You learn something new every day.
Settled on the banks of the Mississippi in 1835, Fulton’s past is rich in its river town history and Dutch heritage. The windmill, nicknamed De Immigrant, at 10th and First streets, pays homage to the town’s Dutch heritage.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, both the windmill and the Windmill Cultural Center attracted approximately 10,000 visitors a year. As with many public spaces last year, the windmill and the Windmill Cultural Center were closed the entire 2020 season.
Happily, both sites reopened–for weekends only–in June 2021. When visiting, bring your masks as they are required while in either building.
NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of the article to locate each visited venue's contact information.
Jane Orman Luker and her husband, Neal, provided my road trip buddy, Debbie, and me with a tour of the Windmill Cultural Center and the windmill. The husband and wife duo belong to Friends of the Windmill, the fundraising organization that accepts charitable donations on behalf of the windmill and Cultural Center.
Both entities run entirely with volunteer staff. About two dozen residents volunteer to help run the mill, and others give tours and work in the gift shop.
The windmill’s presence is due, in part, to a severe flood in 1965. A Dutch-style levee–or flood control dike–was built in the 1980s to protect Fulton’s residential and commercial properties. It seemed appropriate to have a beautiful Dutch windmill atop it. Historic Dutch windmills cannot be legally exported from the Netherlands. This replica structure is based on those that dotted the Dutch landscape for centuries.
The eight-sided windmill–standing nearly 100 feet tall–at the cost of $1 million–was purchased by the town, along with a state grant. An additional $200,000 bought the grinding apparatus that makes it a working windmill. Through fundraising efforts, the grinding stones were added and officially dedicated on May 5, 2001. This replica, at 30 metric tons, was engineered and pre-assembled in the Netherlands. It came to the United States by rail, truck, and ship.
Fulton’s Dutch windmill is a “beltmolen.” In Dutch, “belt” means mound of dirt, and “molen” means mill. This windmill, like most beltmolens, has an entrance at ground level.
Time to put the pieces together
Following the delivery to Fulton in 1999, Dutch millwrights and masons traveled to the United States on three separate occasions and rebuilt the windmill in Fulton. Wooden pegs assemble the massive timbers.
Dedication of the new Dutch Windmill took place during its famous annual Dutch Days Festival on May 6, 2000.
The windmill is fully operational. The entire head (or cap) can turn, and the sails move by wind power. The mill is also fully functional with a set of blue basalt millstones that can produce a variety of flours.
Stone-ground buckwheat, corn, rye, and wheat flours are all manufactured at De Immigrant and sold in the Windmill Cultural Center gift shop and Fulton Meat Market. The gift shop also sells Delft pottery and both Fulton and windmill souvenirs.
A stairway leads up into the windmill. Access to the windmill can also be reached by walkways on the top of the dike. The windmill is partially handicap accessible. The stones take up three floors with various types of machinery.
“Millers can grind about a bushel of grain every 10 minutes, wind permitting. “We need at least ten mph wind to run; 15 mph is even better,” Luker said.
Across the street
The Windmill Cultural Center is directly across the street from De Immigrant Windmill. The Center houses Henk and June Hielema’s (of DeMotte, IN) extensive collection of 23 European windmills representing ten European countries, ranging from 10 inches to over six feet tall.
In the 1970s, while employed in Belgium, Henk and June photographed many of the country's mills. There, he began building the models from blueprints of the lifesize mills. June did much of the models’ painting, finding new techniques to create slate or thatched roofs.
After retiring, they moved to DeMotte, Indiana, June’s family farm, where he continued building his models. The Hielema’s collection outgrew their home bringing them to look for an appropriate venue to house the models. There were two conditions that every venue needed to meet. First, it had to have environmentally controlled heat and humidity systems. Second, the windmills could only be moved once. The building had to be in place and ready to go.
Jane Orman Luker was happy to know Fulton was their top choice. “We had two problems. One, we didn’t have a building to use, and we didn’t have any money to build one,” she said. Henk replied that he knew that the Fulton volunteers raised the money needed for the grinding stones for the De Immigrant Windmill in just one year. “If you can commit to fundraising and writing grants, we will wait,” said Hielema.
The Fulton folks did it. The Lukers and volunteers are a force. With donations and grants, the City of Fulton was able to build the Windmill Cultural Center. The dedication took place in April of 2010.
