An historic river town – Quincy, Illinois

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Great River Road, Quincy, IL

wpid30708-2014-09-24-IL-1590644-.jpgFollowing the Great River Road, we made our only stop in Illinois at Quincy.  This town is located alongside the Mississippi River and sits on the bluffs above it.  According to one of the plaques we read, Quincy owes its existence to the river.  It had ideal docking conditions for steamboats, and it became a “doorway to the West” in the late 1800’s.  It remains a prominent and historic river town today.  Being our only stop in Illinois, we scoured brochures and the visitor center for things to do during our 5-day stay.

Bay Bridge, Quincy, Illinois

Checking out one of the riverside plaques

The visitor center offered a self-guided Architecture Driving Tour, but not much else that interested us.  Remembering that small towns can sometimes reveal hidden gems, we decided to do the driving tour and stay on the lookout for other possibilities.  The brochure indicated that Quincy is famous for its tree-lined streets, beautiful parks and attractive historic neighborhoods.  It touts 3,664 buildings on the National Register, and is home to four National Register of Historic Places districts.  All of this covers about 250 blocks and a dozen individually listed National Register properties.  It was voted one of the top ten historic towns in America.  So off we went to find out for ourselves!

We cruised along the East End Historic District, where Quincy’s rich architectural history is on display.  Check out these unusual roofs, and the gorgeous mansions under them:

Most of these mansions are privately-owned and occupied (some even allow tours), while a few had been converted into museums.  The district contains scores of meticulously maintained mansions in a setting of very mature trees.  The intersection of 16th & Maine streets was designated one of the most architecturally significant corners in the U.S. by National Geographic.

If you’ve been following us, you have seen pictures of homes in other historic towns that we’ve visited.  I won’t compare them to the ones in Quincy, but this river town certainly has a history and appeal of its own.   As common tourists, we admired the diversity and vibrancy of the design elements we observed.  And it wasn’t just the mansions – there were also several gorgeous churches, and some interesting homes for more common folks – like these:

ZWICK Row, Quincy Illinois

Zwick Row (Steve thought these were ugly)

Trapp Row

Trapp Row

Green Parks of Quincy

We quickly noticed that the town has many green parks – 26 to be exact.  We get excited when we see markers at parks, because they usually indicate we can count on enjoying one of our favorite pastimes – biking or walking.  So we were gung-ho for a good bike ride, but we soon realized these interconnected parks are interconnected by some very steep hills! Our hearts were pumping fast and our legs screaming in pain as we finally reached the top of the bluff.  Steve and I were literally conked out and had to take a break before pedaling back down to the riverfront.  Although we’ve been doing a lot of hiking and walking lately, our biking legs were out of shape!

On another day we decided to walk some of the same trails, as it was a little less strenuous and we wanted to enjoy the beautiful scenery a bit more.  But then Steve decided to take a different route along the railroad tracks.  Mind you, it wasn’t for a lack of good trails – he just wanted to explore off the beaten path.

As you might imagine, we were crunching our way along on the rocks as we enjoyed the sights.  Crunch-crunch, and fortunately no Choo-choo!  We finally got to a bridge that we were obviously not supposed to cross.  Not wanting you all to read about the bloggers who got flattened by a train, we decided to exit the tracks at that point and head toward home.


Cross, or head back?  Are you feeling lucky, punk?

On our way home, we came across some nuts laying along the trail.  Steve immediately recognized them as black walnuts, and he told me the story about how he and his sister lived amongst hundreds of black walnut trees and how his father made Steve and his sister pick up a box of them every day after school.  This was when Steve was only about 9-10 years old, so these days it would be a clear violation of child labor laws 😉

Anyway, Steve’s dad would take the walnuts to a buyer after they had accumulated several bags of them, and the kids would get to split the money.  A good lesson learned at a young age, and Steve was off to a roaring early career!  These are his favorite nuts, and even though they were a bit early and needed more time to dry out, he was happy to pick some up for later consumption.  I had no idea I was married to a black walnut expert!


