Starved Rock Country Magazine - Summer 2023

Page 1



6 canal towns. 40 miles. 175 years of history. Follow the I&M Canal across Starved Rock Country.


Musician Casey McGrath creates her own brand of music with Fiddlerock!


Amelia Earhart crashed in Starved Rock Country –while driving a car WHERE LUXURY


Camp Aramoni blends the joy of camping with the comfort of an upscale hotel

MAGAZINE SUMMER 2023 Additional copies at 248 W. Canal St., Utica 61373
2 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country Willowbrook Chicago Romeoville Joliet Joliet Wilmington Braidwood Dwight Pontiac Pontiac


Come enjoy all our delicious dining options from North to South including Al Fresco dining and drinking on Mill Street.

From gourmet treats, wines and unique spices to antiques and specialty gifts. We have it all. Come for a day or the weekend.





LaSalle County Historical Society CANAL MARKET 2023 SCHEDULE

Every Saturday & Sunday June - September 10am to 4pm Handmade • Homemade • Homegrown • Vintage



Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 3 The Village of North Utica • PO BOX 188 • Utica, IL 61373 • 815-667-4111
Photos by Paula Guttilla Hatchet Canyon Photography

A hiker walks his dogs on the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail between Seneca and Morris

The historic path stretches across nearly 40 miles of Starved Rock

Read more on p 40-49




Violinist Casey McGrath stepped off the beaten path and blazed the trail to her own brand of music


A Morris festival spotlights live music, shopping and food trucks beneath the trees


Grab a lawn chair and catch a free performance of ‘Twelfth Night’ during a Princeton theater’s 2023 season of Shakespeare in the Park


John Kettman transforms cultural talking points into pop art on canvases ranging from pumpkins, to grains of rice, to pencil tips




On a hot day, indulge in frozen treats at this sampling of local shops in Starved Rock Country

30 WELCOME TO GAETANO’S VAULT Streator dining destination welcomes a new executive chef and serves a scratch-made menu



One year before the famous flier disappeared, Amelia Earhart crashed her car and visited a La Salle garage for repairs


Trade and travel boomed when the Illinois & Michigan Canal opened 175 years ago – and it runs through the heart of Starved Rock Country



Bring a bike or hiking shoes to try one of these five excursions that explore the I&M Canal State Trail and the downtowns it passes through


In 2022, 4,500 people flocked to Ottawa for the inaugural Family Pride Festival Learn what’s in store for the festival’s return in 2023



Camp Aramoni delivers a boutique camping and dining experience along the banks of the Vermilion River




CALENDAR 14, 18, 20
8 50
Photo by A.J. Johnson
Significant Views at Starved Rock Lodge The Only Hotel Located in RightHere Starved Rock State Park The backdrop for your memories (815) 667-4211 SM-CL2067783

he first image my mind conjures when I think of the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail is color: a vibrant kaleidoscope of green. My first experience with the canal trail was during a photography class at Seneca High School. The path quite literally cuts through the school’s backyard – on one side of the fence is a campus parking lot and football field. On the other side is the canal and its towpath, where mules and horses once hauled boats up and down the waterway.

In 2005, my class embarked on the trail to practice nature photography. My photos from that day have long since been misplaced, but the experience never lost clarity in my memory. I remember an arching, cathedral-like ceiling of tree branches overhead. I remember a warm breeze and shaded earth and miles of crushed limestone path unfolding into the distance, full of opportunity and discovery.

I also remember the wet squelch of my right shoe for the rest of the afternoon after I committed a hiking faux pas and stepped off trail to follow a frog, only to sink into marshy ground. (And it was all for naught; I never managed to capture a photo of the frog.)

In the almost 20 years that have since passed, I’ve hiked and biked the full leg of the canal trail across Starved Rock Country, stretching about 40 miles from La Salle in the west through Morris in the east (see map on p. 44). I’ve encountered wildlife ranging from deer to turtles to birds – in March, I spotted my first pileated woodpecker while hiking near Marseilles, and in April I stopped counting how many painted turtles were paddling the water’s surface near Utica. I’ve also met local residents walking their dogs, ambitious hikers trekking the full 61.5 miles of trail from Rockdale to La Salle and even international travelers who are exploring a piece of United States history.

In this issue of Starved Rock Country Magazine, we focus on the I&M Canal, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. The canal was a game changer for industry, shipping and travel when it opened in April 1848 by connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. This gave the Great Lakes a direct route to the Mississippi River, effectively creating an inland water route to the Gulf of Mexico. Read more about its history on p. 38.

The canal is an artery in Starved Rock Country that links six downtowns –La Salle, Utica, Ottawa, Marseilles, Seneca and Morris. Visitors can make a day of hiking or biking from one community to the next and exploring the many recreation and dining opportunities these downtowns have to offer (p. 40).

In our canal towns, there’s plenty more to do beyond the trail. Mark your calendar for June 3 when fForest Fest brings a music festival, shopping experience and food truck rally to Morris (p. 15). Or you can check out one of Fiddlerock! creator Casey McGrath’s crowd-drawing shows where violin meets rock and pop music (p. 8).

We invite you to travel along a piece of American history and tour the heart of Starved Rock Country this summer. The trail awaits.

Starved Rock Country Magazine is published quarterly or seasonally four times per year

Shaw Media

110 W Jefferson St Ottawa, IL 61350 815-431-4014

www starvedrockcountry com

Email photo or article submission queries to jbarichello@shawmedia com

Copyright 2023 Reproduction or use of editorial or graphic content in any manner, without permission, is prohibited

Vol� 11 No� 2

Summer 2023 Edition



Dan Goetz


Julie Barichello


Rhonda Dillon


Julie Barichello

Ali Braboy

Stephanie Jaquins

Ryan Searl

Charles Stanley


Scott Anderson

Annette Barr

Tom Sistak


Clara Brubaker

6 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country


Served with your choice of side


BLT 10

Crispy black pepper bacon piled high with fresh roma tomatoes and crisp romaine with garlic avocado mayo on toasted 9 grain bread


Organic Grilled or Fried chicken breast topped with shiitake mushrooms and swiss cheese


Organic chicken breast grilled or fried on a brioche bun. Your choice plain, buffalo, or BBQ. Served with romaine, tomato, onion and pickle


Hand carved oven roasted turkey romaine, and honey sriracha mayo on a triple stack of fresh toasted Italian bread


8oz hand cut choice angus ribeye served on a toasted French roll


Grilled shrimp, lemon dill aioli, fresh avocado, tomato, romaine and bacon wrapped in a flour tortilla

Swiss cheese and shiitake mushrooms, with romaine, tomato, onion and pickle on a brioche bun


Topped with bacon, over easy egg and American cheese, served on a brioche bun


Entrees include a side salad, rainbow carrots and your choice of side.


Organic chicken breast stuffed with our secret crab cake mixture and mozzarella cheese covered in our homemade lobster sauce on a bed of

Golden pan-fried organic chicken breast and mushrooms in a rich creamy

8oz hand cut certified angus filet


Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 7 BANQUET CENTER AVAILABLE for Class Reunions, Graduations Parties and Rehear sal Dinner s. Call for more information. 2550 N. 32nd Rd., Marseilles
cooked to your liking topped with herb Fresh grouper pan seared topped with a tomato lime beurre blanc on a Fresh grouper coated in our parmesan breading served with honey Grilled salmon brushed with jerk sauce topped with a homemade pineapple salsa RIBEYE** 14oz hand cut certified angus beef ribeye cooked to your liking SHRIMP 6 jumbo shrimp grilled or fried with cocktail sauce SHRIMP ALLA VODKA Jumbo shrimp sauteed in our homemade vodka sauce served on pappardelle pasta TOWMAHAWK PORKCHOP 12oz hand cut porkchop shaved apples and onions covered in a bourbon glaze BEAUTIFUL 9 HOLE COURSE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC Golf Memberships Available Book your tee time online Weekly Senior Special Unlimited play on Tuesday for $15 Open Monday through Sunday for Lunch and Dinner Appetizers • Salads • Sandwiches • Daily Specials See our full menu at RESTAURANT AND BAR


8 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
| Arts & Entertainment |

Violinist Casey McGrath stepped off the beaten path and blazed the trail to her own brand of music


Casey McGrath’s genre-spanning violinist show, Fiddlerock!, materialized when she stopped worrying about checking off life’s boxes and followed her intuition.

By her late 20s, McGrath had a doctorate degree and was married to her high school sweetheart. While accomplished in her career, the concerto soloist and orchestral musician didn’t feel fulfilled.

“For audiences, if you looked at me from the outside you’d be like, ‘Man, she’s living the dream.’ But it was not that,” McGrath recalled. “I really started to think about what I really wanted to do and if I wanted to play symphonies for the rest of my life.”

Before Fiddlerock!, she also served as a chamber musician, section player, tango violinist and as college music faculty.

When she played her last orchestra job, she remembers looking out at the front row. The audience seemed to be asleep.

“I was like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I didn’t go to music school for people to sleep.”

On top of that, she found teaching frustrating and unfulfilling. Similar to herself at that age, she said students lacked discipline.

“I felt it was a losing situation to make an impact the way I wanted to,” she said. “I always thought I could go into teaching and help other people do what I didn’t get the opportunity to do sooner.”

In 2014, McGrath got her skydiving license –that was her first step toward Fiddlerock!

SkyDive Chicago in Ottawa hosted a talent show for free jumps, and she performed “Crystallize” by violinist Lindsey Stirling.

“I played it, and everybody liked it and I thought that was really fun. You could react. They could have a drink in their hand and they could vocalize how much they liked what they

were hearing as opposed to just sitting there in silence in this stuffy auditorium,” she said.

She played a pop/rock violin show once a year, and performances started to grow. Shortly after her marriage ended, she was rehearsing for a show and met A.J. Johnson, who was running the event. They talked the whole night and have been together since.

He’s the reason Fiddlerock! ultimately started. About a year and a half later, McGrath was playing a Christina Perri song and he heard it.

“He was like, ‘That’s so cool that you can just play that,’” referring to her ability to play by ear, which is how she taught herself. “‘People would love that.’”

It occurred to her she didn’t have to abandon her technique, because she liked how classical music pushed her to be technically sound and pushed her skill set.

“I wanted the violin to still be a technique, but to still be very on point,” she said. “I wanted to keep pushing myself. I just didn’t want to use concertos and symphonies to do it.”

She started performing pop shows at Shaker’s Lounge in Ottawa, playing mostly Stirling’s songs and covers as she was also learning to arrange her own music.

McGrath remembered going to a show at Skydive Chicago. On the way there, Johnson stopped to use his tax return to buy a sound system and speakers, and he unpacked them on stage before the show. On the way home, McGrath came up with the name Fiddlerock!

Today, Johnson is her manager and sound and light technician, and he also handles graphic design, video editing, social media and content creation.

McGrath continued to book shows and auditioned for orchestras on the side. She was working with a coach when she realized her heart was no longer in it.

