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7 The Great Pumpkin Patch Autumn in Amish Country

The town of Arthur and it’s surrounding area is known as Amish Country in Illinois…..but in the fall, it’s known as Pumpkin Patch country. Every autumn for the past 22 years, the Condill family have opened their farm, and their hearts to thousands of children (of all ages). The Great Pumpkin Patch sits on the prairie just a couple miles south of the town of Arthur.
Open from September 15 through October 31 every year, the farm touts over 300 types of pumpkins, squash and gourds to be enjoyed, visually as well as tasted. A myriad of baked goods are available in the onsite bakery and all of the pumpkins and their cousins, are availalbe for sale for recipes or decorating. There’s a huge straw maze, plenty of displays for photo opportunities and some of the best fall color in Central Illinois. Tucked into the center of the complex is an authentic One Room School House, complete with period furniture and decoration.
Row after row of ‘little red wagons’ await visitors to assist in bringing your pumpkins to the checkout area, and just being in the midst of all the happy faces pulling their bright orange treasures around the property will warm anyone’s heart on a chilly fall day!

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-Ed Baumgarten

8 57th Street Beach Hyde Park
Promontory Point, Chicago

Promontory Point, Chicago. Photo by Frederick Phillips.

Chicago simply shines in the late summer and early fall. On a sunny downtown day, every view competes for attention: from polished sky-high towers to live music on the streets. Driving into the city on Lake Shore Drive thrills newcomers and old-timers alike. Where else can a public lakefront relax so easily against a fine couch of urbanity – for miles, and miles, and miles? What better way to spend a balmy Chicago day than at the beach – for free?

57th St. Beach looking SW

57th St. Beach looking SW. Chicago has so many beaches. Which one is best? Oak Street or North Avenue please the crowds. Families flock to Foster, or further north to Evanston (which does charge a fee). My out-of-town friends (former Hyde Park locals) swear by a Chicago retreat hidden in plain view: Hyde Park's 57th Street Beach.

Out-of-towners and south-siders alike agree: the 57th St. Beach is easy to access and enjoy. Located just south of Promontory Point and just east of the Museum of Science and Industry, this beach is a hidden-in-plain-sight treasure. No worries about walking for miles to get back to your car. On our recent visit, we parked at the lot just off 55th ($1/hour), and strolled under Lake Shore Drive. The wide, bright underpass features fresh mosaics and has room for bicyclists, strollers and pedestrians alike.  Lush native plants rise up on the other side. Clean bathrooms provide a place to change, and some food’s available too, in season.  Strollers and wheelchairs can roll down a firm walkway almost to the water.

The backdrop’s just as interesting as the lake. Looking southwest, green rules the view. To the west, the Museum’s giant domes shrink to a demure size behind the trees. In the northeast, the flat textured high-rises say “city,” but to the north, Promontory Point (designed by blow-you-away-brilliant landscape architect Alfred Caldwell – click here for a detailed PDF bio) says “forget your cares.” The excitement of Lake Shore Drive dissolves in the wind, and it’s very easy to forget the highway’s rush.

A castle at 57th Street beach

A castle at 57th Street beach

57th St. Beach provides a convenient gateway for exploring the Hyde Park neighborhood, a somewhat overlooked spot for day-trippers and over-nighters. Had enough beach-time? The Museum’s just a short walk away. Need to eat? Stroll over to Piccolo Mondo, home to tasty eggplant sandwiches, Pollo Limone, and San Pelligrino Aranciata (Italian orange soda), on the corner of 56th and Cornell. A playground’s just across the street. More dining districts are only a short walk or drive away: I’ll vouch for Seoul Corea on 53rd, Kikuya on 55th and Medici on 57th Street.

More Hyde Park attractions include fantastic bookstores (The Seminary Bookstore, 57th Street Books and O’Gara and Wilson, Ltd., just to name a few) and of course, the beautiful University of Chicago campus.

Detail of Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House

Detail of Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House

Apartment building on 54th by Harry Weiss/I.M.Pei

Apartment building on 54th by Harry Weiss/I.M.Pei

While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House. Those in the know may spot other architectural treats, such as these apartment buildings on 54th Street by Harry Weiss and I.M. Pei, and the classic Chicago Cottages across the way.

Here’s a simple overview map of the area. Happy exploring!

– Linda Gardner Phillips

Follow Linda on Twitter/Deerpathfarm

9 Chocolates in Egypt

During one of my  “impromptu jaunts”  I found a little shop I had never seen or heard of before. Its located just across Illinois Highway 146 from Dixon Springs State Park, and its called the Chocolate Factory. First opened in 1977, it’s located halfway between Vienna and Golconda from Interstate 24, take exit 16, east about 12 miles and the shop is on your right.

The scenery is pretty nice through this area, because you are traveling through the Shawnee National Forest. I would caution you about the moving scenery. If you have driven anywhere in the Midwest, you are familiar with the surprises our “Deer” friends sometimes have for us. If not, keep your eyes open along the sides of the road. If you see one deer crossing the highway, there are often more behind her. This happens all through the year. They’re easier to see in the daylight, naturally, and fortunately, this time of day corresponds to the hours of the Chocolate Factory during most of the year. They are open from Monday through Saturday, throughout the year, from 9 AM to 5 PM.

The shop is a comfortable environment to browse, if you want to look over the items for sale on the tables and along the wall. If you need assistance, the staff is friendly and ready to help. If Ice Cream (hand dipped, not soft-serve!) is your quest, there is a counter with lots of different flavors for you to choose from. If you want your chocolate with sugar, they have lots of that. If you prefer white chocolate, they have that. If you are avoiding sugar (I sympathize) they have their different treats available in a sugar free form. These confections are displayed in clear containers along the counter, so you can see the kind of candy you want. If you are looking for a gift for someone, they have pre-selected boxes of candy.

