Explore Three Gardens near Champaign, Ill.

Explore Three Gardens near Champaign, Ill.

It was a perfect summer weekend, sunshine with a few puffy clouds dotting the azure sky, a slight breeze and low humidity, ideal for a summer stroll through gardens of colorful flowers, hedge-lined pathways, cascading waterfalls, and arbors with benches for relaxing and taking in the beauty. We visited three gardens in and near Champaign County, Illinois, on that weekend, all only 15 to 30 miles apart. Two of the gardens, Allerton Park and the UI Arboretum, are owned by the University of Illinois, and the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden is part of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.

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Allerton Park & Retreat Center
Allerton 4
Once the estate of Robert Henry Allerton, the property was donated to the University of Illinois, along with the income from the 1946 farm crops to establish operating funds. Today the 1500 acre park, one of the seven wonders of Illinois, includes the Georgian Manor house used for events, seven natural setting trails totaling 14 miles, and 14 formal gardens that include extensive plantings and over 100 sculptures and ornaments. Walk down paved pathways lined with Chinese musicians, stroll through the walled garden, or climb the spiral staircase in the House of the Golden Buddahs for a view of the gardens from above.

Allerton Park & Retreat Center is located at 515 Old Timber Road, Monticello, Illinois.

University of Illinois Arboretum
UofI Arboretum 4
Considered a living laboratory, the UI Arboretum includes plant collections and facilities for teaching, research and public service programs. However, as a non-student, you can simply visit to enjoy the beauty, much of it made possible through donations by generous alumni. Bursts of color in the Idea Garden’s border annuals and the Children’s Garden create a cheerful atmosphere, while the calm serenity of the gardens surrounding the Japan House will leave you feeling tranquil . Development of the 160 acre arboretum property began in the early 1980s. Today 57 acres are developed, leaving plenty of room for further growth.

The University of Illinois Arboretum is located on Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, Illinois. Check the web site for detailed directions.

Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden
Botanical Gardens 6
This gem of a small eight-acre garden is tucked behind the Museum of the Grand Prairie in the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet, Illinois. The garden includes a one-room schoolhouse and a Japanese garden with a waterfall backdrop and a bright red bridge crossing a pond filled with water lilies. Lots of flowers indigenous to Illinois, like the purple coneflower and the yellow daylily are displayed throughout the garden.

While you are there, be sure to visit the museum and the rest of the forest preserve. Our time was limited, but I would have loved to have rented a paddle boat to pedal around the lake. The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden is located at 650 N Lombard Street, Mahomet, Illinois.

See more photos of the gardens in the video slideshow:

You can easily visit all three gardens in one day, although we broke it into two days and visited area wineries, too. There is no admission fee for any of the three gardens.

Disclosure:  Our visit to the Champaign area was hosted by the Champaign County CVB, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own. Our accommodations were at the Hyatt Place Champaign Hotel.

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Peoria Riverfront Museum: Take Two

Peoria Riverfront Museum: Take Two

A few months ago I wrote about the Peoria Riverfront Museum. We had taken our granddaughter to the museum over the Thanksgiving holiday. I made a return trip there last month, arriving shortly after the museum opened on Sunday. Being one of the first guests of the day, and without time constraints and holiday crowds, I was able catch things I didn’t see the first time around. I also had a chance to try more of the interactive exhibits, including those in the popular IHSA Peak Performance gallery. Read more

Parasailing on the Mighty Mississippi

Parasailing on the Mighty Mississippi

parasailing 1Temperatures were still warm, but autumn winds were beginning to blow. In many Midwest cities mid-October is late for parasailing, but in Grafton, Illinois, just fifteen miles upriver from Alton along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, warmer weather hangs on longer than in Chicago. So when on my October visit I had the chance to go on the only parasailing adventure on the Mississippi River, of course, I accepted.

Captain Andy, a U.S. Coast Guard licensed Master Captain, won’t take the boat out “if the river is white cappin’ and the flags are flappin’.” This day was a bit breezy but not windy enough to keep us land bound, so we climbed into the custom built  First Class parasail boat, and off we went.

On Captain Andy’s Parasail you can go up alone or with a partner. Not having fully overcome my fear of heights, I had my husband join me. Not that he could save me if I suddenly fell, but at least I wouldn’t be going down alone.

