To get to Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois, just north of where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi, take I-57 south about 375 miles, all the way through Illinois to exit 1--right off the ramp is a relatively clean and cheap Days Inn (618-734-0215) if you decide to stay. Take a left onto Route 3, which runs into Route 51, and go about three miles. On your right, just before you hit the city limits, is a burned-out, weed-strewn shantytown, Future City (hopefully this is not prophetic). Cross under the approach leading to the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge--a four-mile-long structure spanning the Ohio River that grabbed international headlines when it was built in 1889. On the right as you head into town is the windowless (except for the principal's and vice principal's offices) Cairo High School. You are now on Sycamore Avenue.
On Sycamore at 32nd Street is a local favorite, Mack's Barbecue Stand (3201 Sycamore, 618-734-9847). Cairo is semi-famous for its barbecuing. Mack's is one of the last two remaining stands, and the only one serving booze. My favorite item is the hot pork sandwich, though the milder shaved smoked shoulder on toasted bread is more popular. Try the vinegary sauce; it's available throughout the area.
Travel farther south on Sycamore, then take a right onto 28th Street and continue to Washington. Take a left, gaze at the mansions, and wonder how much they would be listed for on the North Shore. One of the mansions, Magnolia Manor (2700 Washington, 618-734-0201), is now a museum with guided tours on request. Just ring the bell--someone will eventually answer. About a block south of Magnolia Manor is the recently renovated Windham Bed & Breakfast (2606 Washington, 618-734-3247).
Across Washington from what is possibly the ugliest county courthouse in the country is Harper's (2013 Washington, 618-734-0538), a local institution that serves both normal fare and pretty good Chinese food. Harper's has long been the nicest place in town, even after its recent purchase by J. Andrew Clarke, a former county clerk and current county commissioner. The garrulous local Teflon politician displayed Clinton-esque deftness when he was indicted in the mid-80s for crimes associated with his office. He got off, which seemed to suit everyone just fine. I was in Saint Louis at a Cardinals game with Andy shortly after his acquittal when he found himself at a urinal standing next to a state board of elections official. "Do you fuckers have to follow me everywhere?" he asked. "Just doing my job," was the reply. Andy is a terrific host. I usually order the chicken livers.
Continue south on Washington after it merges with Sycamore. At 16th Street you'll come upon the A.B. Safford Library (1609 Washington, 618-734-1840), which has an extremely helpful and friendly staff. Just down the street is the Cairo Custom House (1400 Washington, 618-734-1019), a museum with numerous artifacts on display and a photo exhibit featuring the fine work of Preston Ewing Jr., former NAACP chapter president and now city treasurer. Ewing's photos document the civil rights violence of the late 60s and early 70s.
Farther south on Washington is Shemwell's (1102 Washington, 618-734-0165), the other barbecue stand in town. It's the more famous--hanging on the wall is a cover from the Tribune food section featuring the owner--and slightly better of the two. It's a little more typically decorated, with swiveling red stools and Formica countertops. Shemwell's sauce is nearly identical to Mack's but they serve an amazingly tasty smoked sliced-beef sandwich.
Take a left onto Eighth Street and you're smack-dab in the middle of a once thriving retail district that attracted shoppers from three states. Go east a block to Commercial and there stands Smith & Groves (714 Commercial, 618-734-0653), home to giant bowls of cold draft beer and pretty damn good pizza. This is the best place to meet locals in Cairo and get good and drunk. Pace yourself--these people are extremely practiced and skilled drinkers. Be sure to strike up a conversation with Duke, the gregarious proprietor.
Go east another block on Eighth and you'll see the Ohio River. Water levels permitting, you can drive through the floodgates for an outstanding view. Drive back past the levee wall and you end up on Seventh. Take a left back onto Washington (aka Route 51), which will take you south out of town. Follow this down to Fort Defiance State Park where, again with the cooperation of flood conditions, you can drive right down to see the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Clearly visible is the line across this massive expanse of water where the relatively clear Ohio and the muddy Mississippi meet head-on. Kentucky is on your left and Missouri is on your right. Two-thirds of all freshwater in North America will flow past this point at some time or another. Enjoy--if you dare --Paul Turner
Until 1991, when it got a four-lane highway, Quincy looked pretty much like it had since World War II. It's a classic Mississippi River town, with workingman's saloons down in the bottoms and fabulous 19th-century mansions on the heights. Quincy was once the second-largest city in Illinois, and its founders were so certain of future glory they nicknamed it the "Gem City." Quincy's progress slowed after the railroad replaced the steamboat, but the moniker has held on: a local collegiate baseball team is named the Gems.
