Welcome back friends, family, RV'ers, Geocachers, Jeepers, and fellow travelers of the open roads. In this edition of our AwayWeGo Adventures blog, we pick up where we left off yesterday at the state line entering Illinois from Indiana. We spent the whole day in Illinois as we grabbed new geocaching counties and picked up some Presidents Lincoln and Reagan historical sites. And a really cool college ghost campus along the way! There's no debate about it, we've got lots to show you. So join us as we do some sightseeing along Illinois backroads...
So yesterdays blog focused on the General Lew Wallace Study / Museum and the Ben-Hur story. We did continue on and cross the state line that afternoon, but I wanted to hold those geocaching stops into todays Illinois post.
A geocache needed in Vermillion County was our next stop. Driving westbound on I-74 past Danville, is the Salt Kettle Rest Area. While many may stop for a much needed break at the rest area, few realize that there is a pioneer cemetery (GC35GC9) just a short hike along a trail to the east.
Edward M. Wilson was born 1785 in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1802 at age 17. He served in the Battle of North Point, in Baltimore, MD, which occurred on Sept. 12, 1812 and the following 2 days, the Battle of Baltimore at Fort Henry occurred. During this battle and bombardment on Fort Henry, Francis Scott Key penned the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. In 1832, Edward migrated west, married Caroline Searl on June 29, 1835 (she was born Feb. 23, 1811 in Mass.) and she died April 14, 1867 and is buried next to him here in Searl Cemetery. Edward died Sept. 4, 1840 age 55. Edward bought property in Vermilion County in 1832 and before he died, he amassed quite a bit of property which included this family cemetery.
Moving west along I-74 into Champaign County, the was another cemetery right near the exit. That made for a quick geocaching find for the county (GC2739Z).
Passing through the northeast corner of Piatt County, there was a quick park and grab geocache (GC6CA0A) right at the exit that allowed us to continue moving and putting miles behind us. And the same thing just a few miles further in DeWitt County (GC3X0ZC). I already had McLean County from my truck driving days back in 2008, so we turned north on I-39 in Bloomington to Woodford County. There we grabbed a quick roadside cemetery cache near the small town of El Paso (GC971CA), didn't know there was an El Paso in Illinois.
Continuing north into Marshall County, there was an earthcache (GC1BRDJ) I decided to stop for. An earthcache is a geocache without a traditional container and logsheet. To get credit for the cache, you are to observe something geological there and answer the specified questions within the description on the cache page. At this location in the middle of vast farmland is this huge boulder sitting where it's difficult to find even the smallest of rocks. Supposedly this was carried down to this location on ancient glaciers and left here when they melted.
Making good time and now up in LaSalle County, we stopped for a quick geocache (GC473T0), some fuel, and some food. Then a quick geocache (GC17KM8) stop at the Willow Creek Northbound Rest Area.
Then we took the Lincoln Highway east over into DeKalb County for two cemetery geocaches (GC7PRVY, GC8D9GA).
Back to I-39 northbound, we stopped for a quick roadside geocache (GC39RYA) near the exit in Ogle County. But it was missing and we had to DNF it. So I looked up another nearby cemetery geocache (GC4GVX3) that was a little further out and found that one to get credit for the county.
So that finished up Day 5 from yesterday. Today we began in Rockford, IL. Now the original plan for our extended roadtrip going from North Carolina to Texas via the LONGWAY across the northern states, had us jumping up into Wisconsin and Minnesota also. But this morning we were met with an artic blast of temps in the low 30's and an expected high of only 45 degrees! And that was for Rockford. Why would we even want to go further north?? Change of plans...
After some coffee and breakfast, we grabbed a quick parking lot geocache (GC28T0P) for Winnebago County.
Because of the artic blast, I head west on I-90 instead of north. The next stop was a geocache (GC5WQ5A) in Stephenson County. It was outside the old Lincoln School building. The front of the building says Lincoln School. On one side above the door it says Boys Entrance. On the other side it says Girls Entrance. I don't think it's a school anymore. Other than that, an hour of searching the web and I can't find any history on the building.
A few blocks away was the historical Debate Square. In 1858, the Democratic Party was the majority party in Illinois and Douglas was by far the most popular member of this party. Lincoln was not well known because his party, the newly formed Republicans, were still trying to create an organization. As a result, Lincoln had trouble drawing crowds as he canvassed the state in his bid to unseat Douglas.
Finally Lincoln suggested to Douglas that the two of them share their platform and divide their speaking time. Douglas had nothing to gain by agreeing with Lincoln, but loving a good political brawl, Douglas agreed to Lincoln's proposal.
Seven debates were scheduled in each of the congressional districts in which the two had not already appeared in close proximity. Ottawa, Illinois was the location of the first debate on August 21, 1858. On this square in Freeport was the second debate on August 27, 1858.
On the corner of the Stephenson County Courthouse Square is this Civil War Memorial honoring those citizens of this county who gave their lives during the war.