Before the pandemic, The Education Area of the Center featured video presentations of the windmills' countries and an area that contained children’s activities, including coloring, puzzles, and toys promoting scientific concepts. The Center has interpretive exhibits that provide unique information on the products produced by each windmill model, its country of origin, windmill specifications, and the cultural impact of windmills. Hopefully, in 2022, school groups and group tours will have full access to this uniquely informative space.
Tours | Hours
Currently, visitors can enjoy tours on weekends only from May through October. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that in 2022 we will be fully open in both the windmill and cultural center,” Said Orman Luker.
The hours are Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m.
Entrance to both venues is free, but donations are always appreciated for maintenance and operations.
Places to visit while in Fulton
After our tour, Debbie and I had worked up an appetite. Initially, we planned to visit Krumpets Bakery Cafe, located at 1016 4th St., as it was highly recommended, but for some reason, it was closed for the day. We will be back!
No worries, Jane recommended the Steam Anchor at the edge of town at 1310 17th St. We enjoyed the delicious sandwiches and ice-cold beverages. Featured in our travel blog in 2018, it is thriving with a brisk lunch business.
After our lunch, we decided to drop by a popular gift shop called Sweet Woodruff. Located at 1102 4th St., it was decked out in full-on autumnal glory. The inside, filled with beautiful home accessories, candles, purses, etc., is a shopper’s nirvana. With the holiday season fast approaching, consider adding Sweet Woodruff as a shopping destination. The holidays are coming, and I will be back.
Finally, before leaving town, we decided to visit Wierenga’s Heritage Canyon, located at 515 N 4th St. The canyon is a 12-acre wooded nature walk dotted with buildings that take you back to the 1800s.
From the mid-1800s-1954, it was a limestone quarry. Harold and Thelma Wierenga bought the quarry in 1967. They had two goals in mind–-preserve midwestern history emphasizing detail and authenticity, and disturb nature as little as possible. As the years passed and Harold’s death in 1999, the City of Fulton took ownership of the canyon and its upkeep. Now, the Early American Crafters, a group of volunteers, help support the canyon.
Enjoy strolling through the canyon following the numbered yellow arrows that guide you throughout your visit. It’s the perfect family outing exploring the schoolhouse, covered bridge, the Canyon Church, an 1860s house (disassembled and reassembled in the canyon), blacksmith shop, dentist office, and more. There is no admission fee–except for special events–but donations are welcomed.
Take a drive
Enjoy the drive into Fulton, especially during the fall. The winding country roads and farmland will put any anxious heart at ease. There are many other sites and businesses to explore. Maybe we'll take another trip.
1102 4th St.
Fulton, IL 61252
Original art on Main Street
On a hot September morning, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Sharon Boyles. Sharon has been The Loft on Main’s primary volunteer since the very beginning of the art gallery’s existence. Most of Main Street in Morrison, IL, was closed during my visit due to significant street construction. Luckily, it is almost finished.
Boyles was busy rearranging much of the gallery’s 1200 art pieces during the business slowdown. Yes, 1200 art pieces. She tries to keep the storefront window display filled with local artwork and tries to switch it up every two weeks or so.
This cozy gallery, complete with original store shelving and fixtures, and a charming loft, has become a cultural center for Morrison, which has always been a community that values the arts.
Boyles joined The Loft’s board in February of 2018, became its treasurer a few months later, and was juried in as an exhibiting artist in March 2018. She is an incredible mosaic fiber artist. During her “spare time” and, in particular, tax season, Boyles prepares people’s tax returns.
The Loft is open year-round. Regular hours are Thursday 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If anyone is planning a visit and wants to come in on another day or time, call Sharon at 815-718-3682. She can be at the gallery within 30 minutes.
On the third Thursday of each month, they open earlier in the day to host “Coffee and Conversation” from 8-10 a.m. Volunteers bring in homemade treats and coffee to share. Starting this past July, community guests, such as the police chief, firefighters, and EMTs, were on the agenda to discuss their duties and anything new coming up that local citizens would be interested to learn.
It began with an idea and a need.
In February 2017, Kim Ewoldsen, the director of the Morrison Area Development Corporation (MADC) at the time, attended an event hosted by the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University and Illinois Main Street. The event focused on municipalities using their local resources to build community.
Ewoldsen felt that one of Morrison’s resources was its rich history in the arts. In particular, Morrison’s annual community arts event, Paint the Town. This yearly event brings approximately 6,000 people to town.
NOTE: Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the event was canceled for 2020 and 2021.
