Southern Illinois Trip

I awoke early Sunday to my cat standing on my chest.  He did some passive-aggressive purring for kibble an hour earlier than normal.  Ah, daylight savings ended.  Lousy farmers.  Instead of trying to go back to sleep, I instead headed south of Illinois’s Mason-Dixon Line, I-70.



Like the last month, the area again had great autumn weather to make this an enjoyable trip.  The morning was colder than the previous few weeks.  There was a large amount of low hanging fog making the trip south feel serene.


Lake Shelbyville


Lake Shelbyville is one of the larger artificial lakes in the state located northeast of the small tourist town of  Shelbyville.  It is a sparsely built up and home to at least a half a dozen county and state parks.  Given the location it would be great place to camp or hunt.



I walked along the dam on the southern tip of the lake in the early morning.  The size and relative remoteness gives the area a feeling like it is here all for yourself. 



First stop in town was Forest Park.  I was rather surprised at the beauty of the park.  It has a rather non-descript entrance with the typical playground and ball parks scattered around.  Getting ready of the Christmas, the town has set up lights along the roadways.  Driving past this gaudy façade, at the back of the park there is a pretty flower garden with running spring.  It was also the start of 5 miles or so of decent hiking trails that follow the lake. 



The residential districts close to the downtown have brick streets thick with trees.  Among the leaves were various party signage in the run up the elections.



The downtown strip was actually fairly lively.  Most of the storefront were full with knickknack stores for tourists, gun shops for hunters and several shops and eating/drinking establishments for locals.  There is actually an active single screen theater still in operation where the larger towns of Mattoon, Charleston, and Pana were boarded up when I went through.    



An actual book store.  I can’t stay much for the reading material though.



Ah, there is blight in the city.  I was getting worried as most small towns in rural Illinois like Shelbyville are usually chocked full of it.  The government does a good job of keeping the town clean. 



The county courthouse is still in good shape for being constructed in the 1880s.



One of the many spots for the Lincoln-Douglas debates.   Lincoln’s statue looks a bit like a giraffe trying to crane above his adversary.


Gays, Illinois


The only reason I went to this hamlet was to gawk at the two-story outhouse built in the latter part of the 19th century.  I guess I was expecting a bit more.  I wonder how you get to the second floor?



Otherwise, there ain’t much to do except to drive away.


Eastern Illinois University


I have been to all other public universities in the state except EIU and I couldn’t wait for to walk around the quad.   Since it was about noon on a Sunday, there were few students walking around. 



The whole vibe of the school is something that time passed it by.  Much of the architecture features builds from the late 1930s to about 1980.   Nothing was crumbling, but unlike ISU that has several new constructions, it was a little depressing.


IMAG1296Gods of science

This is an awesome entrance to the science building.



Like ISU, the college has a castle, which abutted the northern point of the quad.  It looks like the oldest building on campus.



Advertising for EIU stating that most classes are under 40 student and it contributes a lot of revenue for the town of Charleston.  This puts a fine point to the fact that the school is going broke.  Its enrollment is on the decline.  There are fewer young people in the area as families move to more prosperous areas.

Throughout the city there were a lot of signs supporting the university but it sounds like they actually don’t want to pay for it.  There was a lot of ‘no’ signage for a local tax referendum that has been vote down twice before.    






The town of Charleston reminds me more of Tennessee than the flat land of Central Illinois.  The terrain is hillier and more wooded than McLean County.  The downtown square has the huge county courthouse and one of the largest I have ever seen in the state. 

The square had a decent amount of things a nerd like me has to offer.  A good bookstore that has a decent collection of Sci-Fi, a comic/bookshop for college student, as well as a game store.  The university, really gives the city a boost as compared to other towns of similar size in the rural Illinois.

Moore Home/Lincoln Log Cabin


The Moore Home was the last place that Lincoln stopped in Coles County.  Rather non-descript but the structure seems fairly typical of the middle-upper class rural area in the 1850s.  We come a long way.


IMAG1341Lincoln was here



According the guide the original Lincoln log house was taken to Chicago and lost (maybe used as firewood.)  Later I learned the Abe never lived here as he was an adult before his family moved here.   



Hard living.  It was cool that the had live animals in the pens to give the area some flavor.



Because the site is of marginal historical value, offered many other B-rate attractions such as quilts, painted of Illinois, and dioramas.   This one is of the Kun Brewery.  I’d like to use in a gaming campaign.


IMAG1367Ye olde Barbie home



Along the drive, I noticed dozens of working oil wells.  Most of the wells are from the 1940-50s and produce 1 to 2 barrels a day.  I guess they are still profitable given the costs have long been paid.

Lake Mattoon


Like most lakes in Illinois, Lake Mattoon was built to supply water to the surrounding counties.  For the most part, the lake is unremarkable except for a long road that bisects the lake that allows for a wonderful drive and a good place to fish.



