Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Fennimore Doll & Toy Museum
1135 Sixth St., Fennimore, Wis. (608) 822-4100, dollandtoymuseum.com
Anyone who loves vintage dolls and toys, or history in general, will enjoy this little gem of a museum. The collection came together in 1991 and constantly evolves, augmented by displays on loan. It’s run entirely by volunteers who have a passion for their subject.
Among other things, you’ll find 736 custom-styled Barbie dolls; early American Girls; both sophisticated antique porcelain dolls and homemade dolls made from materials like corn cobs, dried apples and nuts; and classic and collectible dolls from around the world from the 1800s to present.
The diverse materials used by doll makers over the centuries reveals much about their cultures. Before plastics and vinyl dominated production, doll heads were made from paper mache, metals like tin or brass, wood, wax, china and bisque. Some extraordinary artists made extraordinary dolls.
Also on display are dolls representing beloved characters like Mrs. Beasley, Annie and Shirley Temple.
But dolls aren’t the only attraction here. There are toys from various eras, some made from tin and cast iron. There are also special collections like Fisher Price pull-toys or 1950s Western toys. If you visit, you may also want to stop at Fennimore Railroad Historical Society Museum, just down the road. Learn about it at Fennimore.com.
The doll museum is open daily through Labor Day 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; weekends-only and by appointment in October; and by appointment only Nov.-May. Call (608) 822-7920 or (608) 778-1192 to schedule group visits.
Lowden State Park, Oregon, Ill.
At last, the Eternal Indian is getting the attention he deserves. After repairs stalled for years, Lorado Taft’s masterpiece is on track for a full recovery.
“It’s very realistic to think the repair work will be completed by the end of next summer,” says Oregon Mayor Ken Williams.
Public and private entities, via Black Hawk Restoration Team, are pooling the $600,000 needed to complete the repairs and establish an ongoing maintenance fund. A project that requires so much teamwork is never easy to pull off; it wasn’t for Taft, either.
The fact that Taft, in 1910, built a 50-foot-tall concrete statue on a wooded, sloping bluff that rises 125 feet above the Rock River is remarkable. So is the fact that it’s endured more than a century of weather extremes, including a 1940s lightning strike.
Taft’s first attempt blew down in a winter storm. The following summer, his crew dug down through bedrock, by hand, to install a massive foundation. By the time they finished pouring concrete into a form, it was December. The following spring, when Taft eagerly cut back the mesh cast, he discovered that the intricate details in the face – the kind of details that would forever be his signature – had set almost flawlessly.
Taft exhausted his money on the Eternal Indian, which locals since dubbed “Black Hawk.” How pleased he would be to know we still value his work today.
If you want to help, send a check to the Oregon Together Black Hawk Team, P.O. Box 574, Oregon, IL 61061 or make a secure online donation at ilcf.org, the Illinois Conservation Foundation website.
Jane Addams Recreation Trail
Freeport to Wisconsin (815) 233-1357, JaneAddamsTrail.com, Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Our region has no shortage of beautiful trails and summer/fall is a terrific time to explore them. This 17-mile multi-use trail reveals many facets of our region’s personality. It winds through woods, wetlands, prairies, farmland, interesting geological formations and historic Freeport. It crosses 22 bridges, including a covered bridge in Orangeville, Ill.
Built along a former railroad bed, the trail offers insights into history. It passes the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s second debate with Stephen Douglas in Freeport. It’s named for 1931 Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Jane Addams, who was born and grew up in nearby Cedarville, Ill.
The trail crosses the 1885 Van Buren Street Bridge in the Old River School Historic District of Freeport, and passes by the cabin of the city’s founder, Tutty Baker.
The trail is part of the Grand Illinois Trail, which stretches across northern Illinois from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The 13 miles between the Wes Block Trailhead in Freeport and the Wisconsin state line is a crushed limestone surface used by hikers, bicyclists, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. The 4 miles between the Wes Block Trailhead and Tutty’s Crossing Trailhead, which is adjacent to the Pecatonica River in historic downtown Freeport, is a paved surface.
To the north, the Jane Addams Trail connects at the Wisconsin state line to the Badger Trail, which leads to Madison, Wis.
The new Pecatonica Prairie Trail, currently under development between Freeport and Rockford, also will connect to the Jane Addams Trail.
Trail maps and information about access points are available on the website, which does a good job of explaining the flora, fauna and geological formations you’ll see along the way, as well as other significant points.
Whether you hike a few miles or bicycle the entire route, time is well spent on this lovely ribbon through our region.