One more county in the northwest corner of the state and we take the very backroads to get to the nearest two geocaches. The first was along a heavily wooded area on the north side of the Ward's Grove Nature Preserve (GC302PR). The geocache was hidden by the rock wall in the back near the shallow cave-like openings. As thick as this looks now, I'm just glad spring hadn't sprung yet and the whole area covered in foliage!
The second geocache (GC8PA44) in this county was further down a rural country road to view a tree carving on the lawn of a farm house. This is a carving of Chief Black Hawk, between this site and the Black Hawk Monument at Kellogg’s Grove is where the skirmish of 1832 took place. Makataimeshekiakiak (“Black Sparrow Hawk”) was known to European-Americans as Black Hawk. Born around 1767 in the village of Saukenuk, he grew up very anti-American supporting the British during the war of 1812. Commonly referred to as “Chief,” he has no official position in his tribe. He did, possess, however, natural leadership skills that caused many warriors to follow him.
Working our way south now towards warmer weather, the next county on the list is Carroll County. I have three geocaches selected here and the first two are in the town of Mount Carroll. The Shimer College Campus (GC8FXG4, GC5FGN9) was originally founded as the Mount Carroll Seminary in 1852 by Francis Shimer. It grew from just 11 students in one room to over 100 students in four main classroom buildings. And it was primarily an all girls school ranging in ages as young as 3 to college students. There were some boys that had attended over the years, but they were only allowed to be day students not living on campus.
In 1896, the school partnered with the University of Chicago and the Baptist Church and became the Francis Shimer Academy. Over the years there were many changes as the college struggled financially and admissions rose and fell. In 1950 the name was changed the Shimer College and it became coeducational school once again. The highest number of students was in the 1960's with just over 500 attending classes. Disagreements with the older more conservative faculty and the younger faculty and students of the late 1960's led to a third of the students and some faculty leaving. Several bankruptcies and school closers later, the yearly student enrollments fell below 100 and around 50 most of the time. In 1979 the school board decided to move classes to the town of Waukegan, Illinois.
During the 1980's, a group of Mount Carroll residents organized the Restoration College Association which later became the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies to prevent the campus from being broken up. As I walked around this campus, the more than a dozen buildings appeared to be abandoned. I kept thinking to myself that these would be cool to own, restore and turn them into something useful. Well that is currently the intent. It is now call Shimer Square and more than $30 Million will be invested over the coming years to convert building to housing, business, and community amenities. You can read about the future plans and progress here.
OK, back to geocaching. From there we drove over to State Road 84 which follows along the banks of the Mississippi River, stopping for a quick cemetery cache in the town of Ayers (GC8C16J).
Continuing south into Whiteside County and the town of Fulton, we stopped at Calvary Hill Cemetery for our next geocache (GC39WDR). Resting atop the hill overlooking the great river is a historical headstone of presidential significance. Buried in this cemetery are President Ronald Reagan's paternal Irish ancestors. His great-grandparents, Michael and Catherine Mulcahey Reagan, emigrated in 1856 and after Michael's 1884 burial in Calvary Hill Cemetery, Catherine and three children moved to Fulton. One son, John, married Jennie Cusick. Both died in their thirties and left four orphans. One of those was Jack, whom became the father of the future president. A total of 16 Reagan relatives are buried here.
From there we drove over to the town of Tampico. The geocache (GC90AHG) happen to be missing at the time of our visit so we did have to log a DNF. But we did find some more presidential history. From the historical marker: "On February 6, 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in an upstairs apartment at 111 South Main Street. His father, John "Jack" Reagan, of Irish-Catholic ancestry, was a clerk in the H.C. Pitney Store also on Main Street, and gave Ronald the nickname "Dutch." His mother, Nelle Wilson Reagan, was of Scots-English background."
"The small town atmosphere of Tampico played an important role in Reagan's formative years. As a child he played on a cannon in the park. Both of Reagan's parents were known for their acting ability in productions at Burden's Opera House on Main Street. Ronald Reagan became a sports announcer, a well-known movie star, served as Governor of California from 1967-1975, and then President of the United States from 1981-1989. He died in 2004 and is buried at the Regan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California."
Unfortunately the Reagan Birthplace Museum was closed while we were here and we didn't get a chance to take the tour.
Now back over to the banks of the Mississippi River, we entered Rock Island County and the town of Rapids City. There we made a quick roadside geocache (GC33PJR) find for the county.
Being so close, we took the I-80 bridge across the river into Iowa to check off a bucket list item. The American Pickers is a popular TV show and they happened to be based right there Le Claire, Iowa, just outside of Davenport. There's also a geocache hidden there too (GC3MYET)! Well, we found the geocache but arrived just as two girls were locking the doors to leave. I didn't recognize either from the show, so no autographs.
Jumping onto I-74 eastbound, which in reality goes straight south through three counties, we stop at the rest area in Henry County for another quick geocaching find to claim the county (GC2BVRR).
Our jump over into Iowa for the cache at the Antique Archeologists put us back on track with our original planned route if we had gone up into Wisconsin, Minnesota and then down into Iowa. We would have then crossed back into Illinois to where we are now.
That's it for a long day today. Join us again next time for Day 7 as we continue finding more President Lincoln history and make our way over to the Historic Route 66.
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