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 9


u 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 3, Skoog’s Pub & Grill, Utica

u 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, June 9, Red Dog Grill, Ottawa

u Saturday, June 10, Family Pride Festival, Ottawa, time to be announced

u 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 17, Clayton’s Tap, Morris

u 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, Camp Aramoni, Tonica

u 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 30, Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock, Utica

u 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8, Casa Mia, Ottawa

u 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 15, Woodsmoke Ranch, Seneca

u 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29, CatsEye Wine Bar, Ottawa

u 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, Lodi Tap House, Utica

u 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, Camp Aramoni, Tonica

u 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, Lark & Starling* at Clayton’s Tap, Morris

u 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, Lark & Starling* at Court Street Pub, Ottawa

For a complete list of shows, visit

*Lark & Starling is a collaborative project between Casey McGrath of Fiddlerock! and Wesley Schmidt, lead singer of the rock band Abbynormal

- 8:00pm

“I was burned out on it,” she said. “It became more of an obstacle course than an artistic endeavor.”

She discovered she would make a better living performing Fiddlerock! and realized if she was going to commit, she needed to give it 100%.

“I was checking the box. I did that when I married my high school

sweetheart. I was doing the adult thing,” McGrath said. “But if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t want any of that. I wasn’t happy.”

So, she gave it all up. Her violin students. The orchestra. The college jobs. Instead, she started driving children with special needs to school.

“What was great about it was that I knew I was doing this for me and I had nothing to prove to anybody, and it gave my brain time to think,” she said.

Now that she was able to throw herself into this project, she went from booking a show every couple months to more than 10 shows a month. She has 60 shows booked through October, including Chicago Mayfest.

While she was born and raised in Joliet, her musical roots are in Starved Rock Country. McGrath said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the local venues and musicians who supported her.

“All because this community accepted and supported and encouraged us even when the show was just taped together,” she said, CatsEye Wine Bar in Ottawa was one of her first venues, and she remembered the staff’s patience amidst technical difficulties. CatsEye’s Nate Skoflanc says his customers

10 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
WELCOMEBURG E R F A RMERS MARKET Spend your summer with Ottawa! August 2nd 5:00pm
Washington Square Park Ottawa, Illinois Every Saturday June 3rd - October 14th 8:00am
12:30pm Jackson Street Ottawa, Illinois Ottawa Area Chamber - 815-433-0084 -

regularly request Fiddlerock!

“Casey is an unbelievable musician whose talent is an absolute joy to watch on stage. Her passion and commitment to her craft is evident when she performs,” Skoflanc said. “Her performances are full of energy, and she really engages the crowd at CatsEye every time she performs.”

Some people walk into a show and see her violin and think the show is going to be bad or boring, McGrath said.

“They’re like, ‘What are you going to do?’ They’re so skeptical, and you just throw down Guns N’ Roses and they’re like, ‘What?!’ And then you throw down Metallica or Ed Sheeran or Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. I do a cover of ‘Free Bird’ that just melts. People just don’t expect that.”

She plays every era and every genre of music.

“There’s also a little bit of novelty hearing that music you love so much on violin,” she said. “I go out of my way that the music is always virtuosic, technically brilliant, the kind of stuff you’d hear at a concerto, but it doesn’t detract from the music itself. I always thought the best artists are the ones who become invisible for their audience.”

McGrath recently turned 40 and wondered if she should have followed this path sooner, but realized she lacked the maturity and discipline to do something at a high level when she was younger.

“I also have to believe that maybe this could be a thing that inspires other women to keep cultivating themselves and reinventing themselves, because I took a leap at 38 when I decided to quit everything and just do this.

“I’m doing this all for the right reasons now. I don’t feel like I’m so fragile like I would have been 10 years ago making sure everyone approved,” she said.

Two years ago McGrath met a 9-year-old girl at a show who, after seeing her perform, started receiving violin lessons. Now 11, she recently came to one of McGrath’s shows again. McGrath gave the girl a shoutout during the performance and gave her a Fiddlerock! sweatshirt after.

“Her face … would make your heart explode, she was so excited,” McGrath said.

After the show, the girl’s mother said her daughter hasn’t stopped talking about McGrath’s performance and practicing violin.

“That’s what I wanted to do when I was teaching. I wanted those things to happen,” McGrath said. “So funny that when I stopped trying to make those moments happen, they happened.

“I have to believe that when I stopped trying to force myself to be a symphony musician because that’s what you’re supposed to do, I stopped trying so hard, it’s amazing the things that are happening because I’m just being true to myself.”

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 11
Illinois’ Newest RV & Tenting Campground Info/Reservations: (815) 431-0936 SM-CL2068145 926 N 2150th Rd Oglesby, IL 61348 Camping Resort | Sublette, IL GIVE US A CALL OR VISIT AT WOODHAVENASSOCIATION.COM | 815-849-5209 SM-CL2066605 C S R

June 2023

Clip this page out

and hang it on your fridge

so you can experience all that June has to offer! Please check online ahead of time for more details.

Sip wine to the sound of live music all three days of the Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest, June 2-4.

Take a free, guided arboretum walk through 40 acres at Hornbaker Gardens in Princeton. Details at hornbakergardens. com/events

Music, food, baseball, art, history, nature ... there’s something for everyone this summer in Starved Rock Country.

2 1

Jammin’ at the Clock kicks off its weekly Friday night concert series with Smokers Blues Band at Heritage Park in downtown Streator.

6 7 8 9 10

Catch a home game of the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp, a Prospect League baseball team, at Veterans Memorial Park in Peru.

It’s Flag Day! See a display of historical U.S. flags at Washington Square in Ottawa and learn their history during a presentation by the Ottawa Elks Lodge.

Touting itself as the best carnival in the area, you don’t want to miss Oglesby Summer Fun Fest!

Music Under the Oaks begins its free summer concert series at Centennial Park in Peru.

fForest Fest gathers under the trees in Morris. Read more on p. 15. Sample craft beer and grilled or fried shrimp at Shrimpfest & Brew Hullabaloo in Princeton. Family Pride Festival returns to downtown Ottawa. Read more on p. 50.

Listen, learn and play acoustic and roots music at Dulcimer Festival in Morris.

16 17

Discover art, music and more at the Third Friday Artisan Market in downtown Ottawa. While you’re in town, check out Ottawa Cruise Night.

Happy Father’s Day to dads living in and visiting Starved Rock Country!

Looking for a unique dinner destination?

Try Gaetano’s Vault in Streator. Read more on p. 30.

The city of La Salle’s biggest party of the year begins on Second Street. Live music, carnival, fireworks and more at Celebrate La Salle.

The Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run rides to the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles. Cattlemen serve food all day at the Beef & Ag Festival in Princeton. The 11th annual Z Tour Bike Ride for charity has five routes from 11 to 74 miles around Princeton.

More info at

14 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
13 14
18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
| Calendar |

fFOREST FEST Venture into

Festival puts spotlight on music, shopping & food trucks

Alive music, food trucks and familyfriendly activities.

And, no, fForest is not a typo.

Organizers said it’s a Norwegian word that means “be, do and make under the trees,” which seemed like a fitting name for this one-day festival.

Organizer Stacey Olson said the festival was attended by more than 5,000 people in its first year. This year’s fest is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 3, under the trees at Goold Park in Morris.

The group behind fForest Fest, IMC3: I&M Canal Cleanup Coalition, wanted to bring something new and different to Morris, while promoting local artists, makers, vendors, businesses and musicians, Olson said.

The vendor market will have more than 200 merchants selling vintage goods, handmade items, plants, garden wares, vintage clothing, thrift/ recycled and salvaged items, antiques, repurposed items, jewelry, crystals, furniture, snacks, food, packaged items and vinyl records, among other products.

A $10 cash entry fee is charged at the gate, with children ages 5 years and younger admitted for free.

fFest Friends Family Expo is a new addition this year with 50 vendors and interactive family-friendly activities in a separate area than the rest of fForest Fest.

“We ran out of space in the market area and still

had other vendors and businesses want to be a part of [fForest Fest],” Olson said. “We also wanted to create a special place for kids and families.”

fFest Friends is free to attend in upper Goold Park, the same day and time as fForest Fest, which is in lower Goold Park. fFest Friends will have Billy Bricks Pizza and The Creamery Ice Cream, and a full schedule of events will be posted on the event’s website.

Vendors, both in the market and fFest Friends, will host activities in their space. Activities include selfie areas, crafts, make-and-takes, create-yourown jewelry, henna tattoos, meditation, games, relaxation stations, demonstrations, chill areas, games and discounts, among others.

Food will be served in fForest Fest’s Food Truck Rally, with 14 food vendors serving pizza, pretzels, ice cream, Hawaiian, seafood, eggrolls, chicken, vegan and desserts. Food vendors will have soda, juice, coffee and water. Adult beverages also will be served from a community organization. Bloody Marys, margaritas, beer and other beverages can be purchased at one of the two bar locations.

Visitors can shop more than 20 packaged food vendors with everything from Nothing Bundt Cakes to Sweet Tooth Candy.

Parking is free and guests can park at Morris Community High School on Union Street or any side street surrounding Goold Park. The show goes on rain or shine.

For more information, visit

fForest Fest Live Music Lineup

Liam Kyle Cahill 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.

Andrew David Weber Band 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Jon Snodgrass & Band

12:45 to 1:30 p.m.

Bad Year 2 to 2:30 p.m. Thick 3 to 4 p.m. The Tossers 4:30 to 6 p.m. Bad Cop/Bad Cop 6:30 to 8 p.m.

C S R Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 15
Photos courtesy of IMC3
16 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country SHAKESPEARE Summer evenings, fresh air & SM-CL2056276 US Army Corps of Engineers - Starved Rock Lock & Dam 950 N 27th Rd (Dee Bennett Rd), Ottawa, IL • 815-667-4054 • I&M Canal / Illinois Waterway Information • 2023 Boat Safety Classes May 20, Jun. 17, July 15, Aug. 19 • Group Programs • Gift Store Your Best View of Starved Rock Illinois Waterway Visitor Center

Shakespeare in the Park takes the theater experience into the outdoors

As Festival 56 celebrates 20 years as a theater company, it seems fitting to revisit a play from its early years of performing Shakespeare in the Park.

This year’s play, “Twelfth Night,” is the most-attended William Shakespeare production in the theater’s history. Playgoers can catch one of 10 free outdoor performances in July and August at Soldiers & Sailors Park in Princeton.

The play is a fast-paced romantic comedy in which a shipwreck separates Viola from her brother, Sebastian, and the result is several interwoven plots of romance, mistaken identities and practical jokes.

Tim Seib, Festival 56 co-artistic director, said he hears from audiences who know and love Shakespeare and also people who have never seen a Shakespeare play performed.

“What a fantastic spectrum of

experiences happening on that lawn every time our actors take that stage. Our audiences also consistently comment on how fun it was to see something they thought they knew, reimagined or told in a different way than they expected,” Seib said. “Shakespeare isn’t always performers in tights acting ‘fancy.’ It forces you to pay attention and read between the lines. And it always encourages conversation.”

First-timers should know, Seib said, that you don’t need any background about Shakespeare or “Twelfth Night” to have a good time.

“Do not be intimidated. There is information provided to you should you wish to follow along or read up a bit before the show starts. But also just taking it all in as it comes to you is a wonderful way to experience Shakespeare,” he said.

This year’s production will feature 16

professional actors and will be brought to life by a tech and design team of about 20 artists from across the country.

“It is such a treat to bring this level of talent to Princeton,” Seib said.

