Authentic full-scale, working Dutch windmill along the Lincoln Highway in Fulton, Ill. Photo courtesy of the Getaway Guys.

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After visiting DeKalb and Rochelle during their westward trek over the fabled Lincoln Highway in Part 1 of this two-part series published in the June 8 issue, Neil and Alan stopped in Franklin Grove and Dixon, breezed through Prairieville and came to rest in Sterling beside a bunch of Indian mounds. Farther on they explored Fulton and then Clinton, Iowa.

Franklin Grove, Illinois:  At the north end of town there is an inconspicuous building of mid-19th century construction once owned and operated as a general store by Abraham Lincoln’s brother Tom. Jammed with stuff old and new, this is the headquarters of the resurrected Lincoln Highway Association and has a plethora of information related to the highway. This hodge-podge is a must-see. Through Franklin Grove the Lincoln Highway is Illinois 38.

Dixon, Illinois:  A larger and more prosperous community, Dixon is essentially devoted to the memory of Ronald Reagan. His restored boyhood home is at 816 South Hennepin Ave. The restored house is a quintessential late 19th-early-
20th-century residence in a pleasant neighborhood. Down Hennepin at Fifth Street is
the admirably restored South Central School (now the Dixon Historic Center) which “Dutch” Reagan attended. In addition to a boatload of Reagan-related material, the center features fascinating exhibits of local history and loan exhibitions from the Smithsonian. The Lincoln Highway Interpretive Center at River and Galena Streets was somewhat anti-climactic, but the Lincoln Monument State Memorial commemorating Lincoln’s Blackhawk War militia duty in 1832 is interesting (if a bit confusing to get to on the opposite side of the Rock River). Spanning South Galena Avenue is the iconic Dixon Veterans Memorial Arch, a kind of promotional structure once popular when entering numerous U.S. communities during the early motoring age and frequently featured on picture post cards. Slightly west of Dixon at a wide spot in the road called Prairieville there is an authentic drive-in theater worth noting. A post-World War II brat, Alan got all choked up about happier days (he and Reagan). 

Sterling, Illinois: The Guys deserted the highway to investigate Indian mounds overlooking the Rock River in Sinnissippi Park. Though the mounds are no longer recognizable, they are present and have good signage that indicates their significance and Native American attributions. From Dixon to Sterling the Highway is Illinois 2. Through Sterling, the route is somewhat confusing, but a section passes through a residential area with grand 19th-and early 20th-century homes mostly well-preserved and currently occupied. This struck Neil and Alan as curious. The desirability of highway traffic rumbling down a residential street of well-to-do housing seemed odd. What were earlier occupants thinking?

Morrison, Illinois: About 15 miles west of Sterling is a gem named Morrison with preserved commercial and residential architecture. Morrison’s Lincoln highway is U.S. 30. Its main drag is a cornucopia of late 19th-century commercial architecture in good shape. Just north of the main drag on the original route is a cluster of grand residences worthy of observation. Somebody had money.

Finally, the east bank of the Mississippi and Fulton, Illinois: Settled in 1835, it changed its name from Baker’s Ferry to honor Robert Fulton, builder of the first steamboat (the Clermont). Dutch immigrants arrived in sufficient numbers without their iconic architecture and no discernible reason why. Nevertheless Fulton is unique. In 2000 Fulton erected a functional, full-scale windmill fabricated in the Netherlands and shipped in pieces (accompanied by Dutch craftsmen). One of only a few operational Dutch windmills in the U.S., the Getaway Guys got a personal tour. Opposite on 1st Street and 10th Avenue is the Windmill Cultural Center where Neil and Alan were mesmerized by a large, permanent exhibit of working models of Dutch and other European windmills. (“Dutch” Reagan’s parents lived in Fulton before moving to Dixon.)

Clinton, Iowa: Across the Mississippi and named for Dewit Clinton (a Governor of New York best remembered for the construction of the Erie Canal), the Guys thought it odd that nearby communities should bare the names of New Yorkers. This Clinton needs a stimulus. Once an industrial magnet humming with activity, its river front is largely abandoned and awaiting development. But there’s a bright side. The Guys lunched at the Candlelight Inn, a comfortable, contemporary restaurant perched on the banks of Ole Man River with spectacular, unimpeded views across this majestic waterway. The food and service were excellent and the cost very reasonable. Afterward the Guys began exploring by visiting Eagle Point Park north of town, a Civilian Conservation Corps creation with extensive hiking trails, scenic overlooks and a timbered lodge devoted to community activities. (see Neil and Alan’s C.C.C. destinations at www.getaway-chicago.com)

Downtown Clinton is somewhat moribund and the present recession has not helped, but there is probably more to see than the Guys had time for. There are good examples of late 19th-and early-20th-century commercial architecture needing occupants, restoration or adaptive reuse. At 2nd Street and 6th Avenue there is the large and impressive Clinton County Court House, an architecturally interesting civic building of note. Evening dining is limited, but Neil and Alan found (after getting lost) the McKinley Street Taverne at 2301 McKinley Street. Their dinner was very good (and copious), the service attentive and the prices much to Alan’s liking (cheap). This restaurant occupies the former offices of the Disbrow Company (1856), a manufacturer of windows and doors.

This was not quite the journey back in time the Guys sought, because the highway’s past has been largely erased by progress. However, from St. Charles to Clinton enough of the original course remains to make it worthwhile and
thought-provoking.

Editor’s Note:  The authors maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com which offers recommended outings to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight.