Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Island Lake Boat Tours
One-half mile north of Illinois Route 176 on Eastway Dr., Island Lake, (847) 609-9050, mchenrycountyhistory.org
Hosted by the Historical Society of Island Lake (HSIL), these unique boat tours pry history lessons from the dusty library and stage them on the gentle, bobbing surface of the lake.
Running its fourth year of tours, HSIL continues its mission to educate folks about the diverse history of the area.
“Some people just want to go on a boat ride,” tour coordinator Liz Nelson says. “There are great chances to learn about interesting landmarks of the area, but some people just come for the sights and sounds.”
On tours, groups ranging from 6 to 12 people join volunteer boat captains as they maneuver around Island Lake’s namesake waterway. Docent guides, provided by HSIL, enlighten passengers about landmarks speckling the islands and lakeshore. They may range from the residences of local celebrities to a flag pole taken from the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition World Fair in Chicago.
Tours last about an hour and usually pass the lake’s predominant features; its two islands teem with wildlife, from deer to native birds.
Tours are scheduled on an ad hoc basis, as boats and their owners are available. Available through mid-October, weekend tours are especially popular. To schedule a ride, contact the historical society.
1500 Crissey Ave., Batavia, (630) 232-5980, kaneforest.com
One of the best examples of an authentic Dutch windmill in the United States, this charming, 68-foot, five-story structure stands tall along the Fox River. The mill no longer churns grain, although it is fully functional, and it provides a unique glimpse into history, as this type was seldom built in the U.S.
Sitting adjacent to riverfront trails, the mill remains a popular destination both for locals to enjoy and for history explorers wishing to glimpse lifestyles of the past.
Built by a German craftsman in the mid-19th century, the structure stood in Lombard until it was purchased in 1914 by Geroge Fabyan, a wealthy industrialist who had the mill moved to its present spot, on what was then part of Fabyan’s summer estate.
The mill received recognition from the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
After years of weathering, the mill was declared structurally unsound in the early 2000s. Lucas Verbij, a world-renowned third-generation Dutch millwright, was hired to renovate it After extensive repairs, some of which required wood and gears to be shipped in from the Netherlands to maintain authenticity, it was opened again to the public in 2005.
Tours are open to the public every weekend, from 1-4 p.m., until Oct. 15. Private tours can be coordinated by contacting the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. The mill is located immediately west of Crissey Ave. (Illinois Route 25) between Illinois Route 38 and Fabyan Parkway.
421 Baker St., Lake Geneva, Wis., (262) 248-9711, historicalhotelsoflakegeneva.com
This mansion, constructed in 1855, offers some perks of a hotel that you just can’t find in modern lodging. The intimate setting of the 26-room cottage/carriage house and stables combo features croquet fields and a promenade of century-old oak trees circling its carefully tended gardens. Hotel guests can choose from a number of individually themed rooms within the mansion itself, the carriage house or the stable suites.
The mansion was originally built by Chicago doctor Phillip Maxwell as a summer escape for him and his wife, Jerutha.
Just a year after the building was constructed Maxwell moved permanently into the charming abode. Considered the first mansion built in Lake Geneva, the mansion welcomes its guests to enjoy the vintage decor, just as dignitaries and socialites who’ve stayed here, including President Ulysses S. Grant and Nancy Davis, who later married President Ronald Reagan.
The Maxwell property is well-known for its two bars, each of which has highly stylized atmospheres. The casual Apothecary bar offers a series of uniquely mixed beverages served from Erlenmeyer flasks and garnished with fresh herbs grown out back. From here, guests can enjoy a view of the property’s lush garden.
To enter the “lesser-known” tavern, doormen of the “Shh…” Speakeasy bar require a password shared only with hotel guests. But hunting for the magic words are well worth the endeavor, after one gains access to the 1920s, Prohibition-themed bottle club.
Within a short walking distance of the Geneva Lake waterfront and the city’s downtown district, this mansion is situated in an ideal location for daytime exploring.