Attendees should bring a comfortable blanket or lawn chairs. Come early to get a close seat if you prefer that type of viewing experience.

“Bring bug spray, water, several friends, and you will be set to enjoy a truly unique experience right in your own backyard,” Seib said.

The play is performed at 7:30 p.m. every Sunday and Wednesday (weather permitting) Sunday, July 2, through Wednesday, Aug. 2.

The rest of the Festival 56 season will consist of “Million Dollar Quartet,” “Significant Other,” “Footloose” and “Something Rotten.” For more information on the Festival 56 season, visit

Illinois’ longest operating lumberyard continues to thrive along Peru’s historic riverfront. Maze Lumber has been providing top quality building materials to Illinois Valley contractors and homeowners for 175 years, still owned by the founding fathers (Maze).

Located in a 15,000-square foot showroom and office, we offer building materials for the modern home as well as a full line of the traditional lumber items used in home building, commercial construction, and industrial applications. Our experienced sales staff takes pride in their ability to provide knowledgeable assistance along with prompt delivery at reasonable prices.


SM-CL2067782 BUILD IT ONCE  BUILD IT RIGHT Water Street, Peru | 815-223-1742

July 2023

Share your adventures

It’s festival and county fair season in Starved Rock Country! See event websites for full schedules. on

Relax on the lawn of Ottawa’s historic Washington Square during Music in the Park, a free weekly concert series featuring songs from the ’50s to present.

Festival 56 presents a free performance of “Twelfth Night” in Princeton as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series. Read more on p. 16.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

A carnival, food, family activities, live music, city pool hours and more are on the schedule for Marseilles Fun Days.

Show off your classic car at Morris Cruise Night, the second Saturday of the month June-September in downtown Morris.

Book a Historic Trolley Tour to learn about Starved Rock State Park. Register at

It’s National Ice Cream Day! Treat yourself to one of the ice cream shops in Starved Rock Country. Read more on p. 27.

It’s National Amelia Earhart Day! Read about her stop in Starved Rock Country on p. 34.

Sample the menu at Bricks & Stones, the event venue at Camp Aramoni, on Wednesday nights. Read about Camp Aramoni’s glamping on p. 55.

Country singer Craig Morgan headlines the Marshall-Putnam Fair in Henry, joined by Whiskey Bent and Joe Stamm Band. It’s International Chess Day! Grab a friend and play outdoors on a chess table at Ottawa’s Washington Square or Streator’s City Park. River Road Trio will play in their hometown of Morris during the Concerts on the Courthouse Lawn summer music series.

The Broken Horn Rodeo kicks off at 7 p.m. at the La Salle County Fairgrounds in Ottawa.

The Ramer Race Promotions Demolition Derby returns to the La Salle County 4-H Fair.

Head off to the races – the DePue Boat Races, that is. The US Title Series returns to Lake DePue for the national championship.

18 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
| Calendar |
social media
#StarvedRockCountry when you visit destinations and
with the hashtag
attend events in the region.
Want to catch a fireworks show while you’re in the area this week? Look for community fireworks listings via Shaw Local News Network at,, or
Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 19

August 2023

4 3 1 2

Food vendors start serving their special dishes during the three-day Taste of the Illinois Valley in Peru.

Starved Rock Country is a hub for live music. Catch the sounds of summer at a fair or local concert series.


Country star Tracy Lawrence headlines Streator Fest at Northpoint Plaza in Streator.

Novice fossil collectors can explore the Mazon Fossil Beds and gather 300-million-year-old specimens. Details at

Rent a bike at an I&M Canal Bike rental station in La Salle, Utica or Morris or at Quest Watersports in Ottawa and explore the I&M Canal State Trail! See p. 40-49

Catch violinist Casey McGrath’s Fiddlerock! show in Tonica. Read more on p. 8.

Join 60,000 visitors in consuming 50 tons of free, hot, buttered sweet corn at the Mendota Sweet Corn Festival. Enjoy music, vendors and a carnival.

Brushville will fill Princeton streets with music during the Down on Main summer concert series.

La Salle County Cruisers is hosting a car show on Albin Stevens Drive in Ottawa. Register vehicles at 2 p.m. Shop unique vendors at the 3 French Hens French Country Market, 402 Liberty St., Morris, the second Saturday of May-October.

Breweries, cideries and meaderies take over Mill Street for the Utica Craft Beer Street Fest. The Liberty Arts Festival in Morris features an art stroll, music, shopping, kids’ crafts and more.

Gates open at 2 p.m. for Illinois’ longest running fair. Check out the lineup of events at fair-schedule

Country star Josh Turner with special guest Sara Evans takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. at the Bureau County Fair. It’s Eat Outside Day! Grab a table outdoors at one of Starved Rock Country’s restaurants or picnic at one of the region’s parks.

Americana and classic rock band Big Uproar rounds out the Summer Sunset Concert series at Hegeler Carus Mansion in La Salle.

20 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
20 21 22 23
7 8 9 10 11 12
16 17 18 19
24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
| Calendar |
Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 21 Your Guide to Live Music & Libations in LaSalle County this Summer • August Hill Winery • CatsEye Wine Bar • Hegeler Carus Mansion • Heritage Harbor • The Lone Buffalo • Star Union Spirits • Starved Rock Lodge • Washington Park ...and many more!


Local artists invigorate the community with thoughtful, creative pieces. Each issue, Starved Rock Country Magazine and Starved Rock Country Community Foundation are partnering to highlight artists and their work.

t’s not every day that a pumpkin provides an opportunity to meet a future president. But for pop culture artist John Kettman, that was the case during the 2016 election.

In the midst of the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Kettman painted caricatures of the candidates on pumpkins. His “Trumpkin” soon went viral on social media, and he received an opportunity to meet Trump during a campaign rally.

Incidentally, that wasn’t the first time Kettman’s artwork introduced him to celebrities.

“In 2006, my daughter Kayla and I attended the ‘American Idol’ concert in Bloomington. I had decided to paint the top 10 finalists and brought my painting to see what reaction I would get from other people,” Kettman said. “The security guard took it backstage, and I got all 10 Idol finalists to sign it. That was my awakening to the public art world.”

During the 2020 presidential election, Kettman created another Trumpkin and a “Bidekin” of President Joe Biden.

Kettman has been linked to pop culture since birth, when he was christened John Paul in honor of The Beatles members John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As an artist, Kettman has included The Beatles among his art subjects.

His celebrity creations have garnered national attention and multiple awards.

“One of my greatest achievements was to create life-sized wooden cutouts of famous people. I’ve made 23 of

these and have sold three of them to a private buyer,” Kettman said. “I had created a wooden cutout of Judy Garland, and she was on display at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., for a year. I’ve constructed two full-size displays of The Beatles, which took first place in a professional art contest in Chicago’s Fest for Beatles Fans.”

Kettman is a self-taught caricaturist and operates his business, Rtistik Creations, in Starved Rock Country. He primarily works with acrylic paint as a medium, but he experiments with a variety of canvases. He painted a portrait of Al Roker on a Dunkin Donuts coffee bean. His series of serial killer portraits are painted on cereal squares. A portrait of Frida Kahlo is on a tortilla chip. Even art utensils are fair game as a canvas – he carved a series of Mount Rushmore portraits in the tips of pencil lead.

One of the smallest canvases he frequently uses is a single grain of rice.

“I’m always in competition with myself to create very unique portrait art,” he said.

Kettman grew up in Streator. During grade school, his parents recognized his talent and enrolled him in private art lessons. He discovered his love of cartoon and caricature illustration as a middle school student. Kettman continued taking lessons through high school and college, but his passion took a back seat after he moved to the northwest suburbs to work as a machinist.

In 2005, Kettman’s dedication to his art was rekindled. It has burned brightly ever since.

22 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country C S R
1 2



To view more of John Kettman’s art, follow him on Facebook at RtistikCreationsByJohnKettman. Inquiries about purchasing one of his works can be emailed to

1. Trumpkin and Bidekin: acrylic on pumpkins

2. Portrait of Frida Kahlo: acrylic on nacho chip, $500

3. Mt. Rushmore: carving on pencil lead using dental cleaning tools under microscope, $600 for set

4. Abbey Road: mixed media (Styrofoam panels, wood cutouts, acrylic), 16 feet x 8 feet, serious offers only

5. Emmett Till - Tears of Innocence: acrylic on canvas, 30x40, not for sale

6. Betty White - America’s Golden Girl: acrylic on canvas, 20x25, $1,750

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 23
John Kettman is the owner of Rtistik Creations and keeps his paintbrush on the pulse of trending news, converting pop culture talking points into portrait art. He lives in La Salle with his wife, Maryann, and his dog, Bandit. 3 4 5 6

Featuring easy-to-use Hobie MirageDrive® pedal power

NEW! Explore Starved Rock Country under electric power!

port: NEW! 4-person pedaled kayaks
A ordable membership plans! Unlimited access to a eet of boats! No boat loan, storage fees or maintenance!
Home port:

Summer Taste of The

Indulge in frozen treats at this sampling of local shops

When summer temperatures are up, there’s nothing like cooling down with a frozen treat. Starved Rock Country is home to local shops specializing in chilly foods to sate your sweet tooth. Go ahead and indulge in ice cream, Hawaiian ice, frozen yogurt and more while exploring the region’s communities this season.


Twisty Freeze 1201 St. Vincent Ave. Twisty Freeze on Facebook


Johnny’s Ice Cream

877 E. Bluff St.

Johnny’s old fashioned ice cream on Facebook


Neveria y Paleteria La Esquinita de Oro Ice Cream Shop 1206 Sixth Ave. La Esquinita de Oro on Facebook


Everest Custard & Bubble Tea 2417 Sycamore Dr.

Laki Hawaiian Ice 208 Liberty St., Morris


Tone’s Cones 523 W. Main St.


Grandma Rosie’s Sweet Treats 920 W. Peru St.

Sislers Ice Cream 421 S. Main St.

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 27
| Dining & Drinks |
Compiled by Starved Rock Country staff


Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream

Bushnell Street between Si Johnson Avenue and Main Street


Paleteria Las Tres


106 W. Paul St.

Paleteria Las Tres Michoacanas on Facebook

Tastee Freez



The Big Dipper 1901 S. Bloomington St. The Big Dipper on Facebook

Time-Out Ice Cream 915 E. Main St. Timeoutic


Bruce & Ollie’s Ice Cream & Specialty Coffee 166 Mill St.