Ewoldsen was also aware of several arts-based businesses and artists in the community. Once the “building community through art” idea was born, she worked with MADC to make it a reality by hosting a meeting In March 2017 to gauge interest in creating a retail arts center with space for art classes and possibly an artists’ workspace.
Ewoldsen discovered that artists didn’t want to sell at farmers’ markets, but they wanted a retail location where their art had a place to be shown and sold. The common theme was no single artist could afford a retail space on their own. Hence, the community resource became a shared retail location.
Following the meeting, she organized a steering committee of artists and community members dedicated to making an arts center a reality. After months of building tours and visiting other arts organizations, a local businessman, Josh West, who owns a building on Main Street, asked if the group would like to lease it for the arts center. He converted the top floor into a beautiful Airbnb, and it continues to operate as one to this day. As for the first floor and loft area, volunteers did every bit of the renovation work for the gallery.
A new art center is born.
The work took nine months, and in December of 2017, the new space, originally named Loft 112, opened to the public. In August 2018, Loft 112 received non-profit status and changed its name to The Loft on Main, NFP. By the end of 2018, MADC was no longer the overseer of the project. They were, as we shall say, on their own!
As of this writing, The Loft has 43 artist members. Each artist has their art reviewed by a group jury, and once approved, they pay a yearly fee to have their work shown and sold. All of the artists have local ties to the area. “Many live in Morrison or are within 30 minutes,” said Boyles. “Several are area graduates living elsewhere but still have family ties here. Some artists reside in places as far away as Costa Rica, California, and Georgia.”
The artist fees and a small commission percentage for any work sold help keep the doors to the center open. Another avenue of financial support comes from patron donors. The minimum amount to become a patron donor is $80 per couple or $50 per individual.
Arts collaboration with Woodlawn Arts Academy
Kim Ewoldsen was familiar with the quality of classes provided by Woodlawn Arts Academy in Sterling, IL. She spoke with Woodlawn’s executive director, Christy Zepezauer, regarding sharing The Loft’s back workspace area as a way of expanding Woodlawn’s class reach to western Whiteside County. The result was that several private music and group art classes were held on-site in Morrison but taught by staff from Woodlawn.
This working relationship is a win-win situation. The Loft provides the space, and Woodlawn provides the staff, class promotion, registration, and more.
Operating through a pandemic
Business came to a standstill for about three months in 2020--mid-March through Mid-May. When that happened, the gallery suffered from the loss of foot traffic and sales, resulting in the subsequent loss of artists, volunteers, and customers.
When The Loft on Main did reopen, it was only one day per week. At that time, the business canceled all indoor classes, gatherings, and fundraising events. Regular business hours didn’t return until December 2020.
“As measures were loosening, we started seeing business and interest pick up. We resumed some indoor activities, but the Main Street reconstruction project started, and many people decided to avoid coming into town. We will soon have a smooth street to drive and park on and beautiful new sidewalks, but due to the resurgence of COVID, we cannot return to business as usual yet,” said Boyles.
Masks currently are required when entering and browsing the venue--per Illinois mandate.
It’s all about the volunteers.
There is no paid staff at The Loft on Main. It operates on volunteer power. The store currently staffs five volunteers, two of which are part of the nine-member board. Boyles shared that the exact number of volunteers is unknown, as many people step up to help when needed. There are 19 that regularly help with quite a bit of overlap of duties. Five additional volunteers help with the electronic distribution of information. Rounding up this hearty bunch are two volunteers who help with technology.
Beyond those mentioned, The Loft has volunteers for jurying, cleaning, photographing, rearranging, designing, planning special events, making coffee and treats, teaching classes, and performing light maintenance.
As The Loft runs on an entirely volunteer basis, it won the Governor’s Hometown Award in 2018, its first year of existence. The Governor’s Hometown Awards, first presented in 1983, are given annually to projects sponsored by local government but brought to fruition by solid volunteer support.
While visiting the gallery
The downtown area has several specialties retails shops, including the recently opened Double G Saloon (serves breakfast!) and The Blue Violet floral and gift shop. Both of these new businesses are across the street from The Loft. In fact, The Blue Violet had its ribbon-cutting ceremony as Sharon and I were talking.
HOURS | Open year-round.
Thursdays: 10 a.m to 2 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
By appointment, call 815-718-3682.
The Loft on Main
112 E. Main St.
Morrison, IL. 61270
It’s your turn to plan the family reunion.
Just the thought of finding just the right place to accommodate an upcoming girls’ weekend, family reunion, or holiday get-together will make you want to pull the covers over your head. For folks living or visiting historic Mount Carroll in Carroll County, the answer exists at The Mill Street House.