If there’s a special event in your future, they do special orders for weddings, business meetings, birthdays , retirement parties, or any kind of an event your ingenious mind can concoct.

My personal experience there was very pleasant. I spoke to a charming and helpful lady who told me about the part of the shop where they hand paint the chocolates in different colors of chocolate. That was a new one on me, I never knew you could paint in chocolate. In fact, they will give tours to school kids of the facility, and demonstrate the technique of making fine chocolates. It sounds like a great field trip for around Halloween, Christmas or Easter.

I bought a half pound of a chocolate covered caramel and pecan treat that is often generically called after a small animal with a hard shell and a slow pace. I admit I asked for it by its nationally known trade name. At the Chocolate Factory, this candy is called a Terrapin. Its shaped like a terrapin, but its exterior is soft, and there was nothing slow about the time it took me to gobble it down. I have been parceling them out to myself since I got them. It’s excellent.

They have a website, but the lady told me that they don’t have a shopping cart on the webpage. You can always call a 1-877-949-3829. To look over their offerings, check out

So, if you are looking for a gift, would like an ice cream cone after exploring Dixon Springs or nearby Garden of the Gods, or just want to get some sweets for your sweetie, drop in and visit. They’ll make you feel welcome.

Enjoy Illinois –

Bill Byrnes

10 Corvettes to crowd into downstate IL

Since 1994, on the third weekend in September, thousands of Corvettes and their enthusiastic owners descend on the city of Effingham. Mid America Motorworks hosts Corvette Funfest every year, and it is one of the biggest annual Corvette get-togethers in the world.
Mike Yager founded Mid America Motorworks in 1974 as a supplier of parts and accessories for the Corvette brand, selling his wares out of the trunk of his car. Today, the company mails out millions of catalogs and hosts thousands of visitors on its websites. At the annual show, there are vendors displaying and even installing their wares for customers, burnout contests, contests for the loudest exhaust, fashion shows, concerts, celebrity autograph sessions….and of course, thousands upon thousands of Corvettes.
This year the company also hosts the band ‘The Guess Who’ at a Saturday night concert. The event runs September 17th-19th. There is a small parking fee for Corvettes entering the show, see the company’s website for details.

-Ed Baumgarten

The C.H. Moore Homestead

Right along Rt-51 on the north side of Clinton is a wonderfully preserved piece of Illinois history, with ties to President Lincoln. Completed in 1867 as the private residence of John Bishop, a local lumber merchant, the homestead was sold to C.H. Moore in 1880 after the death of the Bishop’s youngest daughter.

Mr. Moore

Mr. Moore was a lawyer and land purveyor and made the acquaintance of another young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The two became friends, assisting each other on some cases, and opposing on others….remaining friends throughout. Mr. Moore developed the estate in Clinton throughout the years, including an extensive library in an addition on the west side of the mansion.

The Library

This library was, at the time, one of the most extensive private libraries outside of Chicago (and is still quite impressive!). The manor house itself serves as the Dewitt County Museum and maintains a wonderful museum of late 19th and early 20th century life. The many rooms are full of furniture and decoration appropriate for the era. The entry way is graced by a wonderful winding staircase and very ornate carpet and wallpaper. The Moore’s original square Steinway grand piano and a full size harp are the center pieces of the music room.

The Music Room

Upstairs are the bedrooms, including the masters, and also the children’s room. The children’s room contains a wonderful, authentic childs four post bed, and is overseen by a pastel portrait of the Butler families only child who was lost at the age of two, Mary Elizabeth. Among the several rooms in on the ground level are the dining, parlor, music, kitchen and what is obviously the showpiece room of the house, the library. This two story room contains very unique rotary bookcases in two corners, with glass fronted barrister-like bookcases along the opposite wall. The upper gallery is also lined with bookcases and an iron railing lines the portal ceiling between the two stories. The library also contains many items one might find in a well appointed Victorian library, including an Edison cylinder phonograph and a wonderful, nautical themed kaleidoscope. Mr. Moore’s original hand made secretary desk anchors the room, with a pair of glasses sitting on the desktop, as if awaiting the masters return.
The basement of the manor, which reveals the houses natural brick walls, has been set up display case style and features a very complete collection of World War One weaponry and Indian artifacts. A central wall displays antique photos of the mansion through the years, as well as local landmarks. There’s also a room depicting life in an early log cabin and another with revolving collections, containing antique tin-toys and pedal cars on our visit.
Stepping outside, one is treated to various views of the manor house, which is of the Second Empire style of architecture with Italianate ques. The mansard roof is replete with curved top dormers and all of the corbels and brackets that make this style of architecture so beautiful are intact and in good order on this very well appointed house. The front area of the grounds are flanked by a wonderful cast ironwork fence and gardens. The carriage house stands just across the way from the manor house and contains several antique carriages, displayed in a warm rustic setting.
Many festivals and events are held on the grounds, with the Pork and Apple festival (September 25-26 this year) being the highlight. Visit the C.H. Moore Homesteads website for hours and more information. The homestead was placed on the National Register in 1978.
Located in view of Rt-51 between Decatur and Bloomington, this wonderful and well maintained site is a jewel in the city of Clinton, and a wonderful location to enjoy some history, and view the ornate wonders of Victorian life in early Central Illinois.

More and larger images

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-Ed Baumgarten