28 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country SM-CL2068518
253 9th Street • LaSalle, IL 61301 • 815.223.8960 • Roc k i n ’ St ar v e d Roc k Cou n t r y fo r 45 y e a r s! Live Music 3 Days a Week. Over 70 beers and 10 wines available. Breakfast Lunch and Dinner 8 am till 9 pm Home of the Cheeseburger in Paradise LIVE Video Gaming Slots & Poker View our Menu: 253 9th Street • LaSalle, IL 61301 • • Rockin’ Starved Rock Country for 46 years! Live Music 3 Days a Week. Over 70 beers and 10 wines available. Breakfast Lunch and Dinner 8 am till 9 pm BRUNCH Saturdays & Sundays 9am-2pm. Try our amazing Farmers Omelette or other delicious menu items Home of the Cheeseburger in Paradise LIVE Video Gaming Slots & Poker We Deliver 815-223-8960
Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 29 Prime steaks • Burgers • Chops Pasta • Seafood • Specialty drinks 200 East Main Street • Streator, IL 61364 (815) 822-9000 Prohibition-themed restaurant, speakeasy bar and event center built inside a 1913 bank STEP BACK INTO THE ROARING TWENTIES

Welcome to


Nestled in historic downtown Streator you’ll find Gaetano’s Vault, one of Starved Rock Country’s premiere destination dining experiences. This approachable upscale restaurant, housed in a turn-of-the-century bank building, garners rave reviews with their delectable menu and impeccable Roaring Twenties decor – but that hasn’t stopped them from innovating. Now approaching their one-year anniversary, Gaetano’s Vault has added an expansive self-pour beer wall, a gaming room outside of their speakeasy bar, a special lunch menu and a brandnew executive chef, renowned for his scratch-made dishes.

Helmed by Rick and Stephanie Wilkinson, this unique two-story restaurant and bar has welcomed thousands of visitors to downtown Streator. Named in honor of Rick’s grandfather, who was born in Sicily but spent much of his life in Streator, the Wilkinsons set out to preserve a piece of local history while bringing a new drinking and dining experience to Starved Rock Country.

Gaetano’s jaw-dropping Roaring Twenties decor and theme harken to the building’s past life as The Union Bank of Streator, which was infamously robbed on May 16, 1932. This robbery, which landed in the headlines of newspapers across the nation, was hatched by one of Al Capone’s top lieutenants, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, alongside two


Dillinger Gang affiliates. Before they could leave town with their $52,000 of plunder, the gang was apprehended. Less than a month later, while awaiting trial, they were successfully sprung by five men with machine guns.

Today, you’ll find glimpses into local history all around Gaetano’s Vault – including the two exquisite vault doors that lend the restaurant its name and house two of the most unique dining spaces you’ll find in Starved Rock Country.

Tucked behind the towering circular vault door, you’ll find two leather-clad booths that give you a private space and an amazing close-up look at the inner workings of the bank’s original vault door.

Gaetano’s reverence for history doesn’t stop there. In the main dining area, above the enormous vault doors, you’ll find a detailed, hand-painted mural depicting a scene from the notorious 1932 robbery. Gaetano’s crafts an immersive throwback atmosphere that perfectly pairs with their expansive menu, filled with innovative takes on hearty Americana favorites.

Gaetano’s Vault’s new executive chef, Pete Manfredini, is a culinary mastermind who has infused the restaurant’s recently re-envisioned menu with new scratch-made offerings and hand-cut premium steaks. With over 45 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Manfredini

(raised in nearby Dalzell) gained his wealth of knowledge at the Culinary Institute of America at GreyStone in Napa Valley. Manfredini’s sprawling career has included time as a teacher’s assistant and sous chef at C.I.A., a traveling chef consultant and as the executive chef for a 4-star international luxury hotel

“I grew up in Dalzell in a poor Italian family, so we were always growing, gardening, canning, pickling, preserving or going out into the woods to hunt and forage for food,” Manfredini said. “We knew a nearby farmer who we’d get a half cow or hog from. That’s what I remember of dining in this area.

“I left for the military when I was 18 and began my career in the culinary world after that. I came to find out what I grew up doing is fine dining. It’s scratch cooking, source-verifiable, hand-fabricated food. With this [new menu], I want to bring that polish and authenticity back to the area, as much as we can.”

Manfredini’s menu highlights that Gaetano’s is more than a high-end steakhouse. It’s home to an approachable menu that melds classic American and Italian fare with more far-flung influences. You’ll find delectable new offerings, such as a signature 10-ounce Teres major beef cut, hand-breaded tempura cheese curds, generous 2-ounce fresh crab cakes, hand-cut salmon, locally sourced and house-brined

pork racks and brick chicken, along with one of the signature local dishes of the Starved Rock Country region: ravs and broth. New this summer, Gaetano’s also is opening for lunch, offering some of their lighter fare like sandwiches, pastas, salads and small bites.

“Whether you’re ordering sandwiches, pastas or a heavier entree, we’re going to have something you won’t find everywhere, and it’s going to be made with quality ingredients. The flavor will convince you to keep coming back,” Manfredini said.

In addition to these buzzworthy eats, Gaetano’s is home to a sprawling al fresco courtyard that frequently hosts live music throughout the summer and fall. Visit their self-pour craft beer wall, conveniently located paces away from the courtyard’s pop-up stage. This state-of-theart self-pour station, which uses RFID wristbands to track which beers you sample and how much you pour, offers one of the largest selections of craft and domestic beers on tap in the region. After finding your perfect seasonal IPA, settle in for a free, live open-air concert – a perfect after-dinner activity or place to wait before your reservation. These concerts have included local legends like Dan Blanchette and Fiddlerock!, along with touring performers like Dina Bach and Him & Her. For more authentic

Prohibition-era fun, the second floor features a speakeasy bar and gaming room – complete with a discreet separate outside entrance that sneaks you into this gorgeous Art Deco-themed space. The restaurant’s intimate and upscale cocktail lounge is lined with gilded plaster wall décor, atmospheric glowing track lights and TVs for catching the game. Across from the speakeasy, you’ll find Gaetano’s gaming room, which features state-of-the-art machines in a comfortable space overlooking downtown Streator. On the second floor you’ll also find the restaurant’s chandelierlined event space, a beautifully naturally lit room that is perfect for hosting wedding receptions, family gatherings and corporate functions.

These are just a smattering of the many new additions propelling Gaetano’s Vault into an exciting new season. With a dedication to farm-fresh and high-quality ingredients, themed decor and a passion for local history, this restaurant is a gem that should be visited by everyone traveling through Starved Rock Country.

“We’re really glad to bring Chef Manfredini on our team. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about fine dining and scratchmade cooking,” said proprietor Rick Wilkinson. “I’m excited to see people come and sample everything we’ve been working on here at Gaetano’s.”

Story and photos by Ryan Searl
Nurture Your Soul 419 E. Main St. • Streator, IL 815.672.6600 • Reiki • Massage • Floatation Therapy • Himalayan Salt Room • Infared Sauna • Facials • Myofascial Release Technique Bromley & Brown BOUTIQUE 308 E. Main St. • Streator 815.672.4772 Open Tuesday - Saturday Explore - Experience - Enjoy Downtown Streator
The Perfect Clothing for Every Man. • Men’s Tops and Bottoms • Outerwear •Accessories • Grooming Products Official Retailer of Duke Cannon, Dr. Squatch and Fieldstone Outdoor Provision Co, Official retailer for Jim’s Formal Wear We’ll help you choose the perfect tux for your special event. BEST SELECTION Tuesday - Friday 11AM to 5PM, Saturday 10AM to 3PM 317 E. Main St. (2nd Floor) • Streator A full service restaurant with the largest and nicest venue in town on a gorgeous 9 hole golf course Call for Golf Rates and Memberships 2000 Eastwood Ave, Streator | 815.673.5551 We’re so much more than just a meticulously maintained golf course! SM-CL2069424 For Wedding inquiries contact plus FLOWERS 815.673.31 14 21 6 E. MAI N ST ST REATO R, IL 61364 @FLOWERSPL USSTREATO R FOR THE EVERY DA Y AND THE BIG DA Y An artisan boutique located in the heart of downtown Streator offering beautiful home decor, artisan bath bombs and soaps, florals, women’s and children’s boutique clothing and more. We proudly support over 20 local artist. We offer custom furniture artistry services and furniture. An Official Retailer of: RefurbishedTreasures.Boutique • Dixie Bell Paint Line • Day Dream Apothecary Paint • Retique-It • ReDesign with Prima and more Refurbished Treasures 306 E Main St. Streator 815-674-5540


Amelia Earhart Crashed in Starved Rock Country (while driving a car)



HIDDEN HISTORY takes a closer look at interesting but lesser known moments in Starved Rock Country’s past.

The year before her stillunsolved 1937 disappearance over the Pacific Ocean, famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart deftly defied serious harm after a car wheel failed near La Salle.

Early in 1936, Earhart was on a speaking tour to promote her planned flight around the world.

On Wednesday, April 1, she spoke in DeKalb at Northern Illinois State Teachers College, now Northern Illinois University, as a guest of the Town Girls organization. The campus location was the auditorium in the 1899 “castle” building now known as Altgeld Hall.

The following day, DeKalb’s Daily

Chronicle newspaper reported Earhart was a “forceful talker” who had “delighted” a large audience with the stories of her famous flights.

During her talk, Earhart made a seemingly prophetic comparison to flying versus driving. Flying was safer, she said: That was because aviators were better trained in flying than motorists were in driving.

In answer to an audience question, “Earhart admitted that she travels faster than 40 miles per hour in her car,” but she noted that both she and her car had periodic examinations.

That night there was an unseasonable blizzard.

34 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
Above photo courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library Opposite page: Photo by Julie Barichello Aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her 1936 Terraplane coupe, which broke down near La Salle on April 2, 1936 while on a 220-mile trip from DeKalb to Jacksonville.

The snowfall in Ottawa was three inches, with more predicted, according to the Ottawa Daily Republican-Times newspaper on April 2.

Even so, Earhart was on the road the next morning driving a 1936 Terraplane Coupe Hardtop to an engagement in Jacksonville.

Earhart was a celebrity spokesperson for the Terraplane, and this was her third model, said Douglas Westfall, author of the 2014 book “Amelia Earhart’s Terraplane.” The first was a 1932 sedan, followed by a 1933 coupe convertible and, lastly, a 1936 coupe hardtop, Westfall said.

Driving south on snowy U.S. Route 51, Earhart’s Terraplane had a tire blowout 10 miles north of La Salle, the Ottawa newspaper reported. An under-inflated tire came loose from the rim, and the car went out of control.

“The machine swerved to the shoulder of the road, but was brought under control by (Earhart),” the Ottawa newspaper reported.

There is no record of how fast Earhart had been driving. But she once was stopped for speeding 80 mph in the eight-cylinder 1933 coupe convertible, Westfall said.

A tow truck was summoned from Miller-Calhan Motors in La Salle, and “the aviatrix accompanied the garage men to La Salle and remained there while the damage was repaired.” The building where

the repairs were completed still stands at the southeast corner of Bucklin and Second streets.

“But Amelia did not content herself with sitting in the office, waiting for the mechanics to complete a check of her car,” said the La Salle newspaper, The Daily PostTribune. “She was out watching the men at work on her car. ‘I want a new valve cap on this tire’ and ‘this door lock needs repairs,’ were the remarks indicating her knowledge of things mechanical, a trait of the true flier.

“When the tire was spread out to find the defect she was one of the first to inspect the inside walls. There was no doubt but that she wanted to know that everything was in perfect condition before she resumed her trip to Jacksonville.”

Earhart told a reporter she had planned to both fly and drive on her tour, but there were too many places without airports where she planned to speak.

“Some towns have an airport but no hangar. And of course I wouldn’t leave my car outside overnight, much less my pet plane,” she told the newspaper.

The word about the famous flier’s presence in La Salle got around quickly.