It offers a warm, comfortable space for groups or families to stay for events such as weddings, class and family reunions, or the popular Mayfest celebration held annually in Mount Carroll.
Meet your hosts.
Mark and Jody Swiech are the husband and wife team behind The Mill Street House. They both work at Byron High School--Jody is the librarian, and Mark is a substitute teacher.
In December of 2019, Mark and Jody purchased the home from his parents to run the property as an Airbnb rental. Besides refinishing the beautiful hardwood floors and tile backsplash work, the house remains almost the same as it did during Mark’s parent’s ownership.
As luck would have it, shortly after opening the Airbnb, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The owners follow all general Airbnb COVID protocols. The home is thoroughly cleaned, and hand sanitizer is readily available in the home’s kitchen. Business has been good in both 2020 and 2021. “Quarantining is pretty easy in the country,” said Swiech.
Over 100 years old
One of the earliest deeds of record was from Elizabeth and Peoly Holy in March of 1914. The house was probably built about that time by Harry A. Seiple after he came into the title. Mark’s parents, John and Thelma Swiech, bought the home in 1971. Mark grew up in this lovely country home. “I built the current back deck with my dad when I was a teenager,” said Swiech.
Sleeps up to 10-14
Set on a large 2.5-acre lot, The Mill Street House has a screened-in front porch that provides a proper place to relax and greet friends and family. Upon entering the house, you’ll see a beautiful front staircase to the second floor. A bonus is the back staircase that takes you down to the kitchen. You know that the kids are going to love the shortcut.
Featuring five bedrooms, the master has a king-size bed, and the remaining four rooms have queen-size beds. There are two additional mattresses available for overflow. Great for kids! All bedroom and bathroom linens are provided.
Enjoy the living room with a roomy sectional couch and 60” smart TV with cable. It’s perfect for movies and sports. The dining room includes a book nook that provides books and board games for all ages.
The fully equipped, large eat-in kitchen has plenty of seating for your whole crowd. The onsite washer and dryer make life’s most boring chore a piece of cake.
Sliding patio doors take you from the kitchen to the large wrap-around deck with a pergola. The large back and side yard have plenty of trees and lawn for folks to enjoy. Guests have access to a portable fire pit and wood for use on cool nights, but they need to coordinate with The Mill Street House owners for its use.
Parking at The Mill Street House accommodates boats, trailers, and RVs. Water is available for RVs, but not drainage.
You can’t beat the price.
The cost to rent this 5-bedroom country home is only $137 a night. Yes, you read that right. Need a girlfriend getaway or a couple's retreat? Divide that cost by the number of people, and it’s a steal.
Just a mile from downtown Mount Carroll
The Mill Street House is located in scenic northwestern Illinois, ten miles from the Mississippi River, 40 miles from Galena, and 2.5 hours from Chicago.
This country home is at the edge of town with country views and is a short trip to downtown Mount Carroll. The brick streets take visitors to the town’s shops, restaurants, and bars. Nearby Savanna, Lake Carroll, and Lanark also offer places to explore. The Swieches make sure that plenty of visitor guides, brochures, and restaurant menus are available to use while visiting.
Visitors are a mix of extended local families coming back for weddings, class reunions, and holiday get-togethers. Many guests also come from Chicago and the suburbs to experience the beauty and serenity of the area.
Scroll to the bottom of the article for links to both Mount Carroll and Carroll County.
The Mill Street House operates through all four seasons. The summer and fall seasons are the busiest, with winter being quieter. When the snow flies, the large yard provides plenty of room for guests of all ages to build families of snowmen. Many winter visitors enjoy the ski runs at nearby Chestnut Mountain in Galena.
“If you’re planning on family visiting during the holidays, be sure to get your reservations made sooner rather than later,” said Swiech. You can see why because Thanksgiving and Christmas bring lots of family and friends together.
The proof is in the reviews.
Don’t take my word for it. Many guests leave reviews after spending their time at The Mill Street House. There isn’t a stinker in the lot! Here are a few reviews from recent visitors.
