Genuine Northwest: Spring Edition

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

Lake County Model Railroad Club

Basement of Honey Hill Coffee Co., 107 S. Main St., Wauconda, (815) 388-4301,

This club began in 1972 when six passionate men decided their homes weren’t adequate to showcase their model trains. They also yearned for a hub to socialize with like-minded enthusiasts.

The club’s original layout reflected the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and the Soo Line railroad, but as new members joined, the scenery adapted with their interests and reflected settings such as the Colorado Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.

Today, the track represents a 200-mile stretch of railroad from Palatine to Madison, Wis., with stops in Janesville, Wis., and Fox Lake among others. Controlled by computer and a human dispatcher, these trains have the ability to perform 20 or more switches to move freight. Scenery reflects the 1930s to 1950s, when steam-powered locomotives transitioned to diesel and two-lane highways crisscrossed the nation. The scenery includes bridges, mountains, light-up railroad crossings, a turntable and numerous surprises waiting to be discovered.

The club’s attention to detail has earned it recognition in model railroad magazines and a film about Midwestern Model Railroad Club layouts.

Club membership remains invitation-only, but its layout, which is located in the basement of a coffee shop in downtown Wauconda, is open to the public every Friday night.

(Photo provided by Camp Wandawega)

Camp Wandawega

W5453 Lake View Dr., Elkhorn, Wis.,

Established in 1925 as a hotel during the Prohibition era, this landmark first gained notoriety as a den of vice, with secret hideaways and trapdoors for illicit activities such as gambling, prostitution and bootlegging.

A federal crackdown in 1931 only temporarily quelled the reputation of what was nicknamed “Orphan Annie’s” after its owner, Anna Beckford Peck. The law finally caught up with her in 1942.
The Andrzejewski family bought the property and transformed it into the idyllic – and more reputable – Wandawega Lake Resort, which became a beloved haven for Chicagoans seeking relaxation in the 1950s.

The Catholic Church purchased the camp in 1961, intending to make it a retirement community for Latvian priests who’d fled from behind the Iron Curtain. It eventually became a summer retreat for Chicago’s Latvian community as mothers organized a kids’ camp every summer. The fall of the Soviet Union enabled the Latvian priests to return home, and the Catholic church sold the camp in 2003.

New owners David Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt set about returning the camp to the glory days, as Hernandez remembered from his own childhood summers at Wandawega.

Today, the camp offers quaint and upscale retreats with an array of canvas and rustic cabins, updated vintage cottages, “glamping” experiences, a dining hall, programming and outdoor activities such as trout fishing.

Two Brothers Roundhouse

205 Ill. Rt. 25 (Broadway), Aurora, (630) 264-2739,

Commissioned by the Chicago & Aurora Railroad, the Roundhouse was constructed in 1856 from limestone quarried in Batavia. Today it remains the oldest known roundhouse in the country, predating the next oldest, in Baltimore, by a decade.

The Roundhouse was a complex of buildings, including a machine shop, a blacksmith shop and a carpenter’s shop. It was a locomotive repair facility for nearly a century until it ceased operations in 1974 and was left to decay.

In 1995, legendary Chicago Bear Walter Payton and a team of investors bought the abandoned structure and breathed new life into it as Walter Payton’s Roundhouse.

In 2011, Jason and Jim Ebel, co-owners of Two Brothers Brewing Co., bought the Roundhouse and completely rebranded it under their flagship brewery.

The 70,000-square-foot building now includes a full-service supper club, beer gardens, a state-of-the-art distillery, a music venue, and event space for weddings and other celebrations. Inside, patrons also find the Zephyr Room, featuring a bar constructed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

The Roundhouse hosts entertainment ranging from comedy shows to distillery tours.