“Numerous persons, hearing that the noted aviatrix was in the city, managed to see her at the garage during her brief stay,”

the La Salle newspaper reported.

Earhart was back on the road in time to keep her evening speaking engagement before the Jacksonville Business and Professional Woman’s Club at the MacMurray College dining hall.

“The first woman of the skies was tired and with a perfect right to quiet and rest,” reported The Jacksonville Daily Journal on Friday, April 3, 1936. “Yesterday afternoon she narrowly escaped injury – she laughed about it – when a deflated tire blew off a spinning wheel near La Salle, Illinois.”

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 35
VALLEY COIN • JEWELRY • PAWN Open: Mon. - Fri. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. | Closed on Sun. 123 W. St. Paul Street, Spring Valley | 815-663-2313 PAWN STARS OF STARVED ROCK COUNTRY 20% OFF ALL ITEMS IN STORE. Except coins and bullions. Expires July 31, 2023 EXPLORE MENDOTA AND ALL THE GREAT SUMMER EVENTS UPCOMING EVENTS June 4 - Sweet Corn Festival Golf Scramble June 24 - Mendota Fireworks (rain date July 8) August 10 - 13 Mendota’s 76th Annual Sweet Corn Festival 800 Washington Street, Mendota, IL 61342 815. 539.6507 Website to use: C S R
This building in La Salle at the southeast corner of Bucklin and Second streets was Miller-Calhan Motors in 1936 when famous flier Amelia Earhart’s car was towed there following a breakdown.
2068574 617 E. Main St. Streator Sunday: 4pm - 8 pm Mon - Thurs: 4pm - 9 pm Fri & Sat: 4pm - 10 pm 815-672-2204 10% OFF YOUR TOTAL ORDER Must Present This Coupon! Expires 8/25/23 Streator A small town that’s big on community! | Breakfast Served All Day | Daily Specials | Delicious Soups | Homemade Desserts CountryCupboard The 124 S. Vermillion Street | Streator | 815.672.5885 Carryouts and Delivery Available Open 7 Days A Week | Mon-Fri 6-6 | Sat & Sun 6-2 A Neighborhood Favorite Go Where the Locals Go To Eat Serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner 1610 N. Bloomington St., Streator 815-672-0033 Open Mon. - Sat. 11am to. 8pm 3 Cafe rd Street PRIVATE GAMING AREA PLAY HERE. WIN BIG. BEST GRYOS IN TOWN • Salads • Sandwiches • Appetizers & Sides ASK ABOUT OUR DAILY SPECIALS! ALWAYS MADE FRESH CONVENIENT DRIVE THRU SM-CL2070021 $5 MATCH PLAY Must be 21 to gamble. One coupon per customer daily. Expires 7.10.2023
815-672-8135 | 1000 Bernstein Street Streator, IL • LANDSCAPING • GARDEN CENTER • GIFT SHOP Like us on THE AREA’S PREMIERE GARDEN CENTER DELIVERING QUALITY LANDSCAPING AND GARDEN CENTER SERVICES SINCE 1960 Streator...Come Spend the Day with Us! This is not your everyday fare. • Ethnic • Vegetarian • Gluten Free 417 East Main St, Streator (815) 510-9603 Dobro Jutro, Dober Dan Good Morning Good Day Cafe Slovenian & Croatian Ethnic Specialties SM-CL2068385 Serving Breakfast & Lunch Wed.- Sat. 7:30am to 3pm



What is now a relic of history previously caused a boom for American travel, transportation and industry.

The Illinois & Michigan Canal sparked the creation of many Illinois communities and led to the city of Chicago becoming a major metropolitan center.

This year especially, the canal’s history and importance are noteworthy as it commemorates its 175th anniversary.

The I&M Canal was a 96mile manmade water highway that connected the Great Lakes to the Illinois River, said Ana Koval, president and CEO of the Canal Corridor Association, a nonprofit that oversees the I&M Canal National Heritage Area. The Erie Canal had already been constructed, and the I&M Canal completed a network to connect the country’s East Coast to the Gulf of Mexico when it opened in 1848.

I&M Canal construction

first started in 1836. Before the canal, there were some inland water routes, but transportation and travel mostly were limited to dirt roads that were muddy, dusty and made it extremely difficult to transport goods, Koval said.

The young United States wanted to expand westward, and to expand, the country had to make it easier for people to move. One component of transportation infrastructure was this water highway. The federal government gave the young state of Illinois sections of land to develop and sell to raise money for the canal. Canal commissioners were set up and platted towns from Chicago to the city of La Salle.

The canal made it possible to transport goods between the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, Koval said. Citizens could now move lumber, stone, sand, grain,

furniture, cloth, furs – all the products they needed to build communities. This created an economic boom for Chicago.

Koval explained that before the I&M Canal, the premier Midwestern city had been St. Louis. But once the canal opened, Chicago became a financial powerhouse and remains one to this day.

The canal created an emergence of industrial activities in Starved Rock Country’s canal towns because the area was linked to the Great Lakes, which was the world market, according to La Salle local history buff John C. Piano III.

Where did the idea for the canal originate?

Piano explained 17th century French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was the first to propose a canal was needed to connect the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

Piano recommends those who are interested in the

38 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country


topic read the book “La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West” by Francis Parkman.

“It was [La Salle’s] dream to dominate trade from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf Mexico,” Piano said. “The canal was La Salle’s idea … and its earliest beginning.”

By 1933, the canal was already outdated because people had learned to use lock and dam technology, said Larry Bird, a local historian who lives in Peru. In 1933, the Illinois Waterway linked the Chicago River, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers.

Bird said history is a “progression of ‘We’ve got to do it faster. We’ve got to do it bigger.’” Instead of small wooden boats on the canal, people started to use large barges to transport goods.

Passengers also started using railroads, vehicles and reliable roads instead of canal travel.

Visible History

Even though the Illinois & Michigan Canal was decommissioned in 1933, the I&M Canal State Trail offers the opportunity to see many of the canal’s structures that still stand.

n Left: The M.J. Hogan grain elevator, also known as Armour’s Warehouse, on Williams Street in Seneca circa 1912.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER ILL,50-SEN,2--3

n Middle: A view of Lock 14 in La Salle, facing east.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER ILL, 50-LASAL, 3--6

n Right: A view of the former locktender’s house, facing east along the Illinois & Michigan Canal near Lock 8 east of Morris.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER ILL, 32-MOR. V, 2--2

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 39



Five excursions exploring the I&M Canal State Trail and the downtowns it passes through

Communities in Starved Rock Country are packed with attractions – and sometimes the route between them is an attraction in itself.

That’s the case with the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail, which spans 40 miles across the region and links six downtowns. Hikers and bicyclists can travel the trail through Starved Rock Country’s backyard and see the region from a different perspective. The personality of the trail transforms every few miles, ranging from wooded paths under shady tree canopy to sunny stretches alongside watered portions of the canal. Some miles unroll as a narrow dirt path while others are a wide, crushed gravel route.

Then there’s the scenery: explorers will find an abundance of nature sprinkled with remnants of the decommissioned canal’s history. Sights include woodlands, tall marsh grasses, sandstone bluffs, glimpses of the Illinois River, old canal locks, aqueducts and wildlife.

A popular summer activity is to park in one canal town, then hike or bike to the next one. After soaking in the sights of the trail, visitors can explore more recreational options in and around their destination downtown and fuel up for the return trip at a local eatery.

Here are five trips between canal towns with dining and recreation options to add to a day’s itinerary.

40 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country | Must See |


About 10 miles; 3 hours on foot at 3 mph pace; about 1 hour by bicycle


Begin in downtown Seneca with a stop at the historic M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator

Built in 1861, the grain elevator allowed local farmers to ship their harvest to Chicago on the I&M Canal. To embark toward Morris, cross Main Street (Route 170) to follow the trail east. Watch for authorized vehicles that access homes along the first few miles of the canal. Farm dogs sometimes greet passing hikers and cyclists from the edge of their property. This stretch of the canal is one of the greenest, with a few marshy patches beyond Seneca village limits and lush tree canopies arching over the trail. Approximately halfway between Seneca and Morris, hikers and cyclists will pass under Five Mile Bridge, which carries Old Stage Road over the trail. Named for its location five miles outside Morris city limits, this is the first timber arch bridge built in Illinois. The Illinois River bends toward the trail in the second half of the journey. When hikers reach Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris, they will find a portion of the trail is closed because of a bridge washout. Follow posted detours in the park to navigate to the city’s downtown.


Visitors who are hungry for a hearty meal can stop at the popular and busy Weits Cafe, a decades-long favorite stop for comfort food. For lighter fare such as deli sandwiches or pizza bread, try Corleone’s Italian Restaurant. Another light option is Letty Mae’s Tea Room, which serves sandwiches, soups, salads and its specialty: tea. To settle in for a slower-paced lunch with craft beer and craft food, try Tully Monster Pub and Grill. Another local favorite is Clayton’s Tap, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lively destination for pub fare is Carson Tap House Pub & Eatery. If you’re in town for dinner, check out Clayton’s Rail, where diners will find pub fare as well as Strum’s BBQ. For a hearty fine dining option, Morris Chop Shop is a top destination.

Dessert options abound at Morris Bakery where patrons can find cookies, doughnuts, cupcakes and more. Snacks and sweets also are available at Sweet Tooth, a shop that sells ice cream, fudge



The following pages feature a starting point for dining and recreation around the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail. Each downtown along the canal is home to many more options than are listed here – one of the best ways to discover everything these downtowns have to offer is to explore on foot.

Please note: Some of the recreational destinations listed require advance bookings. Visit business and location websites for information about hours, services and registration.

and a variety of nostalgic and popular candies. Alpine Coffee Bar is a stop for hot and cold coffees, hot and iced teas, frappucinos, lattes and more. For those looking to step off the trail and relax a while, Montage Wine Bar & Spirits is a full-service wine bar that serves wine, craft cocktails, beer and small plates and regularly hosts live music.

Hikers who are energetic after a meal but want a change of pace can rent an I&M Canal bicycle at Canalport Park with the Movatic app to explore on wheels. Canalport Park is adjacent to the canal trail and features a replica canal boat display, sculptures and a pollinator garden.

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 41
DESTINATION ADDRESS WEBSITE CATEGORY Alpine Coffee Bar 312 Liberty St., Morris Treats & Beverages Canalport Park 211-299 W. Illinois Ave., Morris Recreation Carson Tap House Pub & Eatery 823 Liberty St., Morris Dining Clayton’s Rail 721 Liberty St., Morris Dining Clayton’s Tap 122 W. Washington St., Morris Dining Corleone’s Italian Restaurant 110 Liberty St., Morris Dining Gebhard Woods State Park 401 Ottawa St., Morris Recreation I&M Canal Bike Rental Station Canalport Park Recreation Letty Mae’s Tea Room 112 E. Washington St., Morris Dining Montage Wine Bar & Spirits 307 Liberty St., Morris Treats & Beverages Morris Bakery 315 Liberty St., Morris Morris Bakery on Facebook Treats & Beverages Morris Chop Shop 701 Liberty St., Morris Dining Sweet Tooth 108 W. Washington St., Morris Treats & Beverages Tully Monster Pub & Grill 104 Liberty St., Morris Dining Weits Cafe 213 Liberty St., Morris Dining


About 6 miles; 2 hours on foot at 3 mph pace; about 40 minutes by bicycle


Like the previous trip, start at the M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator; this time, head west. The wooded trail eventually opens to views of fields and the Illinois River. A farm is nestled between the canal path and river, and passersby will catch glimpses of the resident livestock. About a mile past the farm, hikers and cyclists will pass some of Starved Rock Country’s industrial backyard where several manufacturing and processing plants are dotted along the river.

