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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 02:56 am

Fall is for meandering on the Spoon River Drive

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With a backdrop of fall colors, small towns along the Spoon River Drive sell crafts, antiques and food.

In the dead of winter we hope for summer, in the summer heat and humidity we long for snow, but fall is perfect and everyone just wishes it would linger. To fully experience the beauty of fall, load up and meander along the Spoon River Drive. Check out the food, festivals and cultural icons and, of course, the bargains! You will find antiques, flea market items and unforgettable food.

Located in Fulton County, about an hour northwest of Springfield, the Spoon River Drive happens the first two weekends in October, on Oct. 1-2, 8-9. The drive is a self-guided motor tour covering 140 miles. The Spoon River flows from London Mills and joins the Illinois River near the southeastern corner of Fulton County. The Spoon River became nationally known from the work of Edgar Lee Masters, author of the Spoon River Anthology.

This is the 44th annual drive and a program book provides details of sites to visit. The history of this area includes early settlements and a World War II prisoner of war camp. There is so much to see, this could easily be a two-weekend trip. Planning ahead will allow time to see items on the “to do” list. Be sure to add in time for shopping and dining pleasures along the way.

London Mills is a favorite stop. There visitors find old mill wheels on display in Riverside Park, reminding visitors when milling was a major activity along the Spoon River. The restored Ross Hotel, typical of many rural hotels operated in rural America in the early 1900s, is open during the drive.

Don’t want to drive all the way to New York to see the Statue of Liberty? In London Mills you may view a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Riverside Park’s southeast corner. The statue was built as a tribute to the Boy Scouts of America, which operates a camp nearby.

Avon, famous for railroads that were once the hub of the area, was settled in 1835. The Northern Cross Railroad, Fulton County’s first railway, eventually merged with the C B & Q, which is now part of the BNSF rail system. Rail history buffs won’t want to miss the Railroad Museum located at AVCOM Park.

The drive includes 140 miles of roads in Fulton County, about an hour northwest of Springfield.
While millstones are evident at London Mills, Levi Ellis erected the first mill on the Spoon River. Ellisville is a picturesque village with the old post office, mail wagon and historic Ellisville Opera House. Driving on to Fairview, visitors can see the oldest Dutch Reformed Church west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Historic Canton bleeds Farmall red. Canton was once home to a large International Harvester plant, which had originally been the Orendorff Plow Works. Although not open to the public, the Orendorff Mansion in Canton is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 Art fans won’t want to miss the Welch Art Studio and Museum in Lewistown. The studio and museum is located in the old telephone building which originally had been a bank. Lewistown is also home of the Red Brick School that is a hub of activity for crafts, antiques and a superb meal. The Red Brick School is where famous wildlife carver Bill Swango has his studio.

Those seeking a closeup view of the river should include Bernadotte in their trek. That’s where they’ll find the only dam on Spoon River, along with the iron bridge which was constructed in 1915.

The WWII Prisoner of War camp was located in this area. The Spoon River website (www.spoonriverdrive.org) states, “Bernadotte was taken in as part of the World War II Camp Ellis Army Camp. Camp construction permanently altered the surrounding terrain which originally included seven hills. The dam at Bernadotte was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers during the Camp Ellis days. Lewistown is the county seat of Fulton County. It was founded in 1821 by the Ross family. The Major Newton Walker home, which once hosted Abraham Lincoln, still stands on North Main Street.

“Lewistown was the home of Edgar Lee Masters through his younger years and the atmosphere of Lewistown undoubtedly had an inspirational effect upon Masters that led to the Spoon River Anthology being written by Masters. Lewistown has a rich history associated with railroading in Fulton County. Restoration has commenced and continues on both the old Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railroad Station and the Cedar Street Station which served Lewistown for many years. The restoration and continuing operation of the Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop Museum is a major attraction for tourists in Lewistown.”

During the drive, Lewistown hosts Spoon River Anthology readings. Check out the map to see just where you wish to stop, then plan accordingly. Keep the upcoming holidays in mind while shopping and enjoy all the beauty that fall and Fulton County have to offer. For more information go to the website, www.spoonriverdrive.org, or write to the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive, P.O. Box 525, Canton, Ill., 61520 or call 309-647-898 for more details. You may also email info@spoonriverdrive.org

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