Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
ICRR Stone Arch Bridges
600 block, West 1st, 2nd & 3rd streets, Dixon, Ill.
These three historic arches, spanning consecutive streets on the city’s southwest side, represent an exciting era of growth and advancement – not just for Dixon, but the entire state.
In 1851, the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) began laying track in Mendota for the first railroad that would cross Illinois. The initial section stretched to Amboy, a sleepy little hamlet 12 miles south of Dixon. Brought to life by the railroad, Amboy became ICRR Northern Division headquarters; in 1854, Irish immigrant Samuel Carson opened a dry goods store there that would spawn the Carson Pirie Scott chain. (Because the route was mostly uninhabited, the ICRR laid out towns like Amboy every 10 miles, though not all have survived, essentially populating this area of Illinois; the names of 32 cities along its 700 miles, such as Centralia, illustrate that direct influence.)
In 1852, ICRR started work on the Dixon-to-Freeport route and created a 15-foot-high dirt embankment for the rails, extending from West 7th Street to the south bank of the Rock River. In 1855, these and a stone pier trestle across the river were finished.
The three “sister bridges” have the same 28-foot arch span but vary in height and depth, depending on the topography. They’re made of yellow Galena limestone, quarried at local Dement Quarry. To withstand the weight and vibrations of the trains, they were individually cut to fit, carefully balanced and pieced together, one on top of the other, with notches and keys rather than mortar. They have required virtually no repair in 157 years.
The ICRR abandoned the line in 1985. Following a successful citizens’ campaign to prevent their demise, the three bridges were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. ❚
Geneva Lake Museum of History
255 Mill St., Lake Geneva, Wis., (262) 248-6060, genevalakemuseum.org
A visit here is a walk back in time – literally. Recreated within the reclaimed 1929 Wisconsin Power & Light building is Lake Geneva’s Main Street, with life-size displays spanning 60 years of the town’s progression, from 1870-1930.
Lake Geneva became a haven for wealthy Chicagoans following the Chicago Fire of 1871, and grew into the popular tourist destination it is today.
Among the museum’s Main Street sights: a log cabin displaying Potawatomi artifacts and an arrowhead collection; a telephone switchboard office; a fully stocked general store; a fire engine house with an 1890s hose wagon; and a 1920s dental office.
Rather than just peek in from behind velvet ropes, however, visitors can actually walk in and get a close-up look at the furniture, clothing, photos and other artifacts.
In addition, the museum features exhibits on many other aspects of Lake Geneva’s history, such as Yerkes Observatory, once visited by Albert Einstein; the mansions built by families with names such as Wrigley, Sears and Pinkerton; and the boats and yachts of Geneva Lake.
Museum hours are Mon. & Thurs.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun. noon-3 p.m. Admission: $7; students/seniors, $6. ❚
1269 Honey Creek Road, Oregon, Ill.
John Barnhart is a true rock hound and history lover, both passions inspired by this property when he was a child.
The farm marks the site of Watertown, a small but thriving settlement eclipsed over time by surrounding communities. It was here that Civil War veteran Virgil Reed made his homestead in 1869. He began collecting stones and carving into them the names of men he’d served with, and building freestanding rock monuments to their bravery. Eventually, the yard was filled with these special stones, and the intersection became known as Stone Corner.
A certified organic farmer, Barnhart farms with antique tractors and sells produce directly to consumers. He grew up just down the road and knew the farm’s history well, thanks to school field trips there. In 2005, he purchased it and renamed his business Barnhart Stone Corner Farm Market.
When he and wife Cindy took possession, they discovered that its previous owners had taken all of the rocks with them to sell. “Not two stones were left to touch together,” says Barnhart. “It broke my heart.”
He resolved to restore the farm. He’s managed to track down and repurchase all of the original carved stones and rebuild Reed’s original sculptures as accurately as possible. He’s restored the house, built by Reed to resemble the nearby Lighthouse United Methodist Church, including a custom-built stone chimney that contains Civil War cannon balls. Most recently, he repurchased the farm’s largest stone, a 4-ton boulder that took Reed an entire summer to move, using horses, planks and pipes.
Barnhart wants to bring back school field trips and is working to get the farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “I love the place, and I plan to put it into a conservation easement, to keep it this way for future generations,” he says.
Visitors can view Stone Corner from the road or stop in to buy produce. ❚