Visit the market all year.
When the cold winds start blowing, most farmers' markets close up shop for the winter season. Our area is lucky to have a farmers' market that serves both outdoor and indoor purposes. The Twin City Farmers Market in Sterling, IL, offers vegetables, dairy, baked products, and handcrafted items all year long–to mention a few.
Under the umbrella of Sterling Main Street, the market is expertly managed by Sterling Main Street’s executive director, Janna Groharing, and marketing assistant, Lori Van Oosten.
The outdoor market basically closed in October, but the inside market is still alive and strong. "Weather permitting, our timetable for the outdoor market in the Pavilion area is late April–October," said VanOosten. "We do, however, allow merchants to stay until it becomes too chilly for them. The majority of merchants close shop by the end of October."
Except for Christmas and New Year's Day, which fall on a Saturday this holiday season, the Twin City Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.
It’s a community market.
The Twin City Farmers Market opened its doors in July 2005 after the generous contribution of the location and start-up funding from the City of Sterling. The market is located inside the historic Twin City Produce Co. building at 106 Avenue A. An added amenity for its vendors is the use of a licensed commercial kitchen.
Groharing described how the outdoor market concept began with an inspired road trip to a market in Eau Claire, WI, with friends in 2017.
“We went to this farmers’ market where it was a larger but similar version of our current outdoor market. I took all kinds of photos and texted them to our city manager, saying, ‘build me this!’ said Groharing. “Apparently, it sparked some ideas and interest because the planning of the outdoor pavilion started in 2018 with its opening in May of 2020.
A farmers’ market is only as good as its vendors.
The indoor portion of the market hosts approximately 25 vendors. The outdoor market averaged around 15 vendors in 2021. Groharing mentions that they have room for 30-40 vendors for the outdoor space. “It all depends on the amount of space each vendor requires,” said Groharing. “In 2021, we had at least half a dozen vendors using a double booth space.”
You should see the cinnamon rolls.
Vendor offerings include locally raised beef, pork, free-range chicken and eggs; homegrown produce; organic herbs; honey, jams, jellies and sauces; a wide variety of baked goods including pies, breads, cookies, and cakes; locally made soaps and candles; knitted items; local photography; jewelry; crafts; and artwork.
Along with providing a year-round source of local produce, meat, and eggs, they educate the community on the advantages and benefits of our local agriculture. “The market helps foster an economic environment that contributes to the financial success of our local businesses, which provide our community with their locally grown, raised, or crafted products,” said Groharing.
At the time of this writing, one of the newest vendors sells fresh mushrooms, lovingly nicknamed “the mushroom guy.” William Thomas owns and operates Meddling Sheep Mushrooms in Amboy, IL. He features a variety of fresh mushrooms for very reasonable prices. Some types include blue oyster, elm oyster, and lion's mane. I purchased some of the elm oysters for an eventual mushroom omelet. The result was the best omelet I had had in a long time.
A local and regional meeting place
Our visitors are mostly local, but we do have a regional draw along with those traveling through the area visiting family,” said VanOosten. “Some people follow their favorite vendors!”
How about pets?
As for our furry 4-legged visitors, the outdoor market allows leashed pets and the indoor market allows service animals only.
Onward and upward in 2022
As for the upcoming year and the market’s future, Groharing is looking for continued growth in both vendors' numbers, product diversity, and attracting more customers.
Word of mouth has been an excellent way to bring new vendors into the fold. Another way is to visit the market’s website and download a vendor application PDF. “We’re currently working on switching to an online application,” said Groharing.
For any vendors looking to sell their products, CLICK HERE.
Twin City Farmers Market
106 Avenue A
Sterling, IL 61081
Phone: 815-626-8610 (Weekdays-Sterling Main Street Office)
Hours of operation
Saturdays | 8 a.m. until noon
Three hops, two skips, and a jump…
If you choose to spend some time in the Mississippi River town of Savanna, Illinois, staying at The Dragonfly will be one of the best decisions you've ever made. The Dragonfly is in the downtown area, just a few steps from Main Street.
It’s all in a name.