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After deck hand Spank helped us into our harnesses and did whatever deck hands do to ready the parachute, he had us climb up onto the back platform and hang onto a bar as he hooked us up. You can choose to get wet or stay dry. Since it wasn’t mid-summer anymore and we had a full afternoon of touring ahead of us, we opted for the stay dry version. Standing on the back of the boat, fighting the bar as the breeze was catching it, I thought for a few minutes that we might end up with the “get wet” ride after all.

parasailing 2Once hooked up, all we had to do was relax in a seated position in our harnesses as the boat started pulling away, and up, up, up we climbed into the air. The scenery down below was magnificent, the sparkling blue water highlighted by white wake as the boat zipped down the river, leaves on trees along the riverbank beginning to turn amber and crimson. Gliding through the sky, the cool breeze hit our faces as the sun warmed them.

Smooth sailing all the way, right? That’s the way it usually is, we’re told. But the winds were picking up, and we started dipping a bit here and there, kind of like slight turbulence on an airplane. It wasn’t enough to bother me, though. If fact, it was kind of fun.

In the end our trip was cut short for safety precaution. After we landed, were unharnessed and back in the boat, we found out that the parachute had actually been pulling the 9,000 pound boat backward, upstream, when Captain Andy made the decision to reel us in. Even though our ride was a bit more challenging than usual, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Only next time I might choose to do it in the summer and opt for getting wet.

Captain Andy’s Parasail, located at the Grafton Harbor Marina, operates Fridays through Sundays May 1 to October 31, plus the three summer holidays, weather permitting. You can also make advance reservations for weekday cruises. Check the web site for further details.

Disclosure:  My cruise on Captain Andy’s Parasail was hosted by the Alton Regional CVB and Captain Andy’s Parasail, but any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   — Connie


 

DeMoulin Museum, Greenville IL: Quirky and Shocking

DeMoulin Museum, Greenville IL: Quirky and Shocking

The world’s largest maker of band uniforms and choir robes didn’t start out in the garment business. The business was quite different in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Back then they made initiation devices for fraternal organizations, devices like a phone that sprayed water in the face of the user, a strength tester that paddled one’s bottom, and a trick chair that collapsed when sat in. Today you can see, and maybe become a victim of, some of these quirky and sometimes shocking devices at the DeMoulin Museum in Greenville, Illinois.

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Ed DeMoulin happened to be in the right place at the right time. A photographer in Greenville, Illinois, in the 1890s, DeMoulin liked to tinker with gadgets. William Northcott, another Greenville resident, was Head Consul of the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal organization. Looking for ways to increase membership in the MWA, Northcott approached DeMoulin for suggestions on making the fraternal organization more fun. DeMoulin, together with his two brothers, came up with the idea of the initiation devices, which they began producing.

Band uniformsThe DeMoulins’ thirty patented devices were popular with fraternal organizations throughout America and were used until around 1930. The company continued to make furniture and fraternal regalia after that and eventually evolved into band uniforms. You’ll see some of those items in the museum, too, but the fun is in the initiation devices. John Goldsmith, curator of the museum, demonstrated some of the devices for us on our visit.

The spanker was one of the earlier inventions. The blindfolded fraternal candidate was swatted with the padded side of the spanker. When struck, a blank cartridge would go off, creating a loud noise.

Paddle

“Riding a goat” was a popular initiation, and they ranged from being pulled around on a stuffed goat until eventually falling off to being strapped onto the Ferris Wheel Goat and being rolled head over heels.

Goat 2

Ferris Wheel Goat

As a candidate, you might be told you needed to be branded. Blindfolded (a common thread among most initiations), your arm would be touched with the “branding iron,” giving you an electric shock.

Branding iron

The trick chair would collapse as you sat in it, give you a shock and set off a blank cartridge.

Collapsing chair 1

Collapsing chair 2

You could be asked to pull on the handles of the strength testing machine, some of which squirted water in your face, and some that whacked you in the behind with a paddle, again with the bang of a blank cartridge.

Lifting machine

Lifting machine 2

If you had the knife board initiation, you’d see someone ready to throw knives before you were blindfolded and strapped to the board. Fake knives would pop out of the board near you, making you think the knives were being thrown.

Knife board

John said the guillotine, which had safety mechanisms to stop short of touching the “victim” gets different reactions from adults and kids. Kids love it and want to lay in it for photo ops, whereas adults inch away from it.

guillotine

Norma Goldsmith, John’s late mother, was the inspiration for the not-for-profit museum. A long-time DeMoulin employee, Norma had her own collection of memorabilia, the start of the museum artifacts. The museum continues its search for items to add to the collection. John says it isn’t uncommon to get a call from someone across the country who happens to have a DeMoulin device or other memorabilia. In fact, David Copperfield, the illusionist is an avid collector of the initiation devices, often compares notes with John, and has demonstrated some of them on late-night talk shows.

