Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Beloit Water Tower
1002 White Ave., Beloit, beloitrecreation.com
When driving along the Rock River just north of Beloit College, you’ll notice a handsome octagonal limestone tower jutting up from a bluff. A sentry from another age, it has a story to tell.
Amazingly, just 20 years after the first white fur trappers settled here in 1836, the City of Beloit, Beloit College and the Chicago Union Railroad had all been established. The city’s east side rapidly developed with homes, shops, churches and businesses, mostly built from timber.
Several were lost to devastating fires; firemen had no pressurized water system with which to fight them.
In 1885, a group of local businessmen took matters into their own hands, pooling funds to build the sturdy limestone water tower still standing today. Standing 100 feet tall, it held 100,000 gallons of water pumped from the river and delivered water pressure to newly laid pipes in a 7-mile radius. It was considered “the finest piece of masonry in the west,” with 8-foot-thick base walls. As a “side benefit” to fire protection, customers gained access to running water in their homes and businesses.
Local masons built the tower using local limestone. It was designed by the Fairbanks Morse Co. of Chicago. The Eclipse Wind Engine Co. of Beloit was responsible for its wooden tank. In 1895, Fairbanks Morse and Eclipse Wind Engine consolidated, becoming one of the most important manufacturing companies in Beloit history.
The tower was serving 25,000 customers when a steel water tower with twice the capacity made it obsolete in 1935. It only stands today because its extraordinarily solid construction made it too costly to demolish. It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983 and is regarded as a community treasure today. Water Tower Park was developed around it and the city leases its restored pump house as office space for the nonprofit Beloit 2020 Corp., commonly known as Beloit 200.
Lincoln Highway National Headquarters
136 N. Elm St., Franklin Grove, Ill. (815) 456-3030, franklingroveil.org
You’ve probably heard of the Lincoln Highway, but did you know its national headquarters is inside an 1853 building constructed as a general store by Henry Isaac Lincoln, a cousin of you-know-who?
“People from all over the world stop in here,” says Lynn Asp, volunteer director of the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA).
H.I. Lincoln opened his general store decades before Franklin Grove became a town in 1870. By the 1950s, the building had served as a post office, newspaper office and much more.
In 1995, a nonprofit purchased and restored the H.I. Lincoln Building, guided by old photos and salvaged materials. It was highlighted on the History Channel’s “American Pickers” and has been featured in a PBS documentary about the Lincoln Highway.
It became a perfect home for LHA in 1999, since it was built by a relative of the road’s namesake, on a stretch of the original Lincoln Highway, and was the site of fundraising efforts by a member of the original LHA, in 1914. Visitors find LHA history and a general store that sells souvenirs, penny candy, books, toys, artwork and more.
Auto industry businessmen founded LHA in 1913 to advocate for a continuous, toll-free U.S. transcontinental highway. They failed to complete the route, but inspired the birth of the interstate system.
Today, the Lincoln Highway is still the route of choice for those who value nostalgia above speed and want an authentic American driving experience. Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun. noon-4 p.m. Closed on major holidays.
Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest
S91 W39091 State Road 59, Eagle, Wis. (Headquarters), (888) 936-7463, dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/kms
The Old Northwest Territory is rich with natural playgrounds, among them the 22,000-acre southern unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest, where glaciers formed a belt of scenic ridges and valleys that teem with wildlife. Winter is a great time to observe unique landforms otherwise obscured by leaf cover. You can also enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoe hiking or ice fishing against a gorgeous backdrop. There are three groomed ski trails and special events like candlelight ski nights.
The state park is divided into two large and three small units, the southern end extending to southwest of Whitewater Lake. It’s a wonderland of glacial hills, kettles, lakes, prairie restoration sites, deciduous and pine forests.
Ottawa Lake campground is open year-round for those brave enough to sleep under winter stars. Online self-registration is required for camping from November through March.
Park hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, unless you’re a registered camper.
Old World Wisconsin is located in the kettle moraine, too, a fascinating collection of working historic farms with authentic buildings gathered from around the state. It’s mostly closed in winter, but hosts many wintertime special events. Learn about it at friendsoww.org/winter_events.htm.