Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Northwest Territory Historic Center
205 W. Fifth St., Dixon, Ill., (815) 288-5508, nthc.org
President Ronald Reagan was lucky to send his friend Norman Wymbs to his hometown of Dixon, Ill. During the early 1980s, as Wymbs oversaw the restoration of Reagan’s boyhood home on Hennepin Avenue, he also purchased the South Central School where Reagan attended sixth and seventh grades. The building would soon become the Northwest Territory Historic Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
Today, the local history museum houses educational exhibits about Reagan and the region. The former president’s restored sixth-grade classroom connects to the Reagan History Room, with displays of Reagan’s diplomas and original movie posters from his days in Hollywood.
Two new permanent exhibits, The Unchanged Land and The Changing Land, highlight the Black Hawk War and American farming, respectively. Artifacts, dioramas and life-like, talking mannequins guide visitors through these landmark moments in the Old Northwest Territory.
There’s also an Abraham Lincoln History Room, Walgreens History Room, Local Chautauqua History Room and other exhibits on World War I and the greater Dixon area.
School and group tours can visit the research library, art gallery, surround-sound theater and museum store.
“We have two tour guides who volunteer for us throughout the year, and both are subject experts,” says Dave Latta, manager.
A restored auditorium with a stage is available for private weddings, birthday parties and other events.
Amber Sun Acres
19819 University Road, Malta, Ill., (815) 825-2168, prairiestaterebels.org
When Bill and Anne Phelps built their first barn in 1994, it was just for them and their four horses in Malta, Ill. But when more and more people began asking about boarding horses there, the couple expanded the facility to three barns, indoor and outdoor riding arenas, and a clubhouse. Soon enough, they started holding events.
“Twenty years ago, Anne and I started these little rodeos, where friends and family would come out for a picnic and other things,” says Bill Phelps. “Today, it’s a full-time thing.”
The farm now hosts its own team of cowboy mounted shooters, part of a fast-growing equestrian sport that harkens back to the 1800s. During competition, riders on horseback maneuver around an obstacle course while shooting 10 balloon targets with single-action revolvers and special blanks.
Many riders travel to the Phelps’ farm for practices and four weekend competitions with the Prairie State Rebels, a club affiliated with the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association.
Every July, Amber Sun Acres celebrates the National Day of the Cowboy with a two-day festival open to the public. Mounted pistol, rifle and shotgun competitions, vendors, food and cowboy games honor the western way of life. Visit their Facebook page for a complete schedule and event updates.
“My favorite part of all this is the people you meet,” says Bill. “It’s like one big family now.”
New Glarus Brewing Co.
Hilltop Plant: 2400 State Hwy. 69, New Glarus, Wis., (608) 527-5850, newglarusbrewing.com
Riverside Plant: County W and State Hwy. 69, New Glarus, Wis.
Spotted Cow and the other all-natural beers at New Glarus Brewing Co. top award lists across the country – but you can only buy these ales in Wisconsin. Since 1993, founder and president Deborah Carey and brewmaster Dan Carey have been perfecting their local brewery to retain quality control. They continue to produce sought-after research-and-development beverages.
The brewery’s Hilltop Plant, opened in May 2006, has become a popular tourist destination for beer-lovers. The three-hour Hard Hat Tour creates a behind-the-scenes look into the small-scale production at the original Riverside and Hilltop breweries. Groups of 15 are treated to a private beer and cheese pairing at the end. The Hard Hat Tour is available on Fridays at 1 p.m.
“Reservations are required for our Hard Hat Tour and it’s already booked solid for all of 2016 and some of 2017,” says Deborah.
Anyone can take a free, self-guided tour during the hilltop brewery’s open hours. Visitors can wander the halls and peer through windows to see the bottling line, fermentation tanks, control lab and more. In the beer garden and tasting room, you can purchase three beer samples and a take-home commemorative tasting glass. The gift shop also offers branded apparel, glassware and novelty items.
The Beer Depot always stocks six year-round beers and some seasonal and specialty varieties for purchase in mix-and-match cases.
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.
Hard Hat Tours are available on Fridays at 1 p.m.