Midwest Exploring…or Churches and Beer! July 4 to August 7
The Fourth of July found us parked in Fairview and glad to be here! We hunted high and low for a Fourth of July parade to attend and chose the one in nearby Farmington. Probably not our best decision, since it was rather small and had no bands or baton twirlers!
These twins and their mom were pretty cute as they tried to catch candy tossed from the floats.
This little Fourth of July cutie on the right was in the bicycle brigade and holding her own quite nicely!
Fairview had a great fireworks display for such a small town and we were sure to find good seats on the outfield of the ball diamond. As we sat and waited for darkness to come a voice from behind says, “Well, who are these two old folks?” It was Mark Meyer! He’s a classmate of ours and we hadn’t seen him since high school. He and I rode the same school bus for 12 years. We had a delightful conversation and met his wife and 6 year old son. Yep, quite a guy!
Sunday, July 5, we went to the Methodist Church in London Mills. My parents worshipped here after they moved to town and were members here for many years. When my brother Roger died in 1989 we donated the cross in front of the organ pipes in his memory. Attending church here brings back a lot of memories, as I sat in the congregation surrounded by people I’ve known all my life. During my 4-H years, we had our meetings in the basement of this church. During high school, my best friend Ardith and I helped with Bible School here. Good stuff!
While we were parked in Fairview, helping Jim and Maxine, Jerry’s folks, we also helped a friend demolish the inside of an old house. Built in 1920, it had plaster and lathe walls which all had to come down. Our friend had dreams of insulation, modern wiring, and new plumbing...all still to come. It’s been quite a process with a lot of work yet to be done. The photo above shows only one of the many truck load of trash that were hauled off. Fortunately we tossed stuff right out the second story window. As you might guess, we did this on some very hot and humid days and found falling asleep at night absolutely no problem at all!
When we pulled out the fiberglass tub/shower combination in the upstairs bathroom, we uncovered some poor squirrel’s stash of hickory nuts. When we pulled down walls and ceilings we found hundreds more! About a block away in the park there was a huge hickory tree and some squirrel had been very diligent about laying in a winter’s supply.
One evening, our farmer friend Alfie Morey invited us out to his farm pond to catch some catfish for an upcoming fish fry. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel! These fish were routinely fed and when Alfie wanted to do some catching, he simply didn’t feed the fish for a day or two. Alfie had a little pontoon boat from which the seven of us fished. We caught two 5-gallon buckets of lovely catfish in about an hour. Everyone caught nice big fish but 8 year old Caleb was the winner with the biggest catch! A week or so later we were back at Alfie’s for fried catfish, corn and tomatoes out of the garden, and yummy gooey deserts. Life doesn’t get much better here in the wilds of Illinois!
I won’t bore you with the details of our visits to Jim’s doctors in Peoria, but we were in Fairview most of July to be chauffeurs. Recovery from the permanent pacemaker insertion was a slow process and I think Jim had been discouraged at the slow recovery. During July he was also hospitalized for dehydration and a UTI. Those events took their toll as well. The health care system, vast and confusing for anyone, was quite daunting indeed to an 88 year old. We were glad to be here to help the folks navigate these murky waters!
Sunday July 19, we joined my aunt and uncle, Lowell and Marilyn Rask, at their church service in Victoria, IL. They attended the Swedish Methodist Church there – the same church where they were married in 1952. Their descent down the church stairs after their wedding ceremony was one of my earliest memories, and they graciously recreated it for me. This beautiful old church, full of gorgeous stained glass, a hand carved pulpit, and a small congregation of mostly white-haired ladies was probably on the demise. Like many other churches we had visited in the Midwest, very few from the community attend the service. Sad.
The next Sunday found us attending the Dutch Reform Church in Fairview. This was the oldest Dutch Reform Church west of the Allegheny Mountains. The church was built in 1838 and still stands as a center of worship for people in the Fairview Community. We had been invited to attend by a high school classmate, Jack Schleich and his wife Connie. In the photo you can see Jack and Jerry visiting after church. As luck would have it, a potluck was held after the service and we got to go! Yay! Another opportunity to visit with many old friends and high school acquaintances.
Toward the end of July Jim and Maxine were back on an “even keel” (as my mom used to say!) so we thought we could go exploring for a few days. I had wanted to explore Henry County, where my maternal grandmother grew up, and all the small towns there. On July 28 we departed for a campground in Geneseo on the north bank of the Hennepin Canal. What an interesting spot! In the photo, I’m standing just downstream from a lock and you can see that the gate no longer closed. Lots of deferred maintenance here.