“Beautiful, well-maintained property with a great location to Mt. Carroll and surrounding area. In town for a wedding and the home was a pivotal location for out-of-state guests. Quiet and beautiful with its own charm.” -- Eric | August 2021
“This house was so wonderful to stay in. It’s very charming and fit my whole family in one place! Mark was very kind and a wonderful host. We will definitely be staying here again!” -- Anne | August 2021
“My friends and I had a relaxing stay at The Mill Street House. The home is in a peaceful neighborhood. We enjoyed having our morning coffee and conversation on the back deck overlooking the grazing horses in the adjoining meadow.” -- Mollie | June 2021
Plan your visit
The Mill Street House
415 S. Mill St
Mount Carroll, IL 61053
Why the name “White Pelican?”
Each summer, flocks of white pelicans--Pelecanus erythrorhynchos--alight on the Rock River in Oregon, IL. With wingspans of up to 12 feet, these majestic, prehistoric-looking birds float high above the city on thermals or cluster together on the river.
The white pelican--along with the bald eagle, cave swallow, kingfisher, and great blue heron--helps make the Oregon corridor of the Rock River a top spot for bird lovers, nature enthusiasts, or anyone looking for a relaxing getaway. It is also part of the 320-mile Rock River Trail, nationally designated for hiking, biking, and paddling.
Beat the heat in the best way.
It’s been a hot summer. One of those summers, you would rather sit in an air-conditioned home rather than exert yourselves in the heat and humidity. However, there is a place that allows a person to be active outdoors and feel refreshed doing it.
Christy and Aaron Sitze have owned and operated White Pelican, Inc. since 2016. They offer self-guided trips down the scenic Rock River with your choice of watercraft. The outfitter provides canoes, single kayaks, double kayaks, single tubes, double tubes, and stand-up paddleboards.
The Rock River is an easy-to-navigate, gentle river for people of all ages. Each trip comes with a shuttle to get you to the launch point in Oregon, lifejackets, and paddles. Day trips and overnight trips are available. The dedicated staff helps their customers understand the upcoming trip by fully explaining any little nuances about the river.
Customers span from local, regional, and international locales.
There are several places to take out along the Rock River. It all depends on how long of a trip you are up to paddling.
- 1-2 hours by canoe or kayak* | Castle Rock State Park
- 3-4 hours by canoe or kayak* | Grand Detour
- 6-8 hours by canoe or kayak *| Lowell Park in Dixon, IL
* add extra time if floating by tube
Be sure to check out their website for all kinds of trips, including overnights! Prices are listed with each trip. All contact information for the White Pelican is at the bottom of this article.
It takes a team.
White Pelican employs 12-14 part-time employees that keep the business running like clockwork. “One of my favorite parts of running the business is the team that I work with. All of our workers have amazing personalities and are so good with the customers and each other,” said Sitze. “Being part of the Oregon business community is also something that we feel keeps us connected to the other hard-working business owners and people in our town.”
A girlfriend afternoon on the Rock River
Last week--mid-August--my friend, Debbie, and I planned a canoe trip from Oregon, IL, to Castle Rock State Park. As we are both experienced canoers, we just wanted to go nice and slow. This paddle is the shortest trip, taking about one to two hours. Debbie and I were going to take longer because we had the afternoon off. What’s the hurry, right?
I signed up and paid for the trip through the company’s website. They, in turn, sent me a waiver via email. All adults on a journey down the river need to sign these waivers. If you know everyone’s email, the White Pelican will send each person their release to sign via email ahead of time. Otherwise, you will be able to fill out the forms at the site before you can start the fun stuff. White Pelican emailed me the location I was to park my car which was at the Castle Rock State Park parking lot--near the boat ramp--at the prearranged time of 1 p.m. As soon as I parked, the White Pelican van pulled up to take us to the starting point in Oregon. The timing was perfect.
Once all the waiver paperwork was checked over, Christy Sitze gave us information about the river being extra low this year, where to find the best scenery, and chances of seeing wildlife. They gave us a strong push-off, and we settled in for an afternoon of quiet conversation and occasional paddling. Since the river was low, the current was almost nonexistent at certain points. We could just stop and enjoy the scenery and wildlife all around us.
Floating back in time.
The first thing you’ll see along the river are islands. Sitze mentioned that the more scenic vistas are the waterways on the left of the islands. The distance is the same, but it feels like your paddling among the ghosts of our native Americans and early settlers from 200 years ago. The only signs of life are bald eagles--including those young, rascally immature eagles with brown heads--and blue herons. One blue heron was sitting in a tree. We remarked to each other about having never seen these birds in trees before. Now we have. Have you?
Before we hit our first island, we came upon a railroad bridge and heard a faint rumbling from the east. A train was rapidly approaching the bridge we were paddling towards. As the train crossed over, the engineer gave us a honk. I felt like a little kid again. The sound of floating under the bridge as it was roaring over us was amazing.
