Lee County Civic Center Authority, the theater hosts many plays and musicals that attract visitors from around Lee, Ogle, Carroll and Whiteside counties.
Upcoming shows include Abba Mania on Jan. 24 and The New Shanghai Circus on Feb. 17.
Various places throughout our region
With winter weather comes eagle watching, an activity that thrills all ages and one we shouldn’t take for granted. In the 1700s, up to 500,000 bald eagles made the U.S. their home. By the 1960s, fewer than 500 nesting pairs of our national symbol remained. Thanks to 1970s government regulations that banned the widespread use of DDT pesticide, this species is rebounding.
There are many good places for eagle viewing in our region, since eagles fish and nest near moving bodies of water that don’t freeze. From mid-December through March, hundreds of eagles take up residence near the Prairie du Sac Hydroelectric Dam along the Wisconsin River. Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, a nonprofit organization, tracks the number of eagles roosting along the river, organizes bus tours and provides information through its website, ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org.
Naturally, the Mississippi River is another important eagle habitat. Every year, tens of thousands of people visit the river to see bald eagles fishing on the water, roosting or nesting on wooded bluffs. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “Up to 2,500 bald eagles winter along the Mississippi near the locks and dams,” and turbulence below the dams provides “a smorgasbord of stunned fish for eagles to feast upon.” Visit on your own or join a tour group, such as those organized by the Mississippi River Project – Rock Island District.
Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby, Ill., is another good base for eagle watchers. The park offers “Discover the Eagles” tours. Learn more at staredrocklodge.com.
Jo Daviess Conservation District
126 N. Main St., Elizabeth, Ill., (815) 858-9100, jdcf.org
The arrival of European settlers to the Midwest forever changed natural landscapes that had existed here for centuries.
Prairies, forests and wetlands were tamed, farmed, paved and drained. But there’s also been steady support for land conservation, dating at least as far back as the 1850s.
Our region has produced many of the most prominent naturalists of the world, including Robert La Follette, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and August Derleth. The latter three are profiled in a new book by Robert Root titled “Walking Home Ground,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society, in which Root literally follows their footsteps in Wisconsin.
Many groups, both private and public, exist in our region to protect natural habitats. One of them is the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation (JDCF), a land trust founded in 1993 by a small group of individuals who wanted to maintain a piece of property near Galena, Ill., that had recently been put up for sale as an open space. The group wanted to permanently protect what they viewed as “the Gateway to Galena,” to ensure that the awe-inspiring view from Hwy. 20 along Horseshoe Mound would be preserved for future generations to enjoy. That goal finally became a reality, after an 18-year struggle, when JDCF purchased the 100 acres known as Galena Gateway Park in 2010. Today, JDCF works to preserve land for the lasting well-being of people and wildlife. Most recently, it opened a new walking trail on a former roadbed at Casper Bluff Land & Water Reserve near Galena.
This group has many counterparts through our region, each of which depends upon volunteer labor and financial support to preserve and care for properties. Find a list of conservation organizations near you at eco-usa.net.