If you are a Mark Twain fan, then Hannibal, Missouri could be your town to visit.  Too bad we learned that only when we drove there to catch a riverboat dinner cruise.  It was near our anniversary date, and Steve thought a cruise on the “Mighty Mississippi” would be a special way to remember our special day.  The Mark Twain River Cruise was not narrated, but just a leisurely trip along the river at sunset.  The food was surprisingly good, and we had a nice relaxing evening contemplating how great our life together has been, and how we’re looking forward to more of the same.

Hannibal, MO

Hannibal, Missouri – boyhood home of Mark Twain

We continued our celebration the following day by attending the Great River Grape Escape, which was held at Clat Adams Bicentennial Park on the scenic Quincy riverfront.  The event was a 2-day gathering of 12 Illinois wineries with live music, and we bought tickets for several tastings.  For each $1.00 ticket we got a one-ounce sample of wine, and we thought several of the dry wines were very good.  Who knew there are wine trails in Illinois?  Of course, we did not leave empty-handed!

Great River Grape Escape

Site of the Great River Grape Escape at Quincy, IL

We enjoyed five beautiful sunny days while staying at Driftwood Campground just up the road from the riverfront (Steve’s review here).  But unless you’re into design elements or architecture, it may be more of a good couple-day stop rather than for a prolonged stay.


Next up:  St Louis, Missouri





Tri-states means triple the fun!

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The Big M, Platteville, WI

wpid30207-2014-09-10-WI-1410232-.jpgOur slow southern migration continued to our next stop at Kieler, Wisconsin, which just happens to lie at the junction of three states – Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  We established our one-week home base at Rustic Barn Campground and RV Park (Steve’s review here).  The unsettled weather while here added some spice to our “activities planning”, but I used my “Daytripper Book of 101 Things To Do”, to choose the ones that piqued our curiosity and were within a reasonable driving distance.

Upon settling in, we wondered what the small building just across from Betsy was.  I went over to check it out and discovered it’s a very small chapel that seats 25 people, complete with stained glass windows and wooden pews.  Not something we see in campgrounds very often!  I learned that it’s not only a chapel available to campers, but is also used occasionally for weddings.

Rustic Barn Campground

An antiquated chapel right in front of Betsy

Each morning, with coffee in hand, we looked out over this dairy farm to watch the farmers and cows doing their thing:

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

When the cows were out grazing, Steve would walk down and have a chat with them.  He decided not to join them in eating grass though – it doesn’t go well with coffee.

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

Honey, can we have steak for dinner?

While passing through Platteville, Wisconsin, a big “M” on a hill caught my attention for an obvious reason – it’s my first initial!  It was visible from many miles away, probably because it’s supposedly the world’s largest “M”, a claim made by the city’s Chamber of Commerce that remains unchallenged.  The letter is etched into a one-mile long by half-mile wide mound that rises 450 ft. above its surroundings.  At 241 ft. high, 214 ft. wide and with 25 ft. wide legs, it definitely stands out.  In 1937, some engineering students built this letter to represent the miners of Platteville.  It continues to be maintained today, as folks occasionally whitewash the stones and light it on homecoming days.

Just 5 miles from our campground was a series of grottos and shrine structures covered in shells, stones, tile pieces, wood, glass, gems and geodes collected from all over the world. Father Mathius Wernerus, who created it between 1925 and 1930, dedicated it to the unity of God and country.


From afar this looked like an ordinary grotto, but upon closer inspection we realized the enormity of the project, as we saw the thousands of pieces that had been imbedded into the cement.  The creativity and tediousness of it is quite amazing, and we actually stopped by twice to take in the detail and workmanship.  You never know where you’ll find something so cool and unusual – worth a stop if you’re in the area.