The take-out. Easy peasy!
Sitze told us that our take-out point was coming up once we started seeing riverfront homes and cars traveling on highway 2 on the right side of the river. Our trip took just short of 3 hours as we were in no hurry. We pulled out near the boat ramp, put our oars in the canoe, and texted White Pelican to say we had finished. Since my car was already in the parking lot, we could head home right away. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
“We were lucky to work with the local health department to provide safe trips during COVID. However, we were limited to how many people could go on trips and ran at about 50 percent capacity last year. We were committed to upholding health standards, so we had an increase in expenses and labor to keep our equipment sanitized to the degree that was acceptable during the pandemic,” said Sitze.
The weather and river levels happened to be exceptional during 2020, so they could keep trips running almost every day of their season. “Ultimately, we were happy that people could have a relaxing day on the river where they could (mostly) forget that almost everything was shut down,” remarked Sitze.
White Pelican is happy with the business for this season. “We’re happy with the way things are going this year. The weather and river levels are less cooperative than last year, but on the whole, there have been some great days for the business,” said Sitze. “Being on the river is a way that people reset themselves and have memorable experiences with friends and family.”
You can feel the love.
Sitze sums up her love of the area and this outfitter business, “There are so many things that I enjoy about White Pelican. It's amazing to be in a business where you see so many people smiling and happy every day to be on vacation, or a reunion, or getting out for a quick trip. Almost everyone we meet is in a good mood and has a story to tell! We all love hearing about a customers’ experience on the river as well. Just the other day, someone texted us that they saw 12 eagles on their trip!”
Make a plan before the season ends.
White Pelican, Inc.’s season is April through November--weather permitting. You can still get in some fabulous summer paddling, but there’s nothing better than floating down the Rock River among the blazing fall colors.
Hours (weather permitting)
Regular hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
After hours: 3 to 7-8 p.m.
White Pelican, Inc.
201 N 2nd St.
Oregon, IL 61061
*call or text. This is their favorite way of communicating rather than email.
Ask, and you shall receive.
When one door closes, another opens.
The River’s Edge Farmers Market is not Oregon’s first outdoor market. The Oregon Park District (OPD) ran a farmers market through 2020. The City of Oregon saw an opportunity when the OPD could not continue its market due to the impending closure of the Exelon Nuclear Plant in Byron and the resulting lack of funding.
In January of 2021, Mel Cozzi, Oregon city commissioner, first reached out to Liz Hiemstra to be a vendor at the new market. Hiemstra owns Libra Farms and has a booth set up each week. Cozzi also expressed the need for help to get the venture up and running. You know how the old saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”
“I knew I was going to need a partner, and she was a no-brainer for me to ask,” said Cozzi.
As volunteer co-managers of the River’s Edge Farmers Market, Hiemstra and Cozzi have the energy and drive to get the market’s inaugural year off the ground.
It’s all about Vendor love.
The first market date kicked off on June 3 and continues every Thursday, 5-7:30 p.m., through September. Volunteers assist Hiemstra and Cozzi whenever extra hands are needed. During 2021, vendors do not have to pay fees to participate. However, the market will implement an undetermined price in 2022.
A wide variety of vendors, typically 20-25, are set up each week, along with two to five food truck vendors. There is no excuse for going hungry. The exhibitors consist of several produce vendors and vendors selling locally raised meat, soap, baked goods, and various handmade crafts. River’s Edge Farmers Market recently welcomed a vendor that grows hemp and sells CBD products.
“We would also love to add fresh eggs and other dairy products, such as cheese,” remarked Hiemstra.
Another new vendor offers a unique service to those visiting her booth--hair braiding. Meggan of [email protected] Salon in downtown Oregon braids hair at her booth, with all donations going to charity.
Expect the unexpected.
As with any outdoor venue, the weather is fickle. Early to mid-June was quite hot and sunny this year, making the first few markets downright sizzling. Hiemstra and Cozzi adapted by moving vendor spots out of the direct sun and creating shady areas. An added hot-weather perk were sprinklers for the kids to cool off.
You can’t forget the kids.
Besides the sprinkler setups, the younger set has various activities each week. There are materials for chalk art set up on one of the pathways at the market. “By the end of the evening, the sidewalk fills with art created by the kids,” mentioned Hiemstra.
The OPD and some local non-profits get in on the act by providing a children’s activity each week.
