Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Elgin U-46 Planetarium
312 Watch St., Elgin (847) 888-5000
The Elgin National Watch factory built this astronomical observatory in 1909, as a method of accurately keeping Central Standard Time and regulating the thousands of watches produced inside the factory. By mid-century, atomic clocks had made astronomical time-keeping obsolete, so in 1959, the observatory was donated to Elgin’s U-46 school district.
Soon after, the district added on a planetarium, to better engage students. Completed in 1963, it was the first public school district in Illinois to own an observatory and planetarium.
Although their main purpose is to serve the students of U-46, the observatory and planetarium are open to the public this year as part of the planetarium’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Astronomy shows will be offered most weekends during the school year, and each is geared toward different age groups, from four years old and up. They include some history about the building, a short video, stargazing and a building tour.
209 Main St., Woodstock, (815) 338-8555, classiccinemas.com
The historic Woodstock Square wouldn’t be the same without a theatre. For more than 100 years, 209 Main Street has been an entertainment venue, most recently as Classic Cinemas’ Woodstock Theatre, opened in 1988. The site was first home to the Princess Theatre in 1911. In 1927, the Princess was torn down to create the Miller Theatre, a 1,000-seat venue featuring a vaudeville stage and a Bartolo theatre organ. Several years later, it was converted to show “talkies,” that is, movies with sound.
By the time Classic Cinemas founders Willis and Shirley Johnson bought the theater, many repairs were needed to make it a functional cinema. Although the building has been modernized, it maintains a classic 1920s ambience. In fact, the Johnsons even took care to replicate the theater’s original marquee.
Cinema buffs may recognize that marquee in Groundhog Day, the beloved 1992 Bill Murray film. While shooting took place in Woodstock, the local cinema was dubbed The Alpine, a name that Classic Cinemas embraced during the yearlong production. Every February, the Johnsons celebrate the occasion by showing Groundhog Day.
The Woodstock Theatre is one of many area movie houses restored by Classic Cinemas and is currently finishing up a final phase of construction that will add more screens to the building.
When construction is completed in December, the Woodstock theatre will have eight screens, two of which are the restored versions of the classic auditoriums. The Johnsons’ business celebrates its 35th anniversary this year with a series of special promotions. For a full list of locations and show times, visit classiccinemas.com.
Goebbert’s Farm and Garden Center
40 W. Higgins Road, South Barrington, (847) 428-6727, goebbertsgardencenter.com
You might recognize this pumpkin patch and garden center by its 18-foot-wide fiberglass pumpkin head, smiling at passersby along Higgins Road and Interstate 90. “Happy Jack,” as he’s called, has sat atop the Goebbert silo since 1979, when Joe Goebbert built it to celebrate the farm’s first fall festival.
Today, Goebbert’s Farm offers a full fall experience, with an overflowing pumpkin patch, full petting zoo and plenty of places for the kids to play. While those activities last from late September through Halloween, the Garden Center actually opens in mid-April, when it offers a variety of plants and gardening materials. From July through September, Goebbert’s sells fresh produce such as sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, potatoes and zucchini.
It began in 1948, when George Goebbert opened a roadside vegetable stand in Arlington Heights. In 1972, George’s son, Joe, bought the 40-acre farm in South Barrington, closing the Arlington Heights location a few years later.
Goebbert’s maintains a second location in Hampshire, a pumpkin patch open September through October. During the spring and summer, this 200-acre farm grows 90 percent of the annuals, vegetables and fruits sold at the South Barrington location.