Galena, Illinois

We crossed the state border into Illinois about 20 miles from our campground to visit Galena, Illinois.  The word galena is the technical term for sulphide of lead, which existed in considerable quantities in northwestern Illinois.  The city of Galena was born in 1826 and became very prosperous.  In fact, there was a time during the mid-1800’s when it was larger than Chicago.  It provided a core transportation hub (steamship, railroad and highways) and was a rich base for lead mining.  When the mining ceased, Galena’s glory days were over and the city was almost forgotten.  But the buildings left behind represent a large variety of architectural styles, and 85% of them are listed on the National Historical Registry.

Galena River

Galena River

Galena, IL

A levee was constructed after a flash flood in 2011

Main Street in downtown Galena has a large number of specialty shops and restaurants, plus a winery and brewery.  It was a great place to shop and have lunch – we went back twice.

Galena, IL

Main street, Galena, IL

Galena, IL

After the first day of looking around at the buildings and window shopping, all I ended up with was a bag of delicious sweet caramel popcorn.  Steve was happy to find his hard-to-get Wingtime Garlic Wing Sauce.  If you like to make your own buffalo wings, try to find this sauce!  Or if you meet us for a “happy hour” down the road, ask Steve to bring some wings – he’ll be happy to oblige!

History buffs may know that the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, lived in Galena after the Civil War.  He was so esteemed by the residents of Galena that he was given a mansion in which to live.  While in town on a rainy day, we took a guided tour of the mansion.  Ninety percent of the furnishings are original, left by the Grant family.  Several other buildings on the property displayed interesting exhibits, including one consisting of painted stones with all of the Presidents and First Ladies represented.  We also saw White House china from 14 administrations, and displays of the pets of every U.S. President.

We came back on a rare clear and sunny day to get the only real exercise we would enjoy during our stay.  We followed the Galena River Trail, clocking 7 miles on the flat terrain.

Galena River Trail

Galena River Trail, looking east

I stopped at the Buehler Preserve, a wet prairie that is preferred by some of the area’s colorful flowers:

Galena is located on the banks of the Galena River, which flows out to the Mississippi.  It’s a very picturesque place, due to all of its rolling hills and exposed rock.  Our short time there gave us only a glimpse of what it has to offer.


Dubuque, Iowa

wpid30262-2014-09-10-WI-1410239-.jpgAcross another border was Iowa, and Dubuque was only seven miles from our campground. The city is the “birthplace of Iowa”, and its oldest city.  It rests upon scenic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.  The Riverwalk along the Mississippi was our initial destination, and while strolling along we were able to admire the various river art sculptures on display for the summer. Downtown,  I was taken once again by the unique architecture of the historic buildings in the downtown area.

Town clock, Dubuque Iowa

Town clock in the middle of Main Street

This was the first time we had seen a water fountain just for doggies.   Cool!

Port of Dubuque, IA

Man’s best friend gets his own water fountain in this town!

We rode up the shortest, steepest cable car in the world, the Fenelon Place Elevator.  The original cable car was built in 1882 by banker J.K. Graves, who lived on top of the bluff and worked at the bottom.  Since the ride in his carriage took 30 minutes, he decided to decrease his commute time by laying tracks and having his gardener let the cable car down in the morning and pull it back up at noon for lunch.  After his meal and a nap, the gardener let him down again, then back up once more after work.  That gardener must have been in very good shape!  I’m sure he was thrilled when a motor was finally installed and he was able to go back to just gardening.

Fenelon Place Elebator

Fenelon Place Elevator on the bluff

Today’s cable cars are pretty nice, having replaced the previous ones destroyed by fire.

Fenelon Place Elevator Company

Elevator up!

The railway is 296 ft. long and elevates passengers 189 ft. from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.  At the top we enjoyed great views of the business district, Mississippi River and all three states.

Fenelon Place Elevator

Panoramic view from the top; straight across is Wisconsin, and over to the right is Illinois

Summer may be over, but this city keeps their Farmer’s Market going until October. We had fun walking through and buying some fresh veggies.

I realize this post is long, even though I tried to cram in just the highlights of our activities in the three states – not easy to do!


Next up:  Field of Dreams