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Genuine Northwest

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

Old World Wisconsin

W372 S9727 Hwy 67, Eagle, Wis., (262) 594-6301, oww@wisconsinhistory.org

It may surprise you to learn that the largest open-air rural history museum in the U.S. is nearby in Eagle, Wis.

It sprawls across 480 rolling, wooded acres in the state’s south kettle moraine and is home to more than 60 authentic barns, farmsteads, village homes and other structures once used by Wisconsin settlers from Germany, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Africa, Norway and the eastern U.S. (dubbed “Yankees”) – in the period between 1840 and 1910. Most of the structures were identified throughout the state, deconstructed and painstakingly rebuilt on the site before its grand opening in 1976, the U.S. bicentennial.

Owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Old World Wisconsin is divided into ethnic homestead and farm areas, plus an 1880s village depicting the way diverse people came together and settled towns – a uniquely American experience. Depending on when you visit, you may encounter costumed interpreters tending real farms where heirloom gardens and crops are grown and historic breeds of animals are raised. You may learn to make sausage, churn butter, preserve fresh produce, winnow grain, spin wool, brew beer, work leather, hitch up a horse team, play a vintage game or sport, or ride an 1890s high-wheel tricycle.

During fall, the site is open weekends only, but there are loads of special events such as hearthside dinners, lectures, harvest activities and Halloween Legends and Lore, Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27. Also very special are the Old World Christmas events on Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, & 16.

If you visit, set aside an entire day for exploring.

Admission: $19 for adults; $10 for children age 5-17; $16 for seniors.

Altgeld Hall

College Avenue, DeKalb, Ill., (815) 753-1936, niu.edu

Nestled in the heart of Northern Illinois University (NIU) is Altgeld Hall, a building better known to students and faculty as “The Castle.”

This campus centerpiece is named for former Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld, who served from 1893 to 1897. He believed public school buildings in Illinois had no character in the late 1800s, so he proposed the idea that new buildings reflect a Tudor Gothic style that resembles English castles.

When completed in 1899, at a cost of $230,000, this hall was the only building on NIU’s campus. Roughly 150 women and 27 men attended classes at what was then Northern Illinois State Normal School.

Altgeld Hall bears five cousins on other public university campuses in Illinois: Eastern in Charleston, Southern in Carbondale, Illinois State in Normal and the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

Today the beloved building is part of NIU’s formal logo and is home to President Lisa Freeman’s office, NIU Art Museum and the Division of Student Affairs. There’s also a large auditorium that hosts special events. The interior of Altgeld Hall has undergone several renovations and reconfigurations, including substantial remodeling between 1999 and 2004. The exterior, however, remains little changed from its original appearance.

War Memorial Arch

Galena Avenue near Second Street, Dixon, Ill.

After World War I ended exactly one century ago, many American towns built “Welcome Home” arches for their returning heroes. The Dixon arch is one of only a few still standing.

Dixon is the Lee County seat. The arch was first constructed of beaverboard and bunting to honor all returning Lee County veterans.

Nearly 25,000 people turned out for a triumphant homecoming parade on June 12, 1919. A short time later, members of the Dixon American Legion Post formed a committee to erect a permanent arch. One side of it read, “Dixon Welcomes and Honors All Who Have Served.” The other side read, “A grateful people pause in their welcome to the victorious living to pay silent tribute to the illustrious dead.”

Years later, the city’s name replaced both inscriptions.

After a fundraising effort in the 1940s, the arch was rebuilt with a concrete base and steel structure. It was rededicated to all veterans on Armistice Day 1949.

In 1965, when Galena Avenue was widened to four lanes, the arch was taken down temporarily and it, too, was widened. It was also wired for neon lighting and went back up in January 1966.

In 1985, the Illinois Department of Transportation determined that the arch needed to be moved 145 feet south to allow for a right turn lane onto Illinois Route 2. The newly designed fiberglass arch was rededicated on Nov. 11, 1985. While most of us simply call it “the Dixon arch,” its formal name remains War Memorial Arch. It stands, as it has for a century, as a memorial to all who have served their country.

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