The DeMoulin Museum has been featured on TV shows, too, which comes as no surprise. The quirky initiation devices are a fascinating piece of fraternal organization history and just plain fun.

The DeMoulin Museum, located along the historic National Road at 110 W Main in Greenville, Illinois, is open Friday through Sunday from March through October and on Saturdays November through February. Check the web site for hours. Admission is by donation. Plan to spend about an hour there.

Disclosure:  My visit to the DeMoulin Museum was hosted by The Tourism Bureau Illinois South and the DeMoulin Museum, but any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine. Accommodations were provided by Hampton Inn, Collinsville, Illinois.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   — Connie


 

Wildlife Prairie Park: Where the Bison Roam

Wildlife Prairie Park: Where the Bison Roam

Who would think that just outside of Peoria, two-and-a-half miles off the Interstate in Hanna City, Illinois, a herd of bison roam the prairie? Described as a jewel in the Midwest, Wildlife Prairie Park is home to 150 animals of 50 species native to Illinois. Wildlife, ten miles of hiking trails through natural landscape, fishing ponds and a schedule of planned activities bring around 140,000 guests to the park each year. Read more

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, Greenville IL: Family Farm Saved by the Cheese

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, Greenville IL: Family Farm Saved by the Cheese

John Marcoot had planned to sell his dairy operation when he retired. The operation had been in the family for six generations. He didn’t want his daughters to struggle with lives on a small farm, as competition from mega farms was making it more difficult for small farm survival. If they were to continue the operation, they needed to do something different than to continue to sell their milk to the local dairy coop. Daughters Amy and Beth, who had already started other careers, wanted to continue the family legacy. However, they agreed with Dad that they needed to work it from another angle. They found that angle in making cheese and in agritourism. Marcoot Jersey Creamery was born. Read more

Museum of the Grand Prairie: Lincoln and Life in Central Illinois

Museum of the Grand Prairie: Lincoln and Life in Central Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is most often associated with Springfield, but he spent time in nine counties throughout Central Illinois as he traveled the 8th Judicial Circuit practicing law.  The Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet captures Lincoln’s travels through the area, as well as life on the prairie in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sit in a wagon much the same as Lincoln did.  The video in front of you gives the illusion that you are riding through the prairie.

Lincoln_buggy

Learn humorous stories about Lincoln, like the time he hid the meal gong from the American House proprietor because it would wake up Lincoln and the other lawyers who stayed there.

When Lincoln was having his photograph taken, he was wearing his travel clothes, which were inappropriate for a formal photograph.  The photographer, Samuel Alschuler, gave Lincoln his jacket to wear.  The sleeves came almost up to the elbows of tall Lincoln.

Photographer

See a replica of the Goose Pond Church where Lincoln spoke to a packed house, campaigning for John C. Fremont, the first Republican Party presidential nominee.

Church

Other exhibits in the museum include artifacts like the Mitchell Wagon, used to cart corn to the local elevator.

Mitchell_Wagon

The Chesebro Blacksmith shop that stood untouched from the 1930s until 1993 in Saunemin, Illinois, has been partially reconstructed with the contents in the exact place as they were originally.

Blacksmith_shop

Learn about typical families who lived in the area.  This intricate gate was at the home of the local blacksmith.

Gate

A temporary exhibit titled, “Home Grown: Gardening Yesterday and Today,” opened in March, begins with the cultivation ways of Native Americans, moves to 19th century orchards and pollinators, into the mid-20th century Victory Gardens and canning, and onto sustainable gardening techniques of today.

Gardens

The next time you’re traveling to or through Champaign County, make a little jog to visit the delightful Museum of the Grand Prairie.  The museum is located at 950 N Lombard, Mahomet, Illinois, in the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve.  Check the web site for hours and directions.  Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

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University of Illinois Museums: Complementary Themes

University of Illinois Museums: Complementary Themes

Where is the line drawn between art and cultural heritage artifacts?  That question came to mind when I visited the Krannert Art Museum and the Spurlock Museum, both on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana.

