Genuine Northwest, Spring Edition

Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.

Congdon Gardens

1420 Hobbs Dr., Delavan, Wis., 

It was 2003 and the then-president of Delavan-Darien Rotary was looking to give back to his city. He toured around town with the parks and recreation director and found opportunity at Congdon Park, a small piece of land located between a health care center and a shopping strip.

Rotarians pitched in that summer to transform the land into a meaningful attraction for residents and visitors alike. Located at the city’s entrance off Interstate 43, it’s become a popular site for weddings and tourists.

A large fountain sits in the center of the garden, and it’s surrounded by seven granite boulders, each signifying one of the world’s seven continents. To the east sits the Gazebo Garden, designed in the late 2000s by Roy Diblik, a local landscape architect. To the south of the fountain is the Independence Garden, designed by Patrick Fleming in 2009. Its red, white and blue flora, mixed among crushed blue granite, has become a setting for social events. The Pergola Garden, located west of the fountain, is a shady spot added in 2011. At its edge is the peony and daylily garden, which is full of newly introduced species contributed by the region’s top breeders.

Each year, the Rotary adds new attractions. Last summer, members established a dog watering station and an illuminated sign along Wisconsin Highway 50, just off the I-43 exit.

The garden is privately funded and relies upon volunteer support. It’s open daily, year-round, for self-guided tours.

The Count’s House

3803 Waukegan Road, McHenry

McHenry’s only entry on the National Register of Historic Places earned its nickname because of an eccentric former owner.

In 1920, F.J. Schnoor (who bought the house in 1912) sold it to Count Oscar Bopp Van Oberstadt, who had just emigrated from Germany. Oberstadt had left his homeland following World War I and, according to “Historic Homes of McHenry County,” he was rumored to be a German spy. Oberstadt returned to Europe in 1927 and eventually sold the home, but the memory of his presence has remained. 

The Greek Revival home was built around 1856 by George Gage, one of the city’s early settlers and an influential local businessman.

The mostly brick-constructed home is different from typical dwellings of the period because of its dual facades. The north side, facing Waukegan Road, is framed by a row of two-story Doric columns. The south face, along Main Street, has a two-story loggia, with upper- and lower-story porches.

The home remains a private residence, and it’s easily viewed from the sidewalk. 

Red Oak Nature Center

2343 S. River St., Batavia, (630) 897-1808,

Located on the edge of the Fox River south of downtown Batavia, this nature center is surrounded by 40 acres of forest and wildlife habitat where families can learn about nature.

“Almost everything at Red Oak is meant to be educational,” says Jeff Long, public affairs and communications manager for Fox Valley Park District, which maintains the property. “Kids don’t realize they are learning new things. They’re too busy having fun.”

Inside the wildlife room, kids can discover many animals that live in our region. There’s 500-gallon turtle and fish habitat, as well as displays of live frogs, salamanders and snakes, among other critters.

The observation deck overlooks the Fox River and provides glimpses of river wildlife, migratory birds, and the wooded shorelines and islands.

Red Oak Nature Center is also home to a handful of hiking trails and a portion of the Fox River Trail recreation path, which passes from Elgin toward Aurora. Follow the Fox River Trail to The Cave at river’s edge, and go spelunking.

“It’s the only cave in the western suburbs,” Long says. “The cave itself is 30 feet deep and 20 feet wide at the entrance.”

The nature center is open year-round. Trails are open sunrise to sunset.

Hours: Mon. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wed. 9 a.m.-noon, Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.