Howard and Debbie Handler became the owners of this lovely home in May of 2021. The Handlers both grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago and maintain their home in that area with their three children. Debbie is a school librarian, and Howard works as a government affairs professional and real estate. Debbie is a big Gilmore Girls fan, which inspired the name of their rental, The Dragonfly.
The 1882 building is believed to have been constructed as a single-family residence but was later partitioned into three individual apartments. The Dragonfly is a two-bedroom first-floor unit.
When the Handlers took possession of the house, they immediately began modifications to transform it into a short-term rental. The Dragonfly is open all year and is advertised on AirBnB and VRBO, with AirBnB being the primary site for visitors.
A good first season
Since July, the Handlers have been busy, and their autumn season is almost as booked as their summer season. As January and February approaches, the Handlers work to improve the unit. “We plan to install an electric fireplace to better attract those looking for a cozy, quaint winter getaway,” remarked Howard.
The owners follow all general COVID regulations. “The Dragonfly is entirely self-check-in, so no in-person interaction is required,” said Debbie. “The unit is professionally cleaned between each guest, and we meet or exceed Airbnb’s enhanced cleaning process.”
Make yourself at home.
When you get to The Dragonfly, you'll see that street parking is often easy and plentiful. Visitors will find a spacious living area with a smart TV (Nintendo anyone? ), a three-season front room, a lovely kitchen, a small dining room, two spacious and light bedrooms, a bathroom, and a laundry room. Another advantage is that there are no overnight parking restrictions.
The Dragonfly's kitchen is fully furnished and supplied with cooking utensils for guests' use. The Handlers provide spices, oil, coffee, tea, and sweetener. In case a guest requires anything else, a full-service grocery shop is only a few minutes away.
Savanna is an excellent place to visit.
The Handlers say that most of their visitors come from the Chicago region or Iowa for weekend getaways, but they also have visitors from other states in town for family or business functions. The proprietors provide their customers with a comprehensive list of activities and restaurants in Savanna and surrounding areas in Illinois and Iowa.
"The majority of our visitors come to Savanna for a weekend escape–whether it's a couple, a family, or a girls' trip," Howard explained. "They generally come for some outdoor activity, such as the Mississippi Palisades State Park, Galena, neighboring vineyards, and live music, to mention a few."
Speaking of live music, you're in luck because the town's numerous pubs frequently feature bands. Featured musicians often perform outside on Main Street's sidewalk. Ax throwing, ghost investigations, and an old-fashioned movie theater are among the other downtown attractions. The beginning (or finish) point of the 60-mile-plus Great River Trail is nearby for bikers and hikers.
Don’t just take my word for it.
Here are a few reviews from happy customers. It looks like some of you need to book a getaway to Savanna!
Kristin | October 2021
This home was perfect for my husband, two kids, and me. The host pulled out a very comfortable twin bed to add to the second bedroom, so our kids didn’t have to share a bed. The home was clean, comfortable, and nicely decorated. We could hear the neighbors upstairs and the train at times, but it wasn’t disruptive. The location is perfect for exploring savanna, the nearby state park, galena, and everything in between. The host is very responsive and proactive in their communication. Very easy to check-in and out. I would definitely stay here again!
Cara | November 2021
Very nice and cozy home. We enjoyed it a lot. Pretty area of the state. It was nice to be so close to the Mississippi River. Great Hosts! Thank you.
Michelle | September 2021
Adorable home and love the architectural character that an older home brings with it! I especially appreciated the flowers with the note to enjoy the stay, decaf coffee pods, loved the Lavender Aveeno Body Wash, and I had forgotten to pack the makeup remover towelettes. They had them in the bathroom for their guests!
Area tourism information
Ogle County sweet spot
Something very sweet happened this summer. SparkleFox Confections celebrated its grand opening in August 2021 in the very heart of Oregon, IL. It is located on 4th Street, just north of the Highway 2 and Rt. 64 intersection. Its bright window art with the SparkleFox logo is hard to miss. Enjoy a creamy, rich dish of gelato while sitting outside on a warm day.