Quincy's relative isolation did have one advantage: "Over the years, we had to have our own everything," says Mayor Charles W. Scholz. "A great symphony, theater, an art center." Quincy even made it into the book The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America, which described the city as "one-third New Orleans snobby, one-third Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil eccentric, and one-third Midwestern blue-collar industrial."
Very little gets torn down here, and as a result Quincy has scores of houses on the National Register of Historic Places. The best are in the East End, the area bounded by 12th, 24th, Hampshire, and State. One local claims that the intersection of 16th and Maine is "the most architecturally significant corner in the United States" because it has such a variety of residential styles. The most imposing is that of the Richard F. Newcomb House, home of the Quincy Museum (1601 Maine, 217-224-7669). This natural history museum has dinosaur and agriculture displays and an exhibit devoted to the history of MoorMan Manufacturing, a local livestock-feed company recently bought out by Archer Daniels Midland. Quincy's oddest architectural landmark is the Villa Kathrine 532 Gardner Expressway, 217-224-3688), a restored Moorish-style castle built on a bluff overlooking the river. The villa has a reflecting pool and a "harem room," a strange amenity considering that its builder, George Metz, was a bachelor whose only companion was a 200-pound, diamond-studded-collar-wearing mastiff named Bingo. Tours are available by appointment.
When I visited, the Quincy Art Center (1515 Jersey, 217-223-5900) was displaying work from the MediaOne 25th annual high school art competition. Currently the 49th annual "Quad-State Exhibition"--featuring artists from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri--is on view, underlining the center's commitment to displaying regional art.
The Quincy Community Theater (300 Civic Center Plaza, 217-222-3209)--located in the Oakley-Lindsay Center, a "performing arts and civic center complex" opened in 1995--is presenting Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods this summer. The center is also home to the Quincy Society of Fine Arts. Founded in 1947, it was the first Community Arts Council in America. Their "funline," 217-228-2787, has recorded info on the current week's events. The Quincy Symphony Orchestra is done for the season, but the Quincy Park Band (800-978-4748), which blares out marches and show tunes, is playing eight concerts in June.
I'm not sure what the finest restaurant in Quincy is, but I can recommend a good, durable riverfront hangout: the Sky Ride Inn (236 N. Front, 217-222-9703), a honky-tonk right across the street from the Mississippi. "This place has been known for fish for over 60 years," the bartender told me. It's been known for drinking even longer. The original 1907 bar is still in place. The area behind the bar is a shrine to the Saint Louis Cardinals, the most popular team in town. And one of the specialties is a $4.25 fried carp dinner. Also, country music reigns on the jukebox, which plays nine songs for a dollar.
For dessert, go to Underbrink's Bakery (1627 College, 217-222-1831), in business for over 70 years in the same spot near Quincy University. According to a framed company history on the counter, "Underbrink's is the only hometown bakery that still produces Danish Angelfood, pies, cakes and cookies from 'scratch' recipes found in Claude Underbrink's 'bucket files' in 1927."
In Quincy's downtown (which is called uptown by locals), the most interesting store is the Busy Bee Mercantile Exchange (617 Hampshire, 217-222-3472). The discount store, which was founded by Jewish immigrants in 1932, sells practical wear: work boots, jeans, socks, and T-shirts, as well as dress pants for $19.97, all laid out on display tables set on the Busy Bee's squeaky wooden floor. The clerks even wrap your purchase in brown paper and tie it with string.
Quincy was settled mainly by Germans, and one of its most popular annual events is Germanfest (217-223-1955), which will be held this year on June 25 and 26 in South Park. Another big event is the Mid-Mississippi Muddy Water Blues Bash (217-224-3041), a blues festival running from July 16 to 18 in Washington Park.
