Sometimes the best discoveries come in unexpected places. We recently made a hunger-driven stop in tiny Gardner, Illinois while driving north from St. Louis. What better place to visit than a place that shares my name?
Gardner is located along the famous Route 66 (about 40 minutes SW of Joliet), and is known for being an Al Capone hangout during prohibition and for having a historic jail with two cells.
With little time to spare, getting an honest meal was our primary concern on this trip. We certainly scored at Big Fella’s Eatery, a sparkling clean establishment with home-cooked food, friendly waitstaff and quick service. The owner collects Coca-cola antiques, including clocks, which he displays on the restaurant walls. Big Fella’s specializes in pizza, but my husband and I both enjoyed an excellent cod dinner, and our kids tucked into their perennial favorite, fresh buttered noodles and salad.
Afterwards, ready for a bit of leg-stretching before hitting I-55 again, we took a peek around Main Street. Gardner’s clearly a town with farming roots, organized around the railroad and grain storage facilities. A large mowed grassy area between Main Street and the tracks provided a great place for the kids to run while my husband and I took some photos of picturesque rural remnants, including a long-shuttered door to the Nielsen Grain Co. (above).
Buildings like this fascinate me on many levels. This large structure once served as the center of its community. Now it still holds court as an informal monument to Illinois’ farm-family roots. What gorgeous colors shine out from its old siding and weathered woods! What stories this building could tell if only it could speak! If anyone knows the history of this particular building, or more about Gardner’s rural history, please add your comments. The photo below is from a series of metal silos in the same area.
On a future trip to Gardner I’d also like to visit the nearby Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife area. This 1017-acre park and waterfowl refuge includes Braidwood Lake, a popular boating and fishing spot. The park also allows waterfowl and fossil hunting by permit.
– Linda Gardner Phillips