This was the hinterland for Sprint and T-Mobile.  No service for tens of miles in every direction.  Relying on cached Google Maps in rural areas can lead you into grass paths of bogs.


Hidden Springs State Forest


Hidden Springs This park is fairly deep in the boonies.  One of the odder state parks, it has at least a dozen non-contiguous plots between small corn and bean plots.   Given the remoteness, it would be easier bike around than drive. 

In generally, the forest has many more conifers than more northern parks.  The paths are well-marked and moderately difficult.  It was fun to whisk through the fall leaves with the conifer clippings giving the ground a spongey feel.



The springs are really hidden.  They aren’t much of an attraction.


Thompson Mill Covered Bridge


This bridge was one of the first crossings along the Kaskaskia River.  Built in 1868, it is narrowest of the 5 covered bridges in Illinois.  I could almost touch the sides when walking through.



Williamsburg Hill Cemetery


Lost in around the bluffs north of Cowden, I came across this hidden gem of a cemetery.  set top of a set of large hills, the tombstone blend is well the trees.  It is really peaceful place to rest.

Someone came by while I was there.  This was surprising as last 10 to 15 miles, I saw no traffic on the roads and few farms.  I struck up a conversion with the elderly lady to learn more about who was buried here and who recently vandalized some of the graves.



A long road home.




Being at least a half an hour from anywhere, Pana is an abject lesson why it sucks to live in a small town.  Many of the businesses in the town are boarded up relics.  Any manufacturing along the railroad is long since dried up.  The town itself offered little of interest except the cool link St. Patrick’s church just south of the dreary downtown area.

Clinton Lake Circle

Since it was such a nice day, I jumped into my car and picked a direction through the backroads of Central Illinois.  My main goal was to find parks south as well to explore the rural areas of Bloomington.

As if finally dried out enough to get into the fields, there was a lot of farm traffic on the one lane roads.

Clinton Lake Circle Route 2

1. Clinton, IL

My first stop was unexpectedly at Clinton, IL.  Always driving around it along US-51, I never really had been in it.  The town itself isn’t much, just a slowly dying farming community with some history dating back into the mid 19th century.

However, the downtown square was lively with May Day Celebrations.  Carney’s serving food, kids rides and a bunch of firefighters battling it out with firehoses, and of course booze flowing at the local bars. Typical Midwest small fun.




2. Weldon Springs State Park

Weldon Springs is a a more improved park which gets its name from two springs flowing into a lake.  These springs aren’t much too look at, just faucets for water bubbling from the ground. 

From the people enjoying the day, it seems like a good place to fish, hang out with the family, and a cheap dating place for teenagers.  There are a dozen or so miles of most wooded trails circling the lake, but the improvements are in much need of repair (thanks state budget problems.)

Overall, it is fairly scenic and has lots of hiding places to give privacy for visitors.


Memorial for veterans



On Dawson Lake



“Walden Springs”



Geese sunning themselves in the marsh


3. Church Bell

While driving along Lake Fork road, I came across a bell statue siting at the Cemetery Road crossroads.  This was odd, since this place is in the middle of a bunch farmland with no house or other structure close by.

The placard reads that their used to be a church here until around 1989 when several churches combined and it was closed/torn down.  It is a nicely kept patch of green among the corn fields.





4. Friends Creek Conservation Area

Friends Creek is a small wooded area with about 5 miles of currently muddy walking trails near the creek it gets its name from.  It is well maintained for a county conservation area and I enjoyed the hike around the river.

On site, there is a restored one room school house circa 1850s called Bethel School. 




Bethel School



Outhouses for both sexes across the school yard


5. Allerton Park

Allerton Park is an impressive estate owned by the UI with many gardens and natural areas.  It must be well known place to get married because the parks was quite busy with at least two wedding parties milling about the grounds.  The gardens were awesome, and I would like to come back in the summer time when more would be in bloom.


I got some flowering tips in the Spring Gardens.







There are lots of odd statues in the gardens.





Lots of hedge rows around the grounds.




6. Lodge Park

Lodge Park in the City of Monticello is pretty impressive for a county park.  It hosts a fair number of attractions and some rough hike.  I enjoyed the drive through it winding one-lane paths as many of the marshy flowers bloomed.


A sea of yellow





7. Mackey Cemetery and Sangamon Park

After some few dead ends looks for cool places to stop, I saw Mackey Cemetery sitting one a improved ridge surrounded by new plow fields.  It is a picturesque location for a graveyard with a nice view of the surrounding countryside.


Walking up to the cemetery in the afternoon light.





Nice spring evening for a walk




Sangamon County Conservation is a small wooded area that gets its name from the creek of the same name.  It is a fairly nondescript forest in the middle of no where.  Because of the location and time of day, I did happen to see more wildlife than the other areas, stumbling across deer, a skunk and other miscellaneous varmints.


Sangamon river is placid today.  Nice place to contemplate.




On the drive home at sunset on the flat plains of Illinois.