Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Old World Wisconsin
W372 S9727 Hwy 67, Eagle, Wis., (262) 594-6301, [email protected]
It may surprise you to learn that the largest open-air rural history museum in the U.S. is nearby in Eagle, Wis.
It sprawls across 480 rolling, wooded acres in the state’s south kettle moraine and is home to more than 60 authentic barns, farmsteads, village homes and other structures once used by Wisconsin settlers from Germany, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Africa, Norway and the eastern U.S. (dubbed “Yankees”) – in the period between 1840 and 1910. Most of the structures were identified throughout the state, deconstructed and painstakingly rebuilt on the site before its grand opening in 1976, the U.S. bicentennial.
Owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society, Old World Wisconsin is divided into ethnic homestead and farm areas, plus an 1880s village depicting the way diverse people came together and settled towns – a uniquely American experience. Depending on when you visit, you may encounter costumed interpreters tending real farms where heirloom gardens and crops are grown and historic breeds of animals are raised. You may learn to make sausage, churn butter, preserve fresh produce, winnow grain, spin wool, brew beer, work leather, hitch up a horse team, play a vintage game or sport, or ride an 1890s high-wheel tricycle.
During fall, the site is open weekends only, but there are loads of special events such as hearthside dinners, lectures, harvest activities and Halloween Legends and Lore, Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27. Also very special are the Old World Christmas events on Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, & 16.
If you visit, set aside an entire day for exploring.
Admission: $19 for adults; $10 for children age 5-17; $16 for seniors.
100 W. Main St., St. Charles, (630) 584-2100, hotelbaker.com
Nestled along the Fox River and established 90 years ago, Hotel Baker remains a crown jewel in St. Charles.
The hotel was the dream of Col. Edward J. Baker, a St. Charles native who inherited part of the Texaco Oil fortune with his niece, Dellora Baker Gates. Baker used the inheritance to create the elegant 55-room resort where he eventually resided.
The luxurious hotel, which cost about $1 million to build, opened its doors on June 2, 1928. Guests could stay there for $2.50 a night.
In 1971, after Baker’s death, the hotel was donated to Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), and it became a retirement home. Over the years, however, the building fell into disrepair and LSSI auctioned off the property.
Local businessmen Craig Frank and Neil Johnson purchased it in 1996 and began a $9 million renovation. They reopened the luxurious hotel in 1997, but due to financial problems, the operation folded in 2002.
The following year, Joe and Rowena Salas, longtime St. Charles residents, bought the building at a foreclosure auction and re-opened the hotel on March 20, 2004.
Over the years, the hotel has hosted numerous celebrities and politicians, including Louis Armstrong, Lawrence Welk, Presidents Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy, Gov. Adlai Stevenson and Billy Graham. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Woodstock on Film and on the Stage Mural and Sculpture Garden
Next to Classic Cinemas Woodstock Theatre, 209 Main St., Woodstock
Next time you’re headed to Classic Cinemas Woodstock Theatre, take a few extra minutes and stroll through the adjacent pedway.
There’s a colorful mural stretching 118 feet wide and 15 feet tall that will grab your attention.
The mural, located on the building next to the theater, pays homage to celebrated entertainers with Woodstock ties.
The four themed sections recognize Dick Tracy and creator Chester Gould; stars who’ve appeared at the Opera House, including Paul Newman; Orson Welles, the legendary actor and film director who lived in Woodstock as a boy; and “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 Bill Murray film that was mostly filmed in town.
“We wanted something to memorialize and highlight some of the important times in our community,” says Terry Willcockson, grants/communications manager for the City of Woodstock. “We were able to get the project finished in a year.”
Willcockson says $80,000 was raised for the mural, including a $10,000 donation from Classic Cinemas and a $20,000 grant from The Community Foundation of McHenry County.
Michael Stanard of One Zero Charlie, a branding and design firm in Woodstock, designed the mural. It was hand-painted by Mark Adamany of Adamany Art & Design in Rockford.
Next to the mural is a garden with life-size sculptures of a sitting, middle-aged Welles and Woodstock Willie, the resident groundhog.
“Not only was this a beautiful, creative project, but it also pays tribute to our community,” Willcockson says.