The great thing about Quincy is that historic doesn't always mean restored: sometimes it just means old. The Hotel Elkton (133 S. Fourth, 217-222-5660) hasn't changed much since it was built in 1924. There's a neon sign on the side of the building, the night clerk sits in a cage in the lobby, the wooden floors of the narrow hallways are warped under the carpets, and the single-room rate is under $30. You'll feel like a traveling salesman in a James M. Cain novel. (Turn the free cable to A&E at 8 AM or 2 PM and you can watch "Quincy, M.E." in Quincy, IL.) The Elkton also has its own restaurant, The Patio, which is known for charcoal steaks and pork chops.
If you do want something restored, try the Kaufmann House Bed & Breakfast (1641 Hampshire, 217-223-2502), located in an 1875 Queen Anne in the East End. Each of the three rooms runs $70, a price that includes "a gourmet continental breakfast of hot scones, croissants, Swiss fingers and fresh fruit," according to the brochure. It was called the "best place to stay in Quincy" by Jeffrey and Mary Ellen Hess of Minneapolis (also according to the brochure). --Ted Kleine
Aquick perusal of headlines in the Lake County Star tells you a lot about the area: "Four Baldwin Youths Catch Bear in Woods; Lead Him Into Town"; "Time to Sign Up for Outdoor Skills Schools"; "Lend a Helping Pole; Teach a Kid to Fish"; "Questions Surround Huge Deer." There are plenty of beautiful and unusual places to go in Lake County if you just want to drive around and enjoy the scenery, but pretty much everyone else will be hunting or fishing. Get a decent map first; road names seem to change at will, which makes asking for directions tricky. The places listed here are scattered along M-37, the area's main thoroughfare, in Baldwin unless otherwise noted.
The Shrine of the Pines (231-745-7892) is two miles south of Baldwin. In addition to assembling the cabin itself, Raymond Overholzer fashioned over 200 pieces of furniture out of roots and stumps he foraged from the area, as well as chandeliers, doors, window frames, and a sleeping loft reached by a flight of stairs hewed from a single tree. Caretakers Dee and Harry Carr conduct detailed, informative tours. There are also trails on the grounds that run along the Pere Marquette River, making this a beautiful place to spend a sunny after-noon. Admission is $3.75 for adults; group rates are also available.
If you didn't come to Lake County prepared to hunt or fish, don't worry. Everything you need is available, from rifles to tackle to canoes to the liveliest night crawlers. If you're striking out on your own, don't forget to ask about local restrictions: certain sections of the river are flies-only, for example, and while the Department of Natural Resources may not remind you, other fishing parties will. If you land a big one before July 22, be sure to weigh it in for the regional contest. Winners will be announced at the annual Troutarama Festival (800-245-3240), July 22-24, a Baldwin tradition for 43 years.
The staff at Ed's Sport Shop (231-745-4974) seem to know everything about fishing in Lake County, and if they don't they'll look it up for you. They offer a complete selection of gear for pros and friendly assistance for novices, and they won't make you feel stupid.
Tom Johnson or any of the employees at Johnsons' Pere Marquette Lodge will give you a current fishing report over the phone at 231-745-3972. They're currently upgrading their log cabins ($59 a night for cabins, $129 a night for larger houses), which are private and right on the river; the ten-room lodge ($49-$69 a night) boasts a whirlpool tub in every room for those who prefer more modern amenities and a social atmosphere. The lodge also offers fishing schools, guide services, car spotting (taking your car downriver for you), boat rentals, and Flies Only, the swankiest Orvis fishing shop around.
Pickerel Lakeside Campground and Cottages (231-745-7268 or 800-464-1468) occupies an open area that's convenient to yet secluded from busy M-37. Four spacious cabins ($60-80 a night for up to six people) and 25 campsites equipped with hookups and fire pits ($10 a day for two adults) nestled close to the sandy shore of Pickerel Lake create an enclave that best accommodates families and large groups. The lake is just big enough for motorboats, and is popular with water-skiers as well as fishing enthusiasts. Owners Fred and Lori Lewellyn, lifelong residents of the area, also operate Forest-Shores Realty (616-745-7268).