Oregon is a community filled with optimistic folks. The markets have high turnouts each week. River’s Edge provides live music on most market nights. Some dates were left unfilled during this first year, but Hiemstra and Cozzi plan to rectify this for 2022.
“I wouldn't say the community response was entirely surprising. We have wonderful people in this area--but we've been pleasantly surprised with the continuously high turnout and support offered to the market and our vendors,” said Cozzi. “The market is off to a great start, and more vendors keep asking to join in on the fun!”
Feel safe during the pandemic
The market has a variety of ways to keep its patrons safe and healthy during these uncertain times. Did you forget hand sanitizer? They have plenty to share. Safety measures are posted for all to see. Bring your mask, especially if state COVID mandates strengthen.
Just recently, the market became approved to accept SNAP benefits. “One of our huge goals, in the beginning, was to be able to offer local produce and healthy food to people who can't afford it at the grocery store, markets, or otherwise,” said Cozzi.
Many markets request that patrons not bring their fur babies, but not so at the River’s Edge Farmers Market. Well-behaved dogs are allowed.
“We’re pet friendly if they are friendly pets,” said both Hiemstra and Cozzi. So far, there have been no issues with unruly animals.
Looking ahead to 2022
The underlying goals with the market are to promote local foods and artisan goods and offer education on sustainable actions everyone can do. This includes buying local. As the 2021 season progresses and gets into a routine, Hiemstra and Cozzi look at new ways to present these goals in a fun way. A few more goals to hit in 2022 are:
- Live music every market night
- More children’s activities
- More sponsorships
With the guidance and support of the OPD, the city has produced a thriving first-year farmers’ market. “It has been a wonderful partnership,” said Hiemstra.
Hours of operation:
Thursdays, 5-7:30 pm
Earning a place in the hearts of Dixon
Walking from the parking lot behind the 99-year old Dixon Historic Theatre through the alley, the sounds of workers constructing and renovating comes through the backstage doors loud and clear. The building is impressive and even more so when entering the lobby through its front doors.
It takes a village -- and a staff
Timothy Boles, the theatre’s executive director, is busy overseeing the renovations, staff, booking events, and in general making sure everything is running smoothly with the grand opening in early September 2021. Speaking of staff and Boles, they have husband and wife team Scott and Jan Fattizzi, theatre and box office managers respectively, Sean Ports as artistic director, Spencer Aurand as facilities manager, and Scott Shipp chief technician.
Many of the artists coming to the theatre are conducting residencies with the community the day before their performances. “We know that we’re not going to earn a place in the heart of Dixon if all we are doing is selling tickets. We want to be more than that. We want to be a place the community is invested in and proud of,” said Boles.
A history of rebuilding “The Dixon”
The original building was called the Dixon Opera House and opened in 1876. Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged by fire in 1903. At that time it was remodeled and continued on. Believe it or not, on February 17, 1920, another devastating fire occurred. This time it was completed destroyed.
Enter Leonard G. Rorer in 1920, manager at that time of Dixon’s Family Theatre. He announced the purchase of the original Opera House site “for the purpose of erecting the finest show house to be found between Chicago and Des Moines and from Rockford to LaSalle.”
On March 15, 1922, the Dixon Evening Telegraph announced the opening of the brand new theatre. Eventually, The Dixon cost $200,000 to build (equivalent to $3 million today). It was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by local architect William J. McAlpine, responsible for the Lee County Courthouse, the Old Post Office, and the Dixon National Bank.
The building was not given a legal title/name at that time, but soon the local paper and community started referring to The Dixon Theatre as just “The Dixon.” Boles hopes to see the nickname come back into everyday use almost 100 years later. “We want to reclaim it!” said Boles.
Because of the two previous fires, The Dixon was entirely constructed of fireproof materials--brick, terracotta, concrete, steel, and terrazzo. Also included in the new building was an apartment above the lobby and storefronts.
The apartment remains to this day, along with the original theatre manager’s office. It has a small kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The original wood floors, woodwork, and built-ins remain. Boles plans to use this apartment as a private VIP reception room before events in the near future.
The Dixon is constructed with terrazzo and marble tile floors throughout the lobby area. The owner’s name, Rorer, is embedded in the lobby floor. Terrazzo and marble are not easy materials to install. Because of this, the building contractor brought over a craftsman from Italy to install the materials.