Two decommissioned canal locks sit along the trail in Marseilles. Trailgoers will encounter Lock 10 first; within the length of a city block, they will reach Lock 9. A short distance farther, a mural welcomes visitors to downtown Marseilles.


Upon exiting the trail downtown, a must-see sight is the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial. The memorial commemorates military service members who died in Middle East conflicts from 1967 to present. The plaza is a serene and beautiful spot on the Illinois Riverfront. For weekend recreation beyond the canal, check out The Gamer’s Garage Arcade with classic arcade games.

For those who work up an appetite, the menu at Ziggy’s Bar & Grill offers a variety of burgers, sandwiches, wings, tacos and salads, plus a lengthy appetizer list. The Chicago-style menu at Bobaluk’s Beef and Pizza is a local favorite. Ryan’s Eatery strikes a balance between casual and elegant with both its dining room and plates of American food. Coyote Cafe is a go-to for comfort food in a cozy dining room. Illini Lounge is a popular dining destination for American food and pub fare. In the mood for pizza? Sam’s Pizza is a staple for the Marseilles community. Fans of Mexican food can stop at The Family Taco – some of the daily specials offer a light and budget-friendly option.

Those who are feeling ambitious can order a carryout meal and follow Main Street south across the Illinois River for a riverside picnic at Illini State Park. The Illinois River bridge offers a view of the Marseilles Lock & Dam



About 6 miles; 2 hours on foot at 3 mph pace; about 40 minutes by bicycle


Park downtown and pick up the canal trail next to the Laborers Local 393 hall. An early sight on the hike is the former Nabisco plant, an eight-story brick building that towers above the city. Beyond mile marker 75, grass encroaches on large stretches of the gravel trail, giving the path a narrow and rustic appearance. Despite the proximity to several homes’ backyards and North 2753rd Road, most of the next five miles maintain a remote atmosphere.

Between mile markers 78 and 79 is Heritage Harbor. Those who start their journey close to lunchtime can exit the trail to enter the harbor at Knots Landing and grab a meal at Red Dog Grill on the waterfront. Near mile marker 80 is Ottawa’s urban border. Passersby will see Quest Watersports, where hikers can stop to rent e-bikes for two, three or four hours to explore more of the trail and the Ottawa area. Less than a mile from Quest Watersports is the Fox River Aqueduct, which once carried the canal over the Fox River. Hikers and cyclists will cross it to connect with the trail on the other side of the river. Another 0.7 mile farther are two historical links to the canal’s history: the I&M Toll Collector’s House and the Rail Splitter replica canal boat

42 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
DESTINATION ADDRESS WEBSITE CATEGORY Bobaluk’s Beef & Pizza 458 Main St., Marseilles Dining Coyote Cafe 398 Main St., Marseilles Coyote Cafe on Facebook Dining Illini Lounge 390 Main St., Marseilles Dining Illini State Park 2660 E. 2350th Rd., Marseilles Recreation Middle East Conflicts Wall 200 Riverfront Dr., Marseilles Recreation Ryan’s Eatery 442 Main St., Marseilles Ryan’s Eatery on Facebook Dining Sam’s Pizza 240 Washington St., Marseilles Dining The Family Taco 329 Main St., Marseilles Dining The Gamer’s Garage Arcade 225 Lincoln St., Marseilles Recreation Ziggy’s Bar & Grill 278 Main St., Marseilles Dining
M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator


Explore downtown Ottawa by exiting the trail at the Toll Collector’s House and heading south on La Salle Street. Arcade fans can play classic games and pinball at O-Nett Gaming Co. Moviegoers can catch afternoon matinees at Roxy Cinemas History buffs can visit Washington Square to see the statue commemorating the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, then embark on a walking tour of the city’s murals. For more history, take a tour of the Reddick Mansion or choose from a variety of walking, driving or biking tours with Awesome Ottawa Tours; for more art, stop at Open Space Art Gallery. To relax and take in scenery along the Illinois River, book an approximately two-hour sightseeing cruise on the Sainte Genevieve Riverboat

Popular stops for treats include Jeremiah Joe Coffee and The Ottawa Bakery. Visitors in town for lunch can order farm-to-table dining at The Lone Buffalo

and sample craft beer from its sibling brewery, Tangled Roots Brewing Co. For an American menu with variety that caters to multiple tastes, Court Street Pub is a popular choice. For a casual atmosphere with traditional pub fare, head to JJ’s Pub. For a unique attraction while you dine, visit A’Lure Aquarium Bar and sit at a bar that doubles as an aquarium. The Cheese Shoppe ‘n’ Deli is a short walk from downtown and also easily accessible directly from the trail –the quaint grocery store and deli is a local favorite for sandwiches, pasta and novelty treats from its grocery shelves. Unwind for an afternoon or evening with wine, cocktails and frequent live music at CatsEye Wine Bar

Still in town for dinner? Burgers and sushi are on the menu at B.A.S.H. Seafood lovers also can visit The Beach House For traditional Neapolitan pizza baked in a wood-burning oven, try Iniga Pizzeria Napoletana


Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 43
DESTINATION ADDRESS WEBSITE CATEGORY A’Lure Aquarium Bar 213 W. Madison St., Ottawa Dining Awesome Ottawa Tours 624 Court St., Ottawa Recreation B.A.S.H. (Burger and Sushi House) 1012 La Salle St., Ottawa Dining CatsEye Wine Bar 724 La Salle St., Ottawa Treats & Beverages Court Street Pub 620 Court St., Ottawa Dining Iniga Pizzeria Napoletana 215 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa Dining Jeremiah Joe Coffee 807 La Salle St., Ottawa Treats & Beverages JJ’s Pub 104 W. Main St., Ottawa Dining O-Nett Gaming Co. 215 W. Washington St., Ottawa Recreation Open Space Art Gallery 223 W. Madison St., Ottawa Recreation Quest Watersports 1800 N2871st Rd., Ottawa Recreation Red Dog Grill at Heritage Harbor 411 Great Loop E Dr., Ottawa Dining Reddick Mansion 100 W. Lafayette St., Ottawa Recreation Roxy Cinemas 827 La Salle St., Ottawa Recreation Sainte Genevieve Riverboat 231 Albin Stevens Dr., Ottawa Recreation Tangled Roots Brewing Co. & The Lone Buffalo 812 La Salle St., Ottawa Dining The Beach House 700 La Salle St., Ottawa Dining
Cheese Shoppe ‘n’ Deli 1219 Fulton St., Ottawa Dining The Ottawa Bakery 630 Court St., Ottawa Treats & Beverages
44 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country BUFFALO RANGE & GUN CO. OUTDOOR PUBLIC RANGE FIREARMS & AMMO SALES ADMISSION DISCOUNTS FOR VETERANS, ACTIVE MILITARY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS open all year on over 50 acres 10 unique ranges buffalo grill We stock everything you need for a great range day in our gear shop! 1254 N 2803rd Rd. Ottawa, IL Firearm Rentals Eye Protection Ear Protection Ammunition Come as you are! Just bring an out-of-state ID or your FOID card.
Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 45
Map by Clara Brubaker
4387 Venture Dr, Peru • (815) 220-1638 • Come Visit Us!


About 8 miles; 2 hours 40 minutes on foot at 3 mph pace; about 50 minutes by bicycle


Start at the I&M Canal Access parking lot on Boyce Memorial Drive in Ottawa, just north of Lafayette Street. Within the first mile is Lock 11, which raised and lowered the canal’s water levels before the waterway was decommissioned. Sandstone bluffs are visible to the north at regular intervals. Past mile marker 84 is Lock 12, where a bridge offers an overlook of the structure. For an added dose of scenery, exit the canal path a half-mile past mile marker 85 at a trail access parking lot and cross Dee Bennett Road to Buffalo Rock State Park, which is home to overlooks of the Illinois River, sandstone bluffs and three resident bison. Beyond Buffalo Rock, the canal trail cuts through several miles of marshland before becoming more wooded near Utica. Between Buffalo Rock and Utica is one of the most secluded sections of the trail in Starved Rock Country. n Want to bike this section but didn’t bring your own? Rent one from Quest Watersports. See p. 43 for details.



46 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
DESTINATION ADDRESS WEBSITE CATEGORY August Hill Winery Tasting Room 106 Mill St., Utica Treats & Beverages Bruce & Ollie’s Ice Cream & Coffee 166 Mill St., Utica Treats & Beverages Canal Port Bar & Grill 148 Mill St., Utica Dining Clarks Run Creek Wine & Gifts 143 Mill St., Utica Treats & Beverages I&M Canal Bike Rental Station Clark and Canal streets, Utica Recreation Jamie’s OutPost 602 S. Clark St., Utica Dining Joy & Ed’s Bar and Grill 113 Mill St., Utica Dining La Salle County Historical Society Museum 101 E. Canal St., Utica Recreation Lodi Tap House 101 Mill St., Utica Dining Nonie’s Bakery & Cafe 522 S. Clark St., Utica Treats & Beverages Obscurity Brewing Bier Garten 111 W. Canal St., Utica Treats & Beverages Roxie’s Sweet Confections 723 S. Clark St., Utica Treats & Beverages Skoog’s Pub and Grill 155 Mill St., Utica Dining Starved Rock Entertainment 201 Donaldson St., Utica Recreation Starved Rock House of Jerky 723 S. Clark St., Utica Treats & Beverages Starved Rock Welcome Center 248 W. Canal St., Utica Recreation & Illinois Made Gift Shoppe The Rock and Soul 229 S. Clark St., Utica Recreation
Mill Street Patio


The La Salle County Historical Society Museum sits adjacent to the canal in Utica. The building is a restored 1848 canal granary and warehouse that now houses historical artifacts and displays. Across the street is Obscurity Brewing Bier Garten, where visitors can relax in the open air with a selection of draft beers. Open air is a theme in downtown Utica – visitors can get lunch or dinner on the Mill Street Patio, where the village closes a block of Mill Street in the summer for outdoor dining from nearby restaurants such as Lodi Tap House, Canal Port Bar & Grill, Joy & Ed’s Bar and Grill and Skoog’s Pub and Grill. Also along Mill Street are August Hill Winery Tasting Room and Clarks Run Creek Wine & Gifts

For a cold treat or beverages, Bruce & Ollie’s Ice Cream & Coffee is a perfect stop downtown. For a light lunch and an array of sweets, visit Nonie’s Bakery & Cafe south of downtown. Roxie’s Sweet Confections offers a variety of candy, ice cream and baked goods. For a savory treat, step into Starved Rock House of Jerky. Nearby is an alternative meal option – Jamie’s OutPost is a biker bar

known for its Americana food, weekly live entertainment and companion souvenir shop, Mix’s Trading Post

Stop at the Starved Rock Country Welcome Center & Illinois Made Gift Shoppe for information about the region and gifts from Illinois artisans. For more activities, head south of the canal to visit The Rock and Soul and experience their sluice box, where visitors learn how to wash, sift and find gemstones, fossils, arrowheads and shark teeth. Book an appointment at Starved Rock Entertainment for an indoor playland for children, escape rooms and Nerf toy battles.


n The Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail is 61.5 miles from Rockdale to La Salle. At the time of the canal’s opening, it stretched 96 miles from Chicago to La Salle. In its heyday, the waterway was 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep.

n Sixty-five percent of the trail (about 40 miles) runs through Starved Rock Country, from La Salle in the west to Morris in the east.

n The trail is the retired towpath adjacent to the canal and originally was used by mules to pull canal boats.

n Lock 14 in La Salle is home to a replica canal boat that is pulled by a mule named Moe. Visitors can book hourlong tours on the boat and learn more about the canal’s history.