Aunt Kate's Place Bed & Breakfast Lodge (on M-37 in Bitely, 231-745-7213 or 800-358-2980), just a short walk from Pickerel Lake, is owned and operated by Lori Lewellyn's sister, Kathy Matson. (A visiting friend of the Matsons described Kathy as "Martha Stewart with a personality.") Her motto is "Come . . . Enjoy . . . Relax": Kathy and her husband, John, have the perfect place for you to hang your waders at the end of the day, and the next morning Kathy'll cook you a hearty breakfast. (John keeps busy with the M-37 Meat Shop across the yard, where he cuts fresh meats to order and processes deer during the hunting season.) The turn-of-the-century country house has been impressively restored; they've somehow managed to install a bar off the living room, a two-person whirlpool in the upstairs bathroom, and a hot tub on the porch, all without detracting from the stylishly homey ambience. Dog lovers will get a kick out of their adorable labs, but anyone'll tell you that their orange Tabby runs the place.
No-frills folks will enjoy the clean cabins and recently renovated campground with hookups at Ivan's Campground and Cabins (231-745-9345), not to be confused with Ivan's Marquette Camp, about half a mile away. The former offers canoe rentals with convenient access to the river and a map for drift fishing. The latter, according to owner Jutta Gross, is the original Ivan's, but the competition is a moot point. Log cabins in every sense of the word, Gross's cozy two-room ($45 a night) and two-bedroom ($75 a night) cottages and six-bedroom lodge ($200 a night) embody the essence of old-time outdoorsmanship. A steady flow of regulars returns year after year; call ahead for availability (231-745-4512).
We didn't actually go inside the Tarry Motel (231-745-3137), but the mysterious glow of the aqua neon adorning its roofline was tempting. They proudly advertise a fish-cleaning station and deep freezer on the premises. According to their brochure, "Color television, cable, and a phone in each room are the only vices of technology you'll need away from home."
Visitors looking for more than trout will benefit from saying hello to Barb Lauderbaugh at the Lake County Chamber of Commerce Tourist Center (800-245-3240). Barb can tell you everything there is to see and do in and around town, including special events, potato suppers, points of historic interest, and places to shop. One suggestion was Sweetwater Tile & Pottery (231-745-4744), which specializes in custom-designed ceramic sink basins and tiles. (An impressive example of their work, a simple mosaic comprised of odds and ends from different custom jobs, surrounds the whirlpool at Aunt Kate's Place.)
Another pick was the Pamela Tripp Gallery (231-745-3704). Tripp and her husband, Dale Simmons, maintain a casual, friendly atmosphere in which to browse for gift items. Simmons uses natural elements, such as small antlers for lid handles, in his practical and decorative pottery, displayed among Tripp's paintings and works by other regional artists. This affable couple will readily share their insights on the Lake County scene, offering a perspective that more conventional tourist resources may have overlooked.
The longest National Scenic Hiking Trail in the U.S., the North Country Trail, is still under construction. When complete it'll be 3,200 miles long, extending from North Dakota to New York state. A substantial stretch of finished trail runs through the sandy expanse of the Manistee National Forest, with three different trailheads in Lake County. Call 231-723-2211 or 231-745-4631 for info.
You can't miss the Main Stream Cafe (231-745-3377)--it's the one with the fisherwoman in the little green boat out front. The atmosphere is cozy and the menu is full of good food, including four kinds of local fish and an unbelievable assortment of homemade pies. Though owner-waitress Kim Eberlein isn't a fish fan herself, we found her fare to be the tastiest we sampled.
Club 37 (231-266-5601), "prime rib experts of the north," is the place to go if you have a taste for red meat. The tavern atmosphere complements the menu, which also offers french-fried artichoke hearts, Bloody Mary Tubs (a vodka lovers' shrimp cocktail), Steak Alaska (with a sauce of flaked crab in hollandaise), and deep-fried frog legs.
The food at the more elegant Emerson Lake Inn (on U.S. 10, 15 miles west of Baldwin in Walhalla, 231-757-2385) is comparable in price, though the emphasis here is on quality rather than quantity. Tables by the windows at the back offer a view of the lake.
There are plenty of drinking establishments along M-37, many of which advertise live music, DJs, line dancing, and karaoke. A local favorite, Edies Log Bar (231-745-4421) has shuffleboard and bar food, including the enigmatic french-fried dill pickle.