“He was a fellow named Venier (Lorenzo),” said Boles. During his time working on The Dixon, Venier fell in love with Dixon and the area and decided to resettle here with his family. To Dixonites, the Venier name is well known. Venier Jewelers on First Street is owned and operated by Lorenzo’s descendants.
The second-floor lobby mezzanine overlooks the main lobby and provides access to the balcony seats. Every seat is a good seat. Initially, The Dixon was built to accommodate over 1,000 seats. With the new tech deck and sound system relocating to the main floor, there are now just over 900 seats.
The architectural treatment of the interior had an understated elegance with fine decorative features. The crowning glory was a large dome in the center of the ceiling with a sky treatment, which retains beautiful acoustics. There is also a large stage, orchestra pit (now covered but accessible from the basement), and a 1924 organ used to accompany silent films.
The Rorer family owned and operated the theatre for almost 30 years. Vaudeville acts, a seven-piece all-woman orchestra, and motion pictures highlighted the schedule. Talking pictures arrived in 1929. One of the famous events held at The Dixon was the premier showing of the film “International Squadron,” featuring Ronald Reagan. The projection room is still on the second floor with two shutter windows for use when a reel had to be switched during the movie viewing. The large 1950s reel holders sit predominantly in the center of the room.
The basement, constructed entirely of concrete and steel, houses the dressing rooms, bathrooms, and orchestra pit. Boles says the orchestra pit is to reopen from the top sometime in the next year or so.
New leadership in 2019
The Dixon went through ownership changes but continued to operate as a movie house until 1984, when it closed. In 1985, Dixon Theatre Renovation, Inc. (DTRI) entered into a lease-purchase agreement, and The Dixon once again became a performing arts showcase. Both DTRI and the Lee County Civic Center Authority guided the building through almost 35 years of use as a performing arts center. Many volunteers, along with generous contributors, renovated the building and brought many years of entertainment and culture to the Sauk Valley region.
Currently, The Dixon Historic Theatre is owned and operated by Historic Dixon Theatre Group. Of the seven theatre board directors, three members are appointed by the Dixon mayor and the Dixon city council. However, the organization acts as an independent body. All was right with the world until COVID struck and new programming was delayed.
The first thing visitors will see when walking into the central part of the theatre is the new set of red curtains with gold details. The backstage is busy building a new fly-system replacing the old ropes used to open and close curtains and theatre backdrops. New aisle carpets are to be installed soon.
Within the next year, Boles sees the entire theatre interior getting a new paint job using the colors of the original theatre. The painting won’t be copied precisely but inspired by the actual shades of dark ochre, reds, and blue.
When buildings of this type were built back in the day, they were known as “the people’s palaces.”
“Everyone should feel like royalty when they walk through the doors,” remarked Boles.
The new season starts September 3
Franc D’Ambrosio’s Broadway: Songs from the Great White Way performs on September 4. D’Ambrosio, acclaimed for his role as the Phantom of “The Phantom of the Opera,” celebrates Broadway music and more. On September 3, he will conduct one of his famous Master Classes, including a talent search for a pair of young singers (between the ages of 18-35) to perform on September 4 the renowned love duet, “All I Ask of You,” onstage with D’Ambrosio. The finals on September 3 are open to the public to watch.
See the performance schedule here.
Children’s Theater and Community Theatre are part of the plan
Outside of bringing in performing artists, Boles said that a year-round children’s theater--starting in fall 2021--and the resurrection of community theatre is on the books. Jan Fattizzi, box office manager, is also an experienced children’s theatre director. There are two planned productions with a possible summer 2022 production.
The lucky kids who get to participate learn how to perform on stage and learn all aspects of theatre life. “We’re not just rehearsing to put on a show. They’re being educated on technique, makeup, costuming, lighting, and more,” explained Boles.
After an absence of many years, community theatre is coming back to Dixon. The first community theatre event taking place is the holiday production of “A Christmas Carol.” Boles remarks, “It’s going to be a spectacular production as it’s an inter-generational play and will have both adult and child actors.”
A bright future
Many exciting things are coming to the theatre that benefits the community, visitors, and artists alike. “We have every confidence that The Dixon will be a beacon for the arts from Chicago to Des Moines and from Rockford to LaSalle, just as it was in 1922,” Boles said.
Main Office Phone: (779) 250-9951
Box Office Phone: (815) 508-6324
Box Office Location
93 S. Hennepin Ave
Dixon, IL 61021
Box Office Hours
Tues & Thurs 11 am - 6 pm
The 2nd & 4th Saturdays of the month, 11 am - 2 pm
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