According to Wipedia:
The Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, also just called the Hennepin Canal, is an abandoned waterway in northwest Illinois, between the Mississippi River at Rock Island and the Illinois River near Hennepin. The entire canal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Opened in 1907, the canal was soon abandoned because of railroad competition. It was resurrected in the late 20th century as a recreational waterway. The main canal length is 75.2 miles, and its feeder canal is 29.3 miles long. The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone cut facings. Although the Hennepin enjoyed only limited success as a waterway, engineering innovations used in its construction were a bonus to the construction industry. The canal was used as a training ground for engineers that later worked on the Panama Canal. Both the Hennepin and Panama Canals used concrete lock chambers and both used a feeder canal from a man made lake to water the canals because both needed water to flow ‘uphill.’
The other reason to explore Henry County was to meet my first cousin once removed, Matt Nelson, his wife Faith and their three children, Hayley, Drew, and Sydney. Matt is the son of my first cousin Doug Nelson. Matt and Faith invited us for dinner, along with his mom and dad, cousin Doug and his wife Chris. Needless to say, we had a delightful time with them! What a great family…obviously they come from good genes.
We stayed two nights at the Geneseo Campground so we could explore the small towns of Henry County. Geneseo is delightful and would be a great place to live. We toured their historical museum and learned that the building was originally two separate homes with individual entrances. The interior was very well preserved, including a chandelier in the south dining room from Chicago’s Hull House with 191 glass prisms. The house was a stop on the Underground Railway and we saw the “hidey-holes” in which runaway slaves were hidden. The story was told of one such family who had to remain hidden and quiet during a particularly diligent search of the property. A garden herb was mashed and given to the family’s infant and the baby was able to remain “quiet” for a day and a half. No one seems to know what the herb was…strong stuff!
We wanted to visit the little village of Andover, where my maternal grandmother, Ada Peterson Adams, grew up on a farm near the Edwards River. She told the story of ice-skating to school on the river during the winter months, and seeing wolves running along the banks following the children home from school Yikes!!
Andover was an early Swedish settlement in west central Illinois and home to the Jenny Lind Chapel. This little church was named for the “Swedish Nightengale”, because she gave the founders $1500 for its construction. The first Swedish immigrants arrived on the unbroken prairie in September and many of them died of cholera. Lumber, which was to have been used for the church steeple was used instead to make coffins. The chapel still didn’t have a steeple. So many people died of cholera in Andover between 1849 and 1850 that hundreds are buried in mass graves in the Chapel Cemetery and in the blocks south and north of there.
The Swedish Lutheran Church grew in membership to such an extent that within less than a decade a new structure was planned nearby, seating 1,000 worshippers. Named Augustana Lutheran Church, it was built as the mother church of the Augustana Lutheran Synod. It had a huge sanctuary and was impressively decorated. As so many churches in the area, though, its congregation was shrinking and we could see lots of sad, deferred maintenance.
After two fascinating days in Henry County it was time to move on. The next stop was the home of Jerry’s fraternity brother, Jerry Hipple, and his wife Sue. (You may remember, we met them in eastern Indiana in June). Jerry and Sue had finally finished their new home and were in the process of moving out of this lovely old farm house. We had three busy days helping pack boxes, dig and lay tile for the house drains, and even shopping at the Apple Store in Oakbrook Mall!
Ahhhhh, the wonders of 21st century technology! Jerry and Sue had received an iPad from their son Aaron, but Jerry decided he needed his own. Not bad for a guy who says he likes to watch “Amish” TV!
Jerry and Jerry found yet another way to spend a Saturday morning…trenching and laying tile for the house drainage. How did people do this before backhoes?
Jerry and Sue’s new home was beautiful. Their new kitchen was well-designed and we loved “eating in”!
My sister-in-law Becky Yurkovich has a new “fella” near the Hipples so we got a morning’s tour of the area with her. She and Mike made a handsome couple! I am sure she wouldn’t mind me telling you that they met on “Farmers Only.com” and that was a very good thing.
After church with Jerry and Sue on Sunday, we were off again, ready to brave the wilds of Wisconsin. Rather than using our cupboard full of maps, I used my iPad and Google Maps to navigate to our next stop. This was the first time that Google let me down. We were on county roads, narrow lanes and goat paths! Abe struggled to dodge the low hanging branches and Jerry was worried we meet a milk truck careening over the hill on a narrow road. We finally arrived safely at a lovely RV park in Spring Green, WI, right on the Wisconsin River, about 40 miles west of Madison.
