Genuine Northwest: Holiday Edition

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

Starline Factory Building

300 W. Front St., Harvard, (815) 943-4805,

When Harvard-area farmer Henry L. Ferris patented a hay carrier in 1883, he had no idea his invention would lead to a premier art studio and event space in the heart of his hometown.

The success of Ferris’ hay carrier resulted in the creation of Starline Inc., a farm implement company that manufactured more than 50 products designed to simplify farm work. The company remained a manufacturing leader for more than a century before closing its doors and abandoning its factory and headquarters on Front Street.

The Starline building sat in disrepair until local businessman Orrin Kinney purchased it in 2000 and converted it into an event and studio space. The large windows, exposed brick, cast iron fittings and timber columns – signs of a bygone era – now add a beautiful backdrop to four event/wedding venues, a full-service pub and grill, an art gallery, a market space, business offices and studio space that exists for local artists, vendors, event planners and couples planning their weddings.

In 2010, history came full circle for Starline when Ferris’ great-great-granddaughter hosted her wedding in the building made possible by her inventive ancestor.

Hours: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Old Charley Historical Marker

3292 N. Leland Road, Leland, Ill.

On a homestead farm located between the villages of Leland and Waterman, a Civil War hero lies buried on his farm.

Old Charley was one of 1,200 horses that served as mounts to Company K of the 8th Illinois Cavalry during the Civil War. His first rider, Charles Greenville, died of injuries sustained during combat. Simon Saddam rode Old Charley until his enlistment ended. Old Charley’s final rider, Silas Dexter Wesson, rode him through the war’s conclusion and wrote in his diary that he would like to bring Old Charley back to his farm.

During his military service, the horse served with distinction and took part in the Battle of Gettysburg. He was wounded twice in battle and was once left for dead – though he eventually found his way back to Company K.

When the war ended, Wesson purchased Old Charley from the government and took him home. Old Charley was one of only 12 horses in Company K that survived the Civil War. He lived on Wesson’s farm until his death in 1885.

His final resting place has been lost to posterity, but it’s believed Old Charley was buried in a field directly behind the Wesson family’s barn, where a plaque today commemorates this extraordinary horse.

The plaque and barn are on private property. The barn’s owners permit revelers to observe from the driveway only.

Elgin Public Museum

225 Grand Blvd., Elgin, (847) 741-6655,

George P. Lord’s collection of rock, plant and animal specimens was first displayed in Elgin’s Lords Park Pavilion in 1898, but the industrialist, philanthropist and former mayor envisioned this collection becoming part of a permanent museum for the public, financed with contributions from the Lords and others.

In 1904, Lord and his wife, Mary, commissioned local architect David E. Postle to design a neoclassical structure to sit in the park bearing their name. George Lord’s death two years later grounded work to a halt, and for several years all that remained was the central building and the foundation of a west wing. The incomplete structure stored hay from 1909 to 1911 and was the city dog pound from 1911 to 1917.

The building finally was completed and opened as the Elgin Audubon Museum in 1920. It operated for 40 years until the sponsoring Audubon Society disbanded. The property fell under the City’s management and became the Elgin Public Museum in 1975. Twenty-five years later, after having been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the museum finally unveiled a completed east wing.

Today, the oldest museum structure in the state – and one of its oldest natural history museums – invites the public to learn about endangered birds, Illinois fossils, the Fox River ecosystem, the ice age and indigenous peoples of America, among other topics.
Hours: Sat.-Sun. noon-4 p.m.