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Archive for illinois

Following the Mississippi

By Linda Tancs

You may have wondered whether you can drive along the course of the Mississippi River. Yes, there’s a road for that. The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, passing through 10 states. Its designation as a National Scenic Byway is in recognition of the route’s outstanding assets in the areas of culture, history, nature, recreation and scenic beauty. The different roads and highways comprising the byway are marked by a green pilot’s wheel logo to keep you on track. Watch for river-related attractions and interpretative centers. You can take in the whole route in 36 hours of straight driving, but why not stretch it out for four to 10 days and enjoy the ride.

Little Egypt

By Linda Tancs

Southern Illinois has long been referred to as “Little Egypt.” The origin of that moniker depends on whom you ask. One popular theory is that the region was so christened because its fertile bottomlands resemble its Middle Eastern sister. Whatever the reason, the regional designation resulted in place names like Cairo, Carmi, Karnak, Goshen, Thebes and Dongola. It’s a place rich in natural wonders, like the impressive rock formations at Ferne Clyffe State Park, a place named for its abundance of ferns when it was purchased by two brothers from Cairo in 1899. Autumn is a great time to watch summer’s tree foliage transform into a spectacular mix of reds, purples, golds and browns. If you hike the Round Bluff Nature Preserve, you’ll get the best of both worlds: stunning autumn color and sandstone cliffs.

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To limit the spread of COVID-19, attractions may be closed or have partial closures. Please keep those affected by the virus in your thoughts and be sure to follow the safety practices advocated by the Centers for Disease Control. Stay safe, and be well.

French Heritage in Illinois

By Linda Tancs

If it weren’t for the place names, you’d likely forget the influence of the French in what was once known as Illinois Country. Fort de Chartres State Historic Site, for example, served as the French seat of government and its chief military installation in Upper Louisiana from 1753 until 1765 when it was occupied by the British. Home to a succession of four forts, the present-day structure at the site is a partial reconstruction of a French colonial fort built in the 1750s, a massive stone fort that had replaced three earlier wooden forts, only to fall into ruin with the encroachment of the Mississippi River. The imprint of original foundations remains, along with two reconstructed stone buildings and a restored powder magazine, believed to be the oldest building in Illinois. Declared a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places, the site is located 4 miles west of Prairie du Rocher.

Chicago’s Bridges

By Linda Tancs

Chicago, Illinois, may be better known for its deep dish pizza and skyscrapers, but it’s the bridges that really steal the show. Home primarily to the trunnion bascule-style bridge, the city purportedly sports more movable bridges than any other locale in North America. You can learn all about Chicago’s bridge-building history at the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum, located within the five-story bridgehouse of the iconic Michigan Avenue Bridge. For a real treat, watch the bridge lift from inside the facility. To accommodate sail boats and other tall vessels traveling between the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, Chicago’s bridges open approximately 40 times a year from April to November.

Celebrating American Writers

By Linda Tancs

Besides being celebrated American writers, luminaries like Mark Twain, John Updike, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson and Lorraine Hansberry now have something else in common: they’re part of history at the new American Writers Museum. Located in Chicago, Illinois, the mission of the  museum is to engage the public in celebrating American writers—past and present—and exploring their influence on the nation’s history,  identity and culture. Not far from the Art Institute and Millenium Park (home of the Cloud Gate), the facility has 11,000 square feet of galleries with interesting interactive touches like the “Word Waterfall,” in which a light projection continuously reveals literary quotes on a wall of densely packed, seemingly random words.

Putting Rockford on the Map

By Linda Tancs

Company executive Robert Hall Tinker wanted to build a home that would put Rockford, Illinois, on the map. He succeeded in stunning fashion with a Swiss cottage on the limestone bluff overlooking Kent Creek. Inspired by his tour of Europe in 1862, Tinker Swiss Cottage is surrounded by 27 acres of greenery and is one of only a handful of Swiss-style homes remaining in the United States. A time capsule of the Victorian era, the home and its furnishings now comprise a museum operated by the local park district. Today is one of several Donation Days when entry to the museum is free for Illinois residents. Guided tours are required due to the nature of the artifacts.

Life in a Glass Box

By Linda Tancs

Located on a 62-acre secured private estate in Plano, Illinois, Farnsworth House is an illustration of life in a glass box. Boasting continuous glass walls, the International Style-house was designed in 1945 by illustrious architect Mies van der Rohe for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. Her country retreat along the Fox River was intended to complement and reflect its natural surroundings. The view is particularly striking in the evening, which is why moonlight tours are back by popular demand. Running at the full moon from May to October, the tours begin at dusk and return after dark. The property is otherwise open from April to November. Buy tickets in advance to guarantee access.

A Grand Mansion in the Illinois Valley

By Linda Tancs

The stately Hegeler Carus Mansion in La Salle, Illinois, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic Landmark. Virtually unaltered since its completion in the late 1800s, the mansion is made of solid brick covered with a type of stucco that has been smoothed and tooled to resemble massive stone blocks. Because zinc (which does not rust) was readily available from the nearby Matthiessen & Hegeler Zinc Company, the metal is used throughout the mansion, including on its flat roof, gutters and downspouts. Designed by the architect of Chicago’s famous Water Tower, the residence features a horse shoe staircase and an elegant wrap-around porch that graces three sides of the home, a full story above ground. In addition to being the Hegeler family homestead, the grand estate also became home to Open Court Publishing Company, launched in 1887 by Edward Hegeler to provide a forum for the discussion of philosophy, science and religion and to make philosophical classics widely available by making them affordable.

A Contrast in Illinois

By Linda Tancs

Unlike most of Illinois, the southern tip between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers boasts rolling hills and rugged cliffs teeming with plant and animal life, the likes of which can only mean one thing—you’ve reached a forest. Indeed, this is the site of Shawnee National Forest, the only national forest in the state. Comprising nearly 287,000 acres, one of its best kept secrets is likely High Knob. Just steps away from the parking area, its mountain views rival that of the Smokies. A picnic area provides daytime parking and a trailhead for the five miles of interconnecting trails below the Knob.

The Art of Bean in Chicago

By Linda Tancs

To bean or not to bean—that is the question for visitors to Chicago, Illinois. That is to say, will you visit The Bean? Officially known as Cloud Gate (because 80 percent of its surface reflects the sky), it’s an interactive sculpture (shaped like a bean, of course) gracing the promenade at Millennium Park. Its stainless steel skin captures the environment around it, a mirror to the soul of The Windy City. And a fun house mirror for those gawking at it. The monument is 33 feet high, 42 feet wide and 66 feet long. Its reflection is kept pristine by washing it twice a year with 40 gallons of liquid detergent.

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