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 47
The Rock and Soul


About 5 miles; about 1 hour 40 minutes at 3 mph pace; about 30 minutes by bicycle


Park at the I&M Canal State Trail access lot at the southwest corner of Canal and Clark streets downtown. For those who want to bike the trail but didn’t bring their own, an I&M Canal Bike rental station is available at the lot. The path is wide with a packed gravel surface for the first leg and paved surface near La Salle. The adjacent canal bed is wide along these miles. Despite a few dry portions, there are lengthy stretches of water where hikers and cyclists are almost guaranteed to spot a painted turtle or two … or 10. Waterfowl are abundant as well, particularly where the trail cuts between the canal and Split Rock Lake. With tree cover limited to one side of the trail and open canal on the other, this section is a sunny route for part of the day.

Approximately halfway to La Salle near mile marker 93, hikers and cyclists pass the sandstone face of Split Rock, where canal builders blasted through the stone exposure to cut a path for the canal. On the opposite bank, a railroad tunnel can be seen running through the north bluff. Past mile marker 94, hikers will cross the Little Vermilion River aqueduct – the structure functions as a bridge that carries the watered canal bed over the river below.



48 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
DESTINATION ADDRESS WEBSITE CATEGORY Fire on Fifth Westclox Atrium, 300 Fifth St., Peru Dining Haze Smokehouse 159 Bucklin St., La Salle Dining I&M Canal Visitor Center and Lock 16 Cafe 754 First St., La Salle Recreation Lil’ Mad Cafe 728 First St., La Salle Dining Lock 14 Canal Road and Route 351, La Salle Recreation Mickey’s Massive Burritos 620 First St., La Salle Dining Millstone Bakery 821 First St., La Salle Treats & Beverages NCI ARTworks Westclox Building, 408 Fifth St., Peru Recreation Nick’s on 6 328 Third St., Ste. A, La Salle Treats & Beverages Rawfully Yours Juice Bar & Cafe 527 First St., La Salle Dining Stage 212 700 First St., La Salle Recreation Star Union Spirits Westclox Building, 300 Fifth St., Peru Treats & Beverages The Dog House 848 First St., La Salle Dining The Study Supper Club 414 First St., La Salle Dining Uptown Grill 601 First St., La Salle Dining Westclox Museum Westclox Building, 350 Fifth St., Peru Recreation


The trail ends near the Illinois River. Before the end, trailgoers will reach Lock 14 in La Salle where The Volunteer is docked. The Volunteer is a 76-foot-long, mule-drawn replica canal boat. Book an hour-long canal tour on the boat Fridays through Sundays and some Wednesdays in the summer at the I&M Canal Visitor Center and Lock 16 Cafe. Lock 14 is a popular fishing destination, particularly for largemouth bass. If you’re in town in mid to late July, catch a performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at Stage 212 Want to unwind in the fresh air with beer, cocktails and entertainment? Stop at Nick’s on 6 and kick back on the patio.

Uptown Grill is a local go-to for American food in an atmosphere that can be

either casual or date-night. Rawfully Yours Juice Bar & Cafe specializes in organic and whole food ingredients in burgers, sandwiches and salads, plus offers a menu of cold pressed juices and smoothies. A light lunch option is The Dog House, a cozy spot where diners can order Chicago-style hot dogs at the counter. For a quick Mexican meal, try Mickey’s Massive Burritos. A favorite stop for barbecue is Haze Smokehouse. With a small menu of sandwiches and quiche plus a bakery, Lil’ Mad Cafe doubles as a light lunch spot and dessert destination. Customers at Millstone Bakery can watch fresh breads and pastries pulled out of the stone oven. Specialty coffee and desserts are available at the Lock 16 Cafe. A classy dinner destination is The Study Supper Club, where meals are served among book-lined walls.

Those who want to venture beyond downtown can travel 1.3 miles (about 6 minutes by bicycle) to the historic Westclox Building in Peru, which is home to multiple businesses and attractions such as the Westclox Museum; the NCI ARTworks gallery; Star Union Spirits, which offers distillery tours and a tasting room Thursday through Saturday evenings; Fire on Fifth, which serves brick oven pizza; and more.

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 49
Famous for Steakburgers DINE-IN DRIVE-THROUGH DELIVERY 4240 VENTURE DR., PERU • (815) 224-3111 DOOR DASH AVAILABLE THROUGH WWW.STEAKNSHAKE.COM SM-CL2070511 HICKORY GROVE CAMP Book Now at or Call 815.454.2600 7478 1745 N. Ave. Sheffield, IL 61361 Camping Amenities • Full Hookup • 103 Overnight sites • Cabin Rental • Dog Park • Nightly, Weekend and Seasonal Camping • Ramp on the Canal • 80 miles Bike Trail (Part of the National Bike Trail) • Fishing • Kayak Launch • “Big Rig” Friendly SM-CL2067802
The Volunteer mule-drawn replica canal boat



A10-person parade marched down an Ottawa sidewalk in 2021 as a show of support for a 12-year-old transgender boy.

For Prairie Fox Books manager Dylan Conmy, that moment caused a spark.

A year later, Ottawa boomed with 4,500 people downtown for the inaugural Ottawa Family Pride Festival.

Conmy is a member and advocate of the LGBTQIA+ community. When a grandmother called him in 2021 to say her grandson came out as transgender, he and two Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce members joined the family’s mini parade on

the last day of Pride Month. The experience struck a chord for Conmy. If one boy and one family needed a show of support in an often tense political climate, how many others needed the same?

“It made me realize how many people are in this community and don’t have resources or maybe don’t feel seen,” Conmy said. “I used that as an impetus to reach out to the city.”

Conmy’s initial plan was a small vendor festival with a few activities to offer a safe, welcome place of support for all people.

“What started out as me asking if I could use two parks to maybe get some vendors

50 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
festival’s mission is to be a place of happiness, diversity & belonging

turned into 4,500-plus people showing up. It’s one of the biggest festivals Ottawa’s had,” Conmy said.

This year is shaping up to be even bigger.

The 2023 Ottawa Family Pride Festival is Saturday, June 10, in downtown Ottawa. Almost 90 vendors will set up stations with products, activities and resources at Washington Square and at the Jordan Block greenspace in the 100 block of West Main Street.

One of the main attractions returning this year is a family-friendly drag show on the Jordan Block mainstage. Also returning to the lineup is a pet parade in which owners can deck out animals to stroll in their rainbow best. Numerous children’s craft stations are returning as well.

The second annual event is expanding with additional activities, including:

n A downtown Pride parade.

n A chalk-palooza to decorate sidewalks with chalk art and positive messages, hosted by Human Human, a civil rights and diversity advocacy group based in Princeton.

n A visit from the Windy City Mermaids; Pride visitors can put on a mermaid tail for a photo opportunity.

This year also includes a VIP guest. Mercury Stardust, also known as the Trans Handy Ma’am, is a professional home maintenance technician who teaches DIY projects on her TikTok channel with more than 2 million followers. She is a transgender woman who also works as an educator, speaker and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“She’s going to wander around and enjoy the festival for a while, and then she’s going to give an hour and a half talk and host a meet and greet at Open Table UCC,” Conmy said.

The festival doubles as a fundraiser for the Youth Outlook Drop-In Center in Ottawa. The drop-in center provides a space for LGBTQIA+ youths ages 12 to 20 to meet, discuss important issues in their lives and find support. Staff and volunteers offer programming to build self-esteem and promote physical and mental health.

“They save a lot of lives over at Youth Outlook,” Conmy said. “The youth suicide rate for the LGBT community is quite high. In the end, Pride Fest and the partners behind it are life-saving.”

Conmy emphasizes the daylong festival is a respectful, family-oriented event.

“This is 100% family-friendly. That’s something I always want to make sure is clear,” he said. “The amount of families that were at Pride last year is fantastic. There are so many kid activities and activities you can do with your whole family. … It’s just a festival. It just happens to celebrate diversity and humanity. Everyone is welcome.”

Conmy noted one of the most memorable aspects of the 2022 festival was the overwhelming number of smiles.

“It was one of the happiest days that I’ve been a part of,” he said. “The feedback that I got from a lot of merchants is that everyone was happy and helpful and polite to each other. Overall, it was such a celebration of humanity.”

The festival is ADA-accessible and will have American Sign Language interpreters at the mainstage. Downtown street parking is free on weekends, and the city also has multiple public lots within walking distance of activities.

Even though this is the second official year of the Family Pride Festival for the city at large, it’s the third year for Conmy. For him, the celebration truly started in 2021 with a group of 10 walkers and a 12-year-old boy.

“He definitely inspired me,” Conmy said. “I just took that one experience with one kid, and it turned into this.”

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 51 C S R
visit or follow on Facebook at
a full schedule
52 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country Lush plantings and butterfly gardens line streets filled with boutique shops and modern eateries. Come spend the day with us! Downtown Ottawa Beautiful Downtown Ottawa SM-CL2069402 Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun. 12 p.m.-4 p.m. 719 LaSalle Street, Ottawa (815) 433-7323 LaSalle County’s Favorite Independent Bookstore Over 50 YEARS of Deliciousness 1219 Fulton St. • Ottawa • 815-433-0478 HOURS: Monday-Saturday 11am-7pm Family owned restaurant overlooking the Illinois River • Full Bar and Indoor Dining • Screened In Deck Dining 1130 N. 27th Rd. Ottawa 815.434.0881 Captain’s Cove Bar & Grill At Starved Rock Marina for Menu, Photos and Latest info! SM-CL2067207
Come Try Our Slots! 620 Cour tStreet ★ Ott awa courtstreetpub .com SM-CL1688611 615 LaSalle St. • Ottawa 815-433-5683 310 E. Main St. • Streator 815-672-2614 The Timeless Emerald Cut FIND THE PERFECT RING FOR YOUR LOVE STORY. 815-324-9229 215 W. Jefferson St.,Ottawa, IL 61350 MON - FRI. 4pm-9pm • SAT 12pm-9pm • SUN 12pm-8pm Traditional Napoletana Pizza is a Fiery Artisan Experience. From hand stretching and forming the dough to choosing only the best tomatoes, peeling away their delicate skins, and crushing them to the perfect consistency, our pizza is a labor of love. One of Ottawa’s Most Attractive Restaurants SM-CL2067212 JOBST MONUMENTS & GIFTS 402 W. Main Street • Ottawa Across from Knights of Columbus 815-433-0310 OTTAWA’S BEST KEPT SECRET UNIQUE INDOOR & OUTDOOR GIFTS Open Mon. - Fri. 10:30AM to 5PM Sat. 10:30AM to 3PM
O54 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country Join Us Canal Day Arts and Crafts Market Saturday, July 8 9:00 - 4:00 Visit our website for other events.
ne of the most expensive and ornate private homes in the Midwest when completed in 1858, the Mansion was built by businessman, politician, and philanthropist William Reddick. Home to the Reddick family for nearly 30 years, the mansion anchors Washington Square, site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate. Reddick Mansion and Gardens Mansion Tours: Friday-Monday | 11-3:00pm Please call for other arrangements & group tours 100 West Lafayette St. | Ottawa, IL 61350 815-433-6100 | (815) 200-4781 STEGENRIVERBOAT.COM FOR TICKETS & EVENTS: • SIGHTSEEING TOURS • LOCAL FOOD PARTNERS • PRIVATE EVENTS See the historic Illinois River Valley like never before! Located in downtown Ottawa 700 LaSalle Street • 815.313.5553 Globally inspired coastal cuisine, flown in fresh fish, oysters, crab & prime steak Serving Tuesday - Saturday 4PM to 9PM Check out our complete menu at

Where luxury Meets Nature


The walls breathe at Camp Aramoni.