Diana Early is the shop's owner. She previously worked as a marketing executive in Rockford for over two decades. Additionally, she is the creator of each wonderful morsel of sweetness. Early lives in Byron, IL, with her husband and three sons (ages 14, 11, and 8), two Pomeranians, and three cats. That does sound like a very active household!
At farmers’ markets and events like Stroll on State in 2019, Early sold her confectioneries before moving to the small town of Oregon in Ogle County.
“I’ve always dreamed of owning my own shop. I’ve been making candies for many years as a creative outlet, but when my position was eliminated back in April, it became a full-time gig,” Early explained.
A new Chocolate Trail member
The Blackhawk Waterways Chocolate Trail is happy to welcome SparkleFox Confections into their fold. When you get the chance, be sure to check out this unique trail when on the hunt for everything chocolate.
The variety is endless.
Here’s just a partial list of the homemade sweet treats available at SparkleFox Confections.
- Bon Bons
- Chocolate dipped pretzels and Oreos
- Cake rolls
- Cookies and cookie trays (Christmas is coming!)
- Cotton candy
- Caramel corn
- S’mores pops
- Caramel apples and chocolate-dipped caramel apples
- Hot cocoa bombs, and so much more!
* Early’s products are all homemade–except for the incredible gelato. “We source our gelato fresh every week from Cucina di Rosa, an Italian restaurant in Rockford,” said Hamblock.
Beverages both hot and cold complement your treats.
The SparkleFox store is bright and colorful, showing the owner’s artistic and creative background. At the front of the store, tables are ready for customers to sit and enjoy their favorite sweet snack along with a beverage selection.
Choose from its cold drink selections of craft sodas, Italian and cream sodas, hot tea, and iced passion tea. The hot drinks are coffees, lattes, and espressos.
Everyone has their favorite treat.
Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, you can't help but want to take home some of Hamblock's masterpieces when you stroll through the store. While turtles are a fan favorite, she revealed that hot cocoa bombs had been their top overall seller since opening their doors.
Does the candymaker have any favorites? “I love them all, but one of my favorites is a seasonal item. It’s called “Fox in Snow.” It’s a chocolate fox laying in a pillowy bed of sparkly cotton candy,” said Early. “Although, flavor-wise, it’s pretty hard to beat the chocolate-dipped caramel apples.”
Operating hours for everyone
Do you work a 9-5 job and get frustrated when a business is only open during that same timeframe? SparkleFox’s business hours cater to everyone. This shop has several evenings and weekend hours to accommodate your last-minute sugar-craving or need for a housewarming gift.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Thursday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
SparkleFox has online ordering through its website (link listed below) with in-store pickup. There are some delivery options available.
An added delight | gift items
While your gelato choice is being scooped up, browse the shop for its many unique and fun gift non-candy items. Candles, bubble baths, loose leaf teas, coloring books, stuffed animals, art kits, hand-painted notebooks, cups and mugs, whiskey stone sets, and seasonal ware are just a few gift items available for sale.
Plans for the future
Early has got plans. Next year, she wants to add a wine bar at the back of the store and a mobile bar.
“We’re hoping to do wine tastings along with specialty cocktails like cotton candy martinis and other candy-themed drinks. Some fun special themed events are being planned like girls’ nights,” said Early. “Next year, we hope to have a Halloween party,” she added.
Early is experimenting with edible sugar art and hoping to someday open an additional location in Galena or the Chicago suburbs.
SparkleFox Confections has a busy 2022 coming up. Keep an eye on its social media channels for upcoming events–the links are listed at the end of the article.
It’s an excellent place to be.
This sweets shop is a welcome addition to Oregon. Early is more than thankful for the support she has received in the short time the store has been open.
“I can’t say how many times people have told us how genuinely happy that we are here and how much they want us to succeed. People appreciate the treats, atmosphere, and the aesthetics of the shop,” commented Early. “I was also astonished at how far our customer base goes. We’ve had people come out from Rockford and even the suburbs just to check out the shop or pick up their favorite treats.”
108 N. 4th Street
Oregon, IL, US 61061
Train stations were commonplace.
American railroad stations used to be a common sight throughout the country as nearly every town, large or small, contained at least one. During a bygone era when trains handled almost all interstate and intrastate transportation, these facilities were vital.
