Genuine Northwest: Summer Edition

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

Horticultural Hall

330 Broad St., Lake Geneva, (262) 248-4382,

Designed by architectural firm Spencer & Powers, this conference center was built in 1911 for the Lake Geneva Horticultural Society and was intended in part as a gathering place for the professional gardeners and landscape designers who managed Lake Geneva’s nearly 200 country estates.

Constructed in the distinctive characteristics of the Arts and Crafts movement, this building’s Great Hall, beamed ceilings and parquet floor exude beauty.

Outside, lush gardens surround the property, both along the public sidewalk and within a garden courtyard where an arcade hosts outdoor events including wedding ceremonies and receptions.

While it’s hosted many garden-related events, Horticultural Hall was also the site of 1968’s inaugural Gen Con, a gaming convention organized by Gary Gygax, co-creator of the “Dungeons & Dragons” fantasy game. For a decade, Gen Con found its home within the conference center’s hallowed halls.

In 1999 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Restoration efforts over the past 15 years have included the replacement of the roof with French-imported tiles and the installation of a commemorative brick walkway.

Today, the Hall hosts weddings and the Lake Geneva Farmers Market, which meets every Thursday from May through October.

East Union Depot

Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union, (815) 923-4391,

The Galena & Chicago Union Railroad constructed this depot in Marengo in 1851, as the railroads extended farther from Chicago into the scenic countryside.

The depot was expanded in the late 1800s and remained a community fixture until after World War II, when the automobile largely replaced rail traffic.

Union’s Illinois Railway Museum acquired the depot in 1968 and relocated it to the museum’s 100-acre grounds by cutting the building into large sections. A closer depot in downtown Union was declined because of its termite damage.

Though some improvements have been made inside, the Marengo building remains historically authentic and is the oldest railway station in regular passenger use west of Pittsburgh. Visitors to the museum can stop here and see nearly a dozen other historical structures while touring the museum’s 1-mile streetcar loop and 5-mile mainline railroad line with historic trains.

The depot also set the backdrop for scenes in the 1993 film “A League of Their Own,” while the museum has played cameo roles in “Groundhog Day,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

North Grove School

26745 Brickville Road, Sycamore, (815) 751-3298,

Built in 1878 by the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, this school originally was a parochial and Sunday school where pupils learned in Swedish.

This remained the primary language for several years, even after DeKalb County’s public school system acquired the property in 1880. The one-room schoolhouse taught academic subjects and provided instruction in art, music and cursive writing.

The Sycamore school district took over in 1949 and ran it until 1952. It then became a neighborhood social center and, in the 1960s, the Natural Resource Center in Genoa used it for special education programs. At this time, original furniture from other Sycamore schools made its way to the old schoolhouse.

Listed on the Illinois Directory of Historical Buildings in 1970, the schoolhouse faced demolition when neighbors rallied to its rescue and formed the North Grove School Association in 1985.

Today, the association leases the building from Sycamore’s District 427 and runs it as a living history museum, complete with desks, floors, walls, leaded-glass windows and furnishings.
It’s periodically opened for public tours and school field trips.