Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Beith House Museum
8 Indiana St., St. Charles, (630) 377-6424, ppfv.org/beith-house-museum
William Beith, a former stonemason in Kane County, built this Greek Revival-style house just steps away from the Fox River in 1850.
When the Scottish immigrant came to St. Charles in 1843, he immediately established himself as a local builder.
The house is one of only a few riverstone structures in the area that has not gone through a major renovation.
“He lived in the house for about 10 years,” says Kelsey Shipton, executive director of the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley (PPFV), which now maintains the home. “This building is significant because it’s one of the oldest downtown buildings and it’s a good example of Greek Revival architecture and Beith’s direct masonry construction.”
PPFV bought the house in 1980 and carefully restored it to show how a home in the mid-19th century looked. It also became a preservation study house, which shows off the interior and exterior restoration techniques as well as the decorative arts from the 1800s.
The PPFV holds regular tours to show off the house. Hands-on activities and exhibits on-site allow guests to learn about the structure firsthand.
“This isn’t a ‘don’t-touch’ museum,” Shipton says. “It’s more of a ‘let’s play with the house and learn about the history hands-on’ kind of museum. It’s meant to foster curiosity in kids and adults.”
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tours available on Tuesdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
Coral Township Witness Tree
Ridge Lane, about one-third mile from Riley Harmony Road in rural Marengo
This ordinary-looking tree played an important role in the development of McHenry County.
This sprawling, 200-year-old bur oak tree and a surrounding 50-foot radius are protected, by ordinance, from any form of development.
As white settlers made their way through Illinois, federally commissioned land surveyors mapped out land, marking certain trees as “witnesses.” Without street signs or GPS in those days, surveyors would cut a notch into a tree, permanently landmarking it for future surveys. The surveyors measured distances from such landmarks by using chains and links.
This tree in rural Coral Township was mentioned specifically in the 1837 field notes of surveyor John Thompson and his crew. It was marked as a quarter-section post in the survey, so land could be legally described before being sold.
This historic witness tree is one of a small number of such trees with known whereabouts in the state.
Many of Illinois’ witness trees have died from natural causes. Real estate developers and farmers removed other trees as they used the land for development and agriculture.
511 N. Lake Zurich Road, Barrington, (847) 381-0687, barringtonparkdistrict.org
This 45-acre park once held the corporate headquarters for the Jewel Tea Co., which you know better today as Jewel-Osco.
In 1930, Jewel Tea Co. made the radical decision to move its headquarters from Chicago to suburbia. The company operated in Barrington until the 1980s.
Park Foods Corp. then moved into the Jewel Tea location and used it until 1997, when the complex was purchased by Northwest Community Hospital with plans to redevelop the site. Concerned community members called on the Barrington Park District to purchase the abandoned headquarters from developers.
“There were community forums prior to the referendum to decide what the abandoned site would become,” says Teresa Jennings, executive director of the Barrington Park District. “The consensus was to create a park.”
In March 2002, a citizens-driven referendum passed, thus green-lighting the effort to create Citizens Park.
Today, this sprawling green space has several gathering spots, including the Jewel Tea Pavilion, which is used for weddings, rentals, fundraisers and camps. Robert Soule Amphitheater is used for concerts, shows, lectures, storytelling and music performances.
The park also has a large playground, basketball and tennis courts, numerous trails, and two waterfalls leading up to the John Larkins Bell Gazebo. The park is also home to The Pepper Family Treehouse, a fully accessible structure with 180 square feet of ramps rising around ash and oak trees that lead to an open-air deck, a gazebo and a cabin.
Citizens Park was dedicated in 2007.
“The park received seven awards the first year it was open, and it’s our most active park,” Jennings says. “This park is a gem.”