As rail travel waned and the shipping industry turned to other modes, many stations met the wrecking ball. Fortunately, the town of Amboy, population of just under 2,900, didn’t let that happen.
The longest railroad line in the world at its completion in 1855
The Amboy Depot Museum is a three-building complex situated on the rail yard of the Northern Division Headquarters of the Charter Line of the Illinois Central Railroad. It was the first line built by the railroad, running from Cairo, at the southernmost tip of Illinois, northward through Galena, to East Dubuque. When completed in 1855, it was the longest railroad line in the world.
Touring the museum grounds on a fall day
Early in October, I made the trip down Highway 52 from Dixon to Amboy to visit the Amboy Depot Museum. I was rather excited because even though I grew up and later lived somewhat near this historic Lee County venue, I never had the opportunity to visit.
Peggy Horstman, secretary of the Amboy Depot Museum Commission, was kind enough to take me through the museum on a customarily closed day. She was born and raised in Amboy until she left for college and returned to Lee County when she and her husband retired to a home on the Rock River, just north of Dixon, in 2015. Before retiring, Horstman worked in state government her entire career. She was a member of Governor Jim Thompson's program and policy staff and then served as the Illinois Medical Practice Act administrator.
While taking the tour, I was continually surprised about all this venue has to offer. It isn't just a railroad museum–although there is a lot of railroad memorabilia. “We have items depicting the history of Amboy and the surrounding area. There’s a one-room schoolhouse, furnished as it would have been when it was in use. In the freight house, we have an extensive collection of rocks and minerals. Several paranormal groups have visited the depot building and plan on returning for further exploration,” remarked Horstman. “There’s something for everyone!”
It’s a seasonal attraction.
The Amboy Depot Museum’s 2021 season is quickly coming to its closing date on October 31, with its reopening on April 1, 2022. However, the property is open for this year’s Christmas Walk on Saturday, December 11. Keep an eye out for the museum’s Facebook page event notices.
Horstman proudly displayed a handmade quilt by local quilter Becky Welty. It’s to be raffled off during the evening as a fundraiser for the museum during the December 11 event.
Masks are required upon entering. Hand sanitizer is available on the premises.
Horstman and the museum commission have some plans once the COVID pandemic wanes. One of which is creating a small research area on the first floor. “It’s all in the works. We want to gather the Amboy and Lee County histories and have them all here for those wanting to do research,” said Horstman. “They can conduct their studies and not be interrupted.”
The grounds include several buildings chronicling this area’s history
The Amboy Depot
The interior of the museum is an essentially unchanged Victorian division headquarters of 1876. The current building replaced the original 1855 depot after it was destroyed by fire in 1875. The 11-foot ceilings and 8-foot doorways towered over me. The wood trim around these doorways and windows is original. You’ll get lost while wandering through the 19 rooms over two floors while taking in some of the rarest artifacts of the Illinois Central Railroad. I was surprised by the existence of a beautiful curved staircase. Horstman said that the stairs are often used for special occasion photography sessions such as weddings, proms, etc.
The other rooms contain artifacts and remembrances of Amboy's history, from its 1854 incorporation as a city to the 21st century. In the early 90s, the museum underwent an extensive restoration on the interior, with all rooms replastered, the staircase restored, and all original woodwork repainted.
The Illinois Central Freight House
This freight house was built one block north of the depot and is of wooden construction. Built in 1904, it replaced the original freight house that was made of brick near the depot. When the railroad line through Amboy was abandoned in the mid-1980s, the freight house ended up on a separate parcel from the depot and was in private ownership for nearly two decades. When the owners indicated they wanted to dispose of this property, the depot museum borrowed enough money to pour a concrete foundation and moved it to the current museum property in January 2003.
The artifacts include a collection of antique tools used by the railroad and by the area's farmers of yesteryear. The most notable among these donated artifacts is an extensive rock and fossil collection.
The Palmer School was originally built in 1924 on Illinois Route 26, six miles west of Amboy. It is typical of the one-room schoolhouses prevalent throughout rural America during that era. It is made of wooden construction, measures 25 feet by 40 feet, and is naturally lit with east-facing windows. In addition to the sizeable instructional room, it also contains a second backroom built originally for storage, coats, etc.
