My first trip to central/eastern Illinois was about 20 years ago. I grew up in Southern Oregon in a smaller city, but have lived in big cities (mainly San Francisco and Los Angeles area) since the early 1970’s. I think of myself as more of a city girl after all this time, but with a small town soul.
What I am not, is a farm girl.
Now that being said, it does not mean I don’t love being on a farm, or growing a garden, or being around animals, or breathing fresh air, or getting dirty. I love all of those things. I simply mean that I don’t know diddley squat about farm life.
After Tim and I got married in 1992, I was eager to learn more about his roots and where he came from. He grew up in the middle of nowhere, about a three hour drive south of Chicago. From starting out a stranger and a wide eyed city slicker, I have slowly learned to appreciate the hard working, warm, kind people I have met here and grown to love them.
Here are some of the fun, unique and different things I have seen and been introduced to in and around his home town.
1. Really big tractors (and a tractor pull) – This is Farm country with a capital F. The land is flat, rich, and anything will and does grow here. The two biggest crops are corn and soybeans. The small family farm has been gobbled up by larger corporate owned businesses. The huge acreage requires huge pieces of equipment like this tractor. The wheels stretch across both sides of the road. This monster is owned by my brother-in-law. On a separate trip I attended a local tractor pull, which was another first for this city girl.
2. Baby pigs – On my very first trip there I was so excited to visit a pig farm. I got to hold a squirming, adorable baby piglet and my heart melted. I was in hog heaven. That lasted about five minutes. The rest of the day I stunk to high heaven.
3. The worlds biggest wind chime is located at 109 East Main Street in Casey, Il. It measures over 55 feet from the ground to the top and was officially listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012.
4. White squirrels in Olney, IL. At one point there were over 1000 white squirrels in Olney, but the population has dwindled down to around 200. To protect this unique creature, the city passed a law making it illegal for dogs and cats to run free. White squirrels have the right-of-way on all public streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares in Olney, and there is a $750 fine for running one over. The police department’s badge even has a picture of a white squirrel on it.
5. Auction Barns – Yep, cows, horses, pigs, goats, sheep all get auctioned off. The barn is loud, dirty, smelly and alive. Bidders sit in the bleachers and signal their intent as the auctioneer in his sing-song voice controls the tempo. Batch after batch of livestock passes through while we sat and ate a large breaded tenderloin sandwich. One must have a strong stomach, which thankfully I do.
6. The Mug Tree was established in 2003 along Rt.49 just 1 mile south of Yale, IL. It holds hundreds of mugs which people can trade or just leave their own. There is also a mailbox with a guest book to log your visit.
7. Amish country – Arthur is in the Heart of Illinois Amish Country, with more than 1,000 Amish families living in the countryside. They still farm the old fashion way with teams of horses, and run quality furniture stores and country shops.
8. Fish Fry – I had never been to a fish fry until a few years ago. I kept hearing about them and our visit finally aligned with the proper date. Here it is a community event and the entire town as well as neighboring towns are invited. Huge frying stations are set up and hundreds (or thousands) of pieces of fish are breaded and deep fried. For around $8 you get a generous helping of green beans, apple sauce, scoop of cold slaw, bread and butter, and your choice of water, iced tea or lemonade – and of course all the fish you want to eat. A local bank often donates the ice cream and the staff to dish it up.
Another popular meal here is Beef & Noodles served over mashed potatoes. Try it!
In the Midwest the meals are breakfast, dinner (midday meal), and supper (evening meal) instead of what I was used to: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
9. Moonshine, IL – Another fun outing is taking a drive to Moonshine, population 2. They are known for their hamburgers and people drive from all over to have them. The trick is to get there well before noon. They close down the grill at 12:30 on the dot. It does not matter how far you have driven or how many people are in line. When the clock hits the magic number, they stop serving.
10. Town Squares – It seems that every small town in the area has a town square. Each is slightly different, but follows the trend of a courthouse in the center of the square surrounded by local businesses. Many of the buildings date back well over 100 years and the architecture, bell tower, ornate wood court rooms are worth a visit. One of my favorites is located in Paris, IL.
Did you grown up in a small town or large city? Which do you prefer?