The boutique campground is home to 11 safari-style tents manufactured in South Africa by Bushtec Safari. Inside the tents – each the size of a small cabin – the canvas walls gently swell and exhale in time with the breeze.

Camp Aramoni is a marriage of luxury and nature where guests can sleep with the sounds, scents and sensations of the outdoors while enjoying the conveniences of an upscale hotel. Guests can open

netted windows, lie on an Avocado-brand mattress and watch a chandelier sway overhead.

“When guests stay with us, we try to provide a level of service they wouldn’t normally have at a campground,” said Stephanie Bias, general manager of Camp Aramoni. When guests book a tent, they don’t have to pack any gear or food. “Just pack your overnight bag, and we do the rest.”

There’s nothing primitive about the camping experience on the grounds nestled against the Vermilion River. Every

tent has wifi access, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, a mini fridge, a safe and provided toiletries. Mini bars also will be available this season. Breakfast and dinner at The Barn, an on-site dining hall, are included in the room fee.

“We also offer room service,” Bias said. “When you stay with us, you can text our staff at any time. If you want a drink brought to your room, or extra towels, or anything, we’re available 24/7. When guests are here, it is important to us that we’re at their service and they can contact us whenever they need to.”

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 55
| Lodgings |

Despite the luxury, the grounds still boast a rural charm. Camp Aramoni is in the unincorporated community of Lowell, a locality so small it doesn’t have its own ZIP code but instead piggybacks on nearby Tonica’s ZIP code.

The glamping, or “glamorous camping,” site is the innovation of Stephanie’s mother, Jennifer Bias. After their family took a glamping trip at a farm in northern Illinois, Jennifer was inspired to build a luxury campground in her home region of Starved Rock Country.

“We’re a family-owned business,” Stephanie Bias said. “My family found the property in 2017. … My mom’s cousin lives next door. She was talking about how fun it would be to have a glamp ground, and [her cousin] said, ‘You know, there’s a hundred acres that’s been for sale for 40 years. You should come out and look at it.’”

The 96-acre property is the site of the former Ristokrat Clay Products Company, a brickyard where workers handled about 12,000 bricks a day from 1870 to 1981. The meadow where the tents stand is where the company used to excavate clay for the bricks.

“When the brickyard closed in 1981, the EPA came in and filled the pit,” Bias said. “This meadow was out here for 40 years untouched.”

The location offered prime woods and a meadow alongside the river a short distance from the rapids – Vermillion River Rafting company is based less than a minute’s drive up the road. However, the property required a substantial cleanup operation. Over the years, the grounds had collected various debris, such as 400 tires in need of proper disposal.

Despite the detritus, Jennifer Bias visualized the land’s potential. From 2017 to 2021, the Bias family reformed the site into a nature haven where guests can hike trails, canoe on a pond, ride bicycles and even take fishing lessons on a stocked pond with provided gear and bait. The campgrounds conducted a soft opening in 2021 and opened for its first full season in 2022.

Remnants of the brick industry still stand at Bricks & Stones, Camp Aramoni’s event venue next door to the campground. The facility used to house Ristokrat’s blacksmith shop but has been converted into a popular destination for weddings, retreats, baby and bridal showers, reunions and more.

Three of the former brickyard’s 23 kilns still stand on the Bricks & Stones grounds. Four towering pillars, originally part of a brickyard conveyor system, also stand on the premises.

“We left the pillars for two reasons. One, they go 12 feet down and we could not move them,” Stephanie Bias noted with a laugh. “But they do look cool, so we added Edison bulbs. People like to have their wedding ceremonies there, and dancing. We’re very flexible with the property.”

Bricks & Stones is open to both the public and Camp Aramoni guests from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays during the campground season, which runs April through October. The venue operates as a restaurant on Wednesday nights serving casual but high-quality meals.

Like the lodgings, dining at Camp Aramoni is a luxury experience. Chef Carson Barger cultivates a menu that includes

56 | Summer 2023 • Starved Rock Country
NOW HIRING/EOE 2139 N. Main St. Princeton 800 W. Dakota St. Spring Valley 1503 13th Avenue 2701 E 12th St Mendota
Locally Owned and Operated by Paul & Mary Breznay purchase of a Crispy Chicken Sandwich Expires 6/15/23

many herbs and vegetables raised on site, plus locally sourced and seasonally foraged ingredients.

“A lot of the stuff that grows here is actually edible,” Barger said. “We’ve harvested goldenrod to make tea. We’ve harvested nodding onion to make vinegars. We’ve harvested serviceberries, and used clover for garnish. … This is the perfect climate for mushrooms, and we get them throughout all the seasons.”

Guests have the option of dining at The Barn on the campgrounds or at Bricks & Stones on Wednesdays.

“A lot of people do like to come up to Bricks & Stones because there’s live music. There’s more energy,” Bias said. “Others prefer a more intimate dinner and stay down at the campgrounds.”

The campgrounds are closed to the public; only guests have access to the premises. Bias said that’s a highlight for people who want to

connect with nature without the crowds that flock to nearby Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks.

“When you’re here at any given time, there’s not going to be more than 40 people,” Bias said.

The privacy provides guests a peaceful opportunity to experience the outdoors. For some visitors, it’s their first time encountering nature up close. Bias recalled a conversation with an elementary school-aged girl who lives in downtown Chicago and was awed by the sight of a star-sequined sky for the first time in her life.

“We want people to come out, experience nature, unplug,” Bias said.

Ultimately, that’s the Camp Aramoni mission. It’s a place to relax. To connect with the outdoors. To indulge in a slice of luxury.

Camp Aramoni is a place to breathe.


n TO BOOK A TENT AT CAMP ARAMONI, visit The 2023 camping season is open through Nov. 13. Room rates start at $450 on weekdays and $550 on Fridays and Saturdays. A two-night minimum stay is required.


Camp Aramoni is alongside the Vermilion River, which originally was known as the Aramoni River. The word Aramoni is from the Miami-Illinois Native American lexicon and describes the red clay people of their nation used to decorate their bodies. The Ristokrat Clay Products Company later excavated clay on the grounds for brickmaking.

Starved Rock Country • Summer 2023 | 57 Uncork
Time At Clarks
For Upcoming Events and Live Entertainment Schedule, like both locations on Facebook! Wine & Beer Tasting Room, Live Music. Now Serving You At 2 Locations! Clarks Run Antiques 215 N. Division St., Utica • 815.667.7190 Quality unique crafts, antiques, and gifts. TASTING ROOM & OUTDOOR PATIO Enjoy our wonderful wine and beer selection. Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm, Closed Mon Clarks Run Creek Wine & Gifts 143 Mill St., Utica • 815.691.8049 Utica’s Best Kept Secret Gifts & Wine, Bourbon, and Specialty Drinks Rent our upstairs room for special events. Bachelorette Parties, Birthdays, or Showers Mon, Wed, & Thurs 12-7pm, Fri & Sat 12-9pm, Sun 12-6pm, Closed Tues Check Facebook for Music Schedule Gaming .Available!
A Great

Postcard Starved Rock Country

It’s pretty much the “cowboy way” at the Broken Horn Rodeo, an annual attraction at the La Salle County 4-H Show and Junior Fair. This participant works to wrangle a steer in the rodeo’s steer wrestling competition. This year’s rodeo is 7 p.m. Friday, July 14. Learn more about upcoming county fairs in the calendars on p. 18 and p. 20.

RdevratS o c kCountry July 2023
Photo by Tom Sistak

It’s All Right Here in Downtown Morris

Located just 60 minutes southwest of downtown Chicago, downtown Morris, Illinois offers the amenities of its more metropolitan suburban neighbors along with small-town hospitality and charm. Come to downtown Morris and enjoy a fun day shopping for unique gifts, enjoying our restaurants and tea room, and enjoying outdoor activities. Make memories and have fun with your friends or your family as you shop, dine and enjoy!

Mark Your Calendar for These

Exciting Events

3 French Hens Country Market, 8AM-2PM

May 13th, June 10th, July 8th, August 12th, September 9th, October 14th

Morris Cruise Night

June 10th 6-9PM, July 8th 6-9PM, August 12th 6-9PM September 9th 6-9PM, October 14th 4-7PM

Rock the Block, shopping 10am-3pm and music 2-5PM

June 25th featuring Nashville Electric Company

July 27th featuring, Generations Band

August 27th featuring Cadillac Groove

SPECIALTY CHILDREN’S CLOTHING BOUTIQUE 218 LIBERTY ST. • MORRIS, IL 60450 815/942-3999 CHILDREN’S APPAREL | SIZES PREEMIE TO SIXTEEN SM-CL2069688 • Bagged Coffee • Baked goods • Teas & Lemonades • espresso drinks • drip Coffee • daiLy soup 312 Liberty St., Morris 815.710.5000 215 Liberty St., Morris IL 815-942-1514 Upscale Boutique Specializing in Quality Clothing and Accessories
APPLE BUTTER AND SHUGIE’S 309 N. Liberty St. Morris (815) 942-5093 Open Mon. & Sat. 10am-4pm, Tues. - Fri. 10am-5pm SM-CL2067223
SM-CL2067093 2nd Annual Campfire Concert featuring Country Artist John King September 30th Weekend 901 N. 2129th Rd. • Tonica, IL • 815-442-8453 LET’S CONNECT Kishauwau’s Starved Rock Area Cabins 4.9 667 Google reviews 639 reviews Book your cabin getaway at a quiet, rural oasis with outdoor fire pits and full kitchens. We are family owned and operated with over 35 years of hospitality experience. We know what it takes to make your stay exceptionally great! NEAR STARVED ROCK STATE PARK BOOK YOUR CABIN GETAWAY TODAY... AT KISHAUWAU CABINS! BONFIRE NIGHTS SCAN CODE TO SEE MORE Family Reunions Single Family Vacations Romantic Couples Getaways MAGAZINE
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.