The school was saved from demolition and moved to the current museum grounds in 1991. It has been fully restored both inside and out, reflecting what was typically found in a one-room schoolhouse of the early 20th century, such as a cast-iron stove, chalk writing slates, piano, desks with ink wells, etc. Most of the furnishings and historic collectibles were supplied by former Amboy resident Clint Conway.
Steam Locomotive NS&W #76
This locomotive is a steam engine built in 1929 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works and used as a switcher for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad in the Detroit area. Retired from service in 1958, the engine was sold as scrap. Luckily, P.W. Dillon, owner of Northwestern Steel & Wire in Sterling, Illinois, came to the rescue of several of these treasures.
Instead of melting down the locomotives, he ordered them renovated to replace the aging locomotives internally switching in his sprawling steel mill. This particular locomotive was brought out of storage, restored, and officially re-commissioned in 1976, as NS&W #76, making it the last steam engine commissioned for regular freight service in America. This renovated switcher then worked in daily service until P.W died in 1980.
Ultimately, the locomotive was obtained by the Amboy Depot Commission and moved to a place of honor in front of the depot where it stands today.
Orphan Train monument
The Orphan Train movement began in 1854 to give homes to the orphaned and abandoned children who lived on the streets of New York City and Boston.
The Children’s Aid Society was formed and devised a plan to send the children westward to homes where they could become part of a family and meet the need for farm labor and domestic help. Several hundred of these children came to the Sauk River Valley before the practice ended in 1929.
Bryn Callahan, a Moline High School senior and president of the Children of the American Revolution’s Illinois chapter, started the project to bring attention to the more than 10,000 riders who found homes in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, and Carroll counties, and elsewhere in Illinois, from 1854 to 1929. Callahan’s great-great-great-grandfather, Richard Groharing, rode on one train with his brothers, William and Edward, who eventually found a home in Amboy.
This statue honoring these children was dedicated in 2019 and can be found at the entrance of the Amboy Depot Museum.
The museum’s historical timeline
- 1854: The original depot was built but destroyed by fire in 1875
- 1876: The current primary building of the museum is rebuilt, designed by James Nocquet, a Frenchman by birth and training who began his career in America as a staff architect for the Illinois Central Railroad.
- 1894: The division headquarters’ functions in Amboy were discontinued by the railroad. The remaining depot functions are consolidated into four rooms on the ground floor, and the upper floor becomes the residence of the station agent's family.
- 1967: The last station agent, Carl Edwards, died, and the depot was closed by the railroad, where it fell into disrepair.
- 1973: Mayor, Kenneth McCracken, formed the Amboy Depot Commission to begin initial basic repairs.
- 1976: The fledgling museum reopens after townspeople donated building materials and collectibles.
- 1984: The City of Amboy takes title to the depot when Illinois Central abandons its Charter Line through Amboy.
- 1991: Palmer School moved onto the museum property.
- 1992: The depot is listed in the National Register of Historic Places at around the same time the Federal Highway Administration announced its Environmental Enhancement Program, which allowed funding to restore historic transportation structures.
- 2003: Grand opening of the Amboy Depot Museum is held.
- 2003: Amboy's Illinois Central Freight House moved onto the museum property.
- 2019: Orphan Train monument dedicated.
- 2021: The museum obtains 501c3 status (non-profit)
You can feel the love.
Horstman is among the driving force of many people in keeping the museum running. “My mother, Norma Shapiro, was one of the original group of Amboyans that fought to save the building from demolition and make it a museum for the city of Amboy. She and the rest of the founders worked tirelessly to make this a reality, and I am proud to be able to help to keep her dream alive for present and future citizens of Amboy and Lee County,” she said.
Hours | admission
Sunday and Thursday | 1:00 to 4:00 pm
Friday and Saturday | 10:00 to 4:00 pm
CLOSED: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Holidays
Admission: Free. Donations accepted.
Amboy Depot Museum
c/o Amboy City Hall
227 East Main St
Amboy, IL 61310
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