The Red Rooster (in Idlewild, east of M-37, 231-745-7333) stands on the site of the old Rosanna Bar, which hosted live entertainment by the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong in the days when Idlewild was a bustling resort for well-to-do African-Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 precipitated hard times for the community; black-owned businesses could no longer compete with nearby resorts that had once catered only to whites, and decaying evidence of this ironic twist of fate marks much of the surrounding territory. It's still a nice place to go for a drink; when we were there the kitchen was serving catfish, perch, and Red Rooster burgers. There's no menu--just ask.
--Susan and Michael Stahl
After visiting Max Nordeen's Wheels Museum (309-334-2589) in Woodhull, get on I-74 and head 20 miles south (50 miles south from the Quad Cities) to Galesburg. Founded in 1837, it has a notable past: in 1858 one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates was held at a local college (the only debate site still standing), and Illinois' first antislavery society was founded here in 1837--the town became an important station along the Underground Railroad. The successfully revitalized downtown area has enough antique shops and malls to keep your head spinning all the way down Main Street. And the little horse-headed hitching posts are a nice touch.
My husband, Chris, and I decided to check out the Galesburg Antique Mall (349 E. Main, 309-343-9800), located in a restored 19th-century building in the heart of the city's thriving downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We got lost in the 20,000 square feet of booths and showcases, finding lots of affordable treasures. Old postcards and photos are one of my weaknesses and I enjoyed rifling through the many little baskets and boxes I found. There's a coffee shop on the first floor in case you need a lift before moving on to the two upper floors.
A few doors down is the Salvation Army Thrift Store (209 E. Main, 309-342-5723) for those with a lower budget. We didn't find much there but somehow ended up spending $13.
Without a doubt, our favorite antique market was Ziggy's Antique Corporation (674 E. Main, 309-342-9448); with 4,000 square feet and 29 dealers, it's a bargain hunter's paradise. Chris and I found tons of interesting one-dollar LPs, bins of old country 45s (three for a dollar), a terrific cow-pattern shirt, and a tiny glass coffee creamer (something I'd been looking for for years) not to mention stacks of my favorite, 25-cent postcards.
Jumer's Continental Inn (I-74 at E. Main, 309-343-7151 or 800-285-8637) boasts of its old-world charm and European aura, "priceless objets d'art," and "fastidious attention to detail." You can imagine our surprise when we discovered that the toilet in our bathroom wasn't even hooked up. The second room we tried had a broken air conditioner. I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks by the time we got to room number three, but that one ended up being fine. We got two free drink tickets and two complimentary breakfasts for our patience, which made us happy, as did the nice warm swimming pool with its sliding glass doors all around.
At the inn's Tavern of the Pheasant you can listen to lounge singers belt out hits like "Margaritaville," one of my least favorite songs of all time, while you down weak margaritas. We did enjoy it though when one singer performed a horn solo with his lips.
If you're in the mood for more mainstream accommodations, check in to the Fairfield Inn (901 W. Carl Sandburg, 309-344-1911), across from the Sandburg Mall. They have a great little swimming pool, a whirlpool, a better cable selection than Jumer's, and a continental breakfast that's a dieter's nightmare.
Follow the signs all over town to the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site (331 E. Third, 309-342-2361): the tiny three-room cottage where the Pulitzer Prize winner was born on January 6, 1878, and an adjacent visitors' center. For a mere $2 donation, you can see a short video and browse through the center, which is filled with photos, clippings, and original letters signed by folks like Orson Welles and Eleanor Roosevelt who sent money to help fund the museum (Mrs. Roosevelt donated $25). But the real thrill is standing in the cottage, filled with many of the original 19th-century furnishings (kitchen table, sewing machine, doll), and then strolling through the sweet and peaceful garden to the granite boulder inscribed with the words Remembrance Rock (the title of Sandburg's only novel), beneath which the poet and his wife's ashes were placed. Behind the rock are stepping-stones inscribed with memorable quotes and lines from his work like "The fog comes on little cat feet" and my favorite, "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." I felt surprisingly moved after this visit, like I'd had a remarkable little spiritual moment that I wasn't expecting.