On Monday, August 3rd, we chose to brave the big city of Madison first. We set our biases aside and wandered through the University of Wisconsin campus. Quite a challenge since U of W is University of Illinois’ arch rival! We also toured the capitol building…one of the nicest we’ve seen. As a bonus, we were there at lunch time to hear the protesters in the central rotunda, railing against their governor.
As you probably know, Wisconsin is famous for cheese and beer, and we did our best to sample the local products. Jerry got a chuckle out of this bench outside one of the microbreweries we found in Madison.
Tuesday, August 4, we toured the small towns around Spring Green. Just to the north, in Plains, WI, was St. Luke’s, a beautiful old Catholic Church. The parishioners had built a path for the Stations of the Cross up the hillside above the town to St. Anne’s chapel. We loved this hike and the spectacular views of the countryside.
The chapel was amazing. Construction began in 1923 and was it was built by hand out of stones that were carried up to the hilltop from the valley below. The hilltop on which the chapel stood was the tallest in the area and many many years ago was a meeting place for the local Indian tribes, the Winnebago, Fox, Sauk, and Sioux. They called it Council Bluff and sent smoke signals from its summit. Nearby Camel Hill was used as an Indian burying ground.
Our morning here combined some interesting local history, a great hike, and beautiful views of the countryside. Life doesn’t get much better!!!
Our day had only begun…there was much more to see. We planned to find a local brewery in Mount Horeb and were delightfully successful…Voila! The Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery. After a burger for Jerry, a salad for me, and yummy beer for each of us, we were revived and ready to check out this little town.
Mount Horeb was known as the troll capital of the world…a dubious distinction at best!...was quite proud of its Norwegian heritage. The main street through town was called “Troll Way” and we saw little trolls peeking out of flowers, around corners, and standing brazenly right in front of the Chamber of Commerce! Mount Horeb was on the Military Ridge State Trail. The 40-mile trail connected Dodgeville and Madison by way of an 1855 military route. The trail ran along the southern borders of Governor Dodge and Blue Mound state parks following the Chicago and North Western Railroad corridor. Today it’s a popular biking and hiking trail.
New Glarus, WI, was our next stop and, even though we found this town a little too touristy for our taste, it was interesting to see the evidence of their Swiss heritage in their architecture. Our main objective was New Glarus brewing. A couple of nights previously, we had discovered “Spotted Cow”, a belgian style beer made here and wanted to try some more of their wares. As you can see from the signs at the beer-tasting counter, they were very creative in the naming of their brews. The final one was difficulty to read…”Raspberry Tart”…a beer with a sweet, fruity flavor….YEEEEWWWW! Not for us!
Wednesday, August 4, we drove south to tour House on the Rock. The House on the Rock, originally opened in 1959 was a complex of architecturally unique rooms, streets, gardens and shops designed by Alex Jordan, Jr. We had toured the house in the mid 70’s during a motorcycle trip with my brother Roger and his friend Verne.
The "house" itself was atop Deer Shelter Rock, a column of rock approximately 60 feet, 70 feet by 200 feet on the top, which stands in a forest nearby. Additions were made to the original structure and other buildings added over the course of several decades. The complex now features "The Streets of Yesterday", a re-creation of an early twentieth century American town; "The Heritage of the Sea", featuring nautical exhibits and a 200-foot model of a fanciful whale-like sea creature; "The Music of Yesterday", a huge collection of automatic music machines; and what the management bills as "the world's largest indoor carousel", among other attractions. I told Jerry I thought it was like a visit to Hogwarts (from “Harry Potter”)! We figured we walked about 4 miles during the four-hour tour.
One of the coolest rooms was the infinity room which just out 218 feet from the house without supports underneath. The room had more than 3,000 windows! No longer do they let anyone go clear to the end…not that most people would.
A painting of the outside of this room gave us a better feel for the structure.
Just one more photo of this strangely intriguing place with one of the spookier inhabitants.
Thursday, August 7, we returned to Fairview. What a great trip we had! We are looking forward to many more.
Meanwhile, out in San Jose, CA, our sweet little granddaughter Lauren, age 2 ½, was busy learning to roller skate! Jill, our daughter and her mom, said they were able to tighten her wheels so that they didn’t go zooming out from under her. Sorry…just had to share this photo...it's a Grandma thing.