Krannert Art Museum
The Krannert Art Museum, the second largest fine art museum in Illinois, has many pieces in their collection that are obviously categorized as art, like the extensive collection of European paintings, many dating back several centuries…

European

…and the collection of Lorado Taft sculptures.  Lorado Taft, an early 20th century sculptor and University of Illinois graduate, left the contents of his studio to U of I.  The Lorado Taft collection includes small plaques portraying the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Quincy, Illinois, and his sculptural group “The Blind.”

Lorado_Taft_Lincoln

Blind

I’d say this elevator grill from the Chicago Stock Exchange fits into the “art” category.

Elevator_grille

But go down to the lower level, and that’s where the question of art versus cultural heritage comes in.  There are some stunning glass pieces.

Blue_irridescent_glass_bowl

There are ancient artifacts from Egypt…

Egyptian

…and from Greece.

Greek

There are lots of other items, too, dating back centuries.

Spurlock Museum
The Spurlock Museum holds approximately 43,000 artifacts in its collection, many that certainly can be classified as art.

During my visit, a temporary exhibit displayed museum textile artifacts.  Alongside were new  textile and fiber art pieces created by members of the C-U Spinners and Weavers Guild who drew their inspiration from the originals.

Spinners_Weavers_feature

The Workman Gallery of Ancient Mediterranean Cultures is filled with statues of gods and goddesses.

Greek_Roman

This urn looks a lot like some of the pieces I saw at the Krannert Art Museum.

Urn

In other galleries you’ll find items like this costume used in Carnival rituals in the Andes…

Spurlock_Mythical_Lion

…and Barong Ket, the mythical lion said to possess magical powers.  The beast is carried in ceremonial processions in Bali.

Spurlock_Carnival_2

So where is the line drawn between art and cultural heritage artifacts?  It seems the line is so blurred it’s difficult to tell the difference.  Perhaps there’s a technical explanation that can be answered by an art expert or an anthropologist.  I am neither.  I was just visitor who enjoyed both museums equally.

The Krannert Art Museum is located at 500 E Peabody Drive in Champaign.  The Spurlock Museum is located at 600 S Gregory in Urbana.  Both museums are free but suggest a donation of $3.  Check the web sites for hours.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer.  If you enjoyed this post and would like an e-mail notification when other posts are published, enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe.  Be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm. 


 

Other blog posts you may enjoy:

The Art Party Studio, Champaign IL: Discover Your Inner Artist

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The Art Party Studio, Champaign IL: Discover Your Inner Artist

The Art Party Studio, Champaign IL: Discover Your Inner Artist

Paint?  Me?  I have trouble drawing a stick figure.  They say you don’t need prior experience to create a painting at The Art Party Studio in Champaign.  Just bring your own bottle of wine, if you’d like.  They take care of ice, glasses, painting supplies and the lesson.  So being the adventurer that I am, off I went to The Art Party Studio, bottle of wine in hand, figuring I could use the wine as an excuse if my painting was a disaster.

It turned out most everyone in the class was the same as me, little to no painting experience and just there for the fun of it.  The canvases were all set up on easels when we got there, the sample painting up front (I’m really going to paint a lighthouse?), so I settled in with a glass of wine.  I was happy to see some of the design already outlined on the canvas.

Before_class

With_wine

After our instructor, Chance, shared a few tips about using and rinsing the brushes, we dove into painting, Chance explaining and demonstrating the techniques as we went along.  Soon the canvas was almost filled with sky and water.  I don’t know whether it was the wine or getting involved in the painting that did it, but I was relaxed.  I no longer cared if my painting didn’t turn out well.  I was having fun.

Started

On we went to fill in the lighthouse and rocks.  My lighthouse wasn’t exactly straight, even having had an outline to follow.  Oh, well, must be the wine.  Adding in the sun and additional rocks freehand was a bit challenging, but I managed.

getting_there

A little wash of watered down white across the water, a tad more white in the sky, add my initials, and voila!

finished

Every one of the 25 paintings done that night turned out decent.  There may have been no future Rembrandts in the class, but we all had a great time.

End_of_class

The Art Party Studio is located at 111 S Walnut, Champaign, Illinois.  Tickets are $35 for one person, $60 for two, art supplies included.  You must be 18 or older to attend, 21 to drink alcohol.  Visit their web site for the schedule and further details.

Disclosure:  My visit to The Art Party Studio was hosted by the Champaign County CVB, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer.  If you enjoyed this post and would like an e-mail notification when other posts are published, enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe.  Be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm. 


 

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