Harmilda, icon of Harvard's annual Milk Days celebration of the town's farming heritage.

Destination: Downtown Harvard

Experience the unique character of our region, as we explore places off the beaten trail. Click on the interactive map below to find these locations on the go.

Harmilda, icon of Harvard's annual Milk Days celebration of the town's farming heritage.
Harmilda, icon of Harvard’s annual Milk Days celebration of the town’s farming heritage.

Our region’s agricultural heritage is still an integral part of this small community in western McHenry County. You’ll notice it in the cows that decorate downtown, and at the largest employers in this city of 9,500. Set at the intersection of U.S. Route 14 and Illinois Route 173, this is a community where neighbors and locally owned businesses go out of their way to support each other and to welcome visitors.

The Events

➲ Harvard Milk Days
The city’s largest festival of the year, scheduled this June 6-8, pays homage to the area’s thriving dairy farm industry. Illinois’ longest consecutively run festival includes a fair queen, parade, tractor show and milk-drinking contest. Harmilda, the cow statue that overlooks the U.S. 14/IL Route 173 intersection, derives her name from the festival. (HARvard MILk DAys)

➲ Friday Night Lights
If you visit on a Friday evening during the fall, the downtown may be pretty quiet by sundown. High school football is a major source of entertainment here, and the stands are filled with local fans. In 2013, the Harvard Hornets went undefeated until late in the playoffs. 1103 N. Jefferson St.

➲ Tri-County Pro Rodeo
Release your inner cowboy by attending events like calf dressing, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing and bull riding. This year’s rodeo is July 18-19. Milky Way Park, IL Route 173 & Lawrence Road.

The Food & Farming

➲ Dean’s Foods
Located just west of town, Harvard’s third-largest employer supports low food-mile dairy production. Supplied with dairy from nearby farms and jugs from a nearby manufacturer, this producer distributes to local grocery stores. Its production center isn’t open for public tours. 6303 Maxon Road.

➲ Twin Garden Farms
Gary Pack tends 3,000 acres on the farm his grandparents purchased in the 1950s. It’s best known for its custom-bred, non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) Mirai sweet corn, found only in July and August at the farm or at nearby farmers markets. 23017 IL Route 173, (815) 943-7448.

➲ Mexican Meals
Because of its agricultural roots, Harvard is about 45 percent Hispanic. Several Mexican eateries and a grocery store cater to south-of-the-border tastes. Las Rancheritos downtown offers 99-cent Taco Tuesdays. 21 Ayer St., (815) 943-4792.

The Destinations

➲ Metra Stop
Here, Metra’s Union Pacific passenger rail begins its journey to downtown Chicago, following a route established by entrepreneur and early settler Elbridge Ayer, namesake of the downtown’s main thoroughfare. 1 N. Ayer St., (815) 943-6468.

➲ Starline Factory
Originally a mass producer of the very first hay carrier, this 1880s-era factory is slowly being repurposed as a venue for social gatherings, wedding receptions and art shows. Local artists can lease private studio space inside, and display their work during the monthly Fourth Friday gatherings, which are open to the public. 300 W. Front St., (815) 943-4805.

➲ Steel Heart Ltd.
At the southeast end of the Starline Factory, Jacek and Gretchen Peczkowski display intricate works of handcrafted metal. From garden art and baskets to trellises and gazebos, most of these unique wrought-iron works are designed by Jacek. 208 W. Front St., (815) 943-3465.

➲ Raven Stone Castle
Set atop a hill on a family farmstead, this Medieval-style castle has turrets and towers. Actually a private residence and bed-and-breakfast, the castle hosts social gatherings, weekend bookings and weddings, as well as occasional public teas. 4504 IL Route 23, (815) 943-5764.