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

Captain Andy’s Parasail on the Mississippi

Captain Andy’s Parasail on the Mississippi

Temperatures were still warm, but autumn winds were beginning to blow. In many Midwest cities mid-October is late for parasailing. However, in Grafton, Illinois, 15 miles upriver from Alton, warmer weather hangs on a little longer. So when on my October visit I had the chance to go on the only parasailing adventure on the Mississippi River with Captain Andy’s Parasail, of course, I accepted. Read more

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.


“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.


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.

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