The historic Orpheum Theatre (57 S. Kellogg, 309-342-2299) is an old vaudeville theater opened in 1916, designed by the same architectural firm as the Chicago Theatre, C.W. and George L. Rapp. It's hosted such legendary performers as Jack Benny, Harry Houdini, Blackstone the Magician, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice, and Groucho Marx (there are rumors that Groucho Marx got his nickname on this very stage). After its heyday it functioned for many years as a movie theater, then fell into ruin in the 1970s before being beautifully restored and finally reopened in 1988. The Knox-Galesburg Symphony regularly performs here, as does the Prairie Players Civic Theatre, which will present Damn Yankees this summer. This past April the theater held the "Ultimate Elvis Tribute," featuring Elvis impersonators representing three different stages of Elvis's life.
The sign outside El Zapata (156 E. Main, 309-343-6000) advertises "authentic Mexican food." The margaritas are better than at Jumer's and the service is very pleasant but the food is average; plus, the restaurant is as big as several bowling alleys and it looks spooky with only a few couples dining up front by the windows.
Stop at Maid Rite (2250 Grand, 309-342-2426) for twin scoops of possibly the best potato salad on the planet. (Sorry, mom.) Most famous for their loose meat sandwich on a bun, this popular midwestern chain began in 1926. Eating here is like walking into a time warp, with the drive-in movie snack-bar-style menu hanging overhead, historic photos of local buildings and train accidents, and stacks of old yearbooks from nearby Knox College that customers can flip through.
The Coney Island (77 S. Cherry, 309-343-4990) is the oldest eating establishment in Galesburg and is currently owned and operated by Erin and Dave Buckmaster, who've figured out how to make the impossible: vegetarian Coney dogs! Chris talked me into ordering one for breakfast (it was 8 AM!) and I am embarrassed to admit it but it was the dining highlight of our trip. "The chili sauce is a closely guarded secret and has remained the same since 1921," Erin explained. "A lot of people want to know if they can have the recipe but when you buy the restaurant, that's what you're really paying for." (They also serve their own version of a "Maid Rite" called a "made wrong.") The original oak counter and matching stools still stand, along with a dozen or so antique school desks that you can eat at if the counter is full. This place is a visual feast with fabulous Coke and hot dog memorabilia, fun movie and pop-culture collectibles like the Archie and Howdy Doody heads that hang on the wall, beautiful carnival arcade games, and a 1958 Gottlieb pinball machine (five balls for five cents) that Chris had to pry me away from when our order was up. As we left the little Coney Island, Chris looked at me and asked, "Do you think Carl Sandburg ever sat at the counter and ate a Coney dog?" and I said, "How could he resist?"
Halfway along the 90-minute trek from Chicago to Milwaukee is the famous Kenosha landmark the Brat Stop (I-94 and Highway 50, 414-857-2011). This legendary site has served up nearly nine million heart-clogging bratwursts and untold pounds of sauerkraut and sausage during its 38 years of operation.
Owner Jerry Rasmussen is carrying on family tradition; he took over the business--originally a cheese and sausage shop--from his parents in 1961. The mammoth complex has a whopping 20,000 square feet of restaurant and concert-hall space, plus an additional 19,000 square feet devoted to the Parkway Chateau, a banquet hall that's home to the most boisterous wedding receptions in the midwest.
At his Wednesday and Thursday night karaoke sessions, Rasmussen has seemingly hosted every failed garage-band singer in Wisconsin who's still mourning the passing of hair bands like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake. Sunday afternoons are for sports fans, as the Brat Stop's 70 (count 'em) television screens broadcast every game being played anywhere. The restaurant has become a major meeting point for Cubs and Brewers fans to engage in head-to-head rivalry outside their respective ballparks. Friday and Saturday nights promise classic-rock magic. The restaurant's massive indoor stage seems more appropriate for Ozzfest '99, but sellout crowds of 2,000 show up to see such heroes as Cheap Trick. This year's biggest event promises to be REO Speedwagon on November 24.
The Brat Stop, which is open 365 days a year, is sure to go down in history about as easily as a cold brew and a greasy sausage.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations by Terry Laban.