On our recent trip to Illinois with friends Rick and Gay Kirkton, our first stop was Dixon, Illinois, population 15,000. This is the hometown of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
We toured the restored and immaculately maintained home where the Reagan family of four lived from 1920-1923. It’s a classic, two-story American home built in 1891 on a tree-lined street. As American as apple pie.
The Reagan family, which consisted of parents Jack and Nelle, and sons Neil and little brother Ron, rented this and other homes in the area. There was no family wealth; Nelle was a homemaker and Jack sold shoes.
Ron lived in the home, sharing a room with his older brother, Neil, when Ron was 9-13.
The family attended the First Christian Church in town. Ron and his mother taught Sunday School there.
The home has few original furnishings, notably a quilt that belonged to Nelle is all that was pointed out, but is filled with period décor. The bathroom tub is original, as is the woodwork and other features.
The original fireplace and tile surround on the floor are present and come with a cool story. Apparently Ron knew there was a loose tile and would lift it to hide small amounts of change.
Ron, Nancy and Ron’s brother Neil visited the home in 1984 when Ron checked out the tile and placed a few pennies there.
At that time, he was President and it was decided in advance that the Reagans might enjoy a quiet meal in the dining room. The story goes that during a pre-visit security sweep, Secret Service noted a window with a clear view of the table in the small dining room. They didn’t want to draw attention to the space, yet didn’t like the security aspect of the situation. So, they arranged to plant new landscaping just outside the window.
The situation looked as though the house staff was simply fixing up the place for the visit, but in reality, the new plantings created a block. The trees were removed after the President’s visit.
Ron had a variety of jobs in town as a kid. He worked at the Dixon Golf Club and spent six summers as a lifeguard where he is credited with saving 77 swimmers.
Ron went on to Eureka College where he studied economics and sociology. He was hired by a radio station to announce University of Iowa games and worked as a sports broadcaster for a variety of stations before moving to Hollywood in 1937 From there, his public career, which included being a fairly famous actor, took off.
Ron served governor of California from 1967-75 and U.S. President from 1981-89. He left office with a 68 percent approval rating. Ron spent his final years battling Alzheimer's disease, dying in 2004 in California.
Upon his 1984 trip back to town, Ron said, “My heart is still here.”
Gay captured Brian and me in Grant Park in Galena, Illinois Saturday. Here, we stand in front of the Galena River that runs through the heart of the town. Behind the river is downtown Galena. This is the adopted hometown of President and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The river feeds into the mighty Mississippi, just a few miles away.
Less than a year ago, Gay Kirkton and I took our annual summer girlfriend getaway to the unique and beautiful Galena, Illinois, situated in northwest Illinois, a hop and skip from both Wisconsin and Iowa. Next to Chicago, this is the most visited destination in the great state of Illinois, with Springfield third.
With a population of 3,800, this small city has more than 50 restaurants in its vibrant downtown alone, and several blocks packed with one-of-a-kind shops that sell everything from trendy housewares to kitchen goods, gourmet food, fashionable (and affordable) clothing, and costume jewelry.
So the shopping is certainly a draw -- let's be honest -- for women especially. The food? For everyone!
For the Cronks of Pendleton and our friends Rick and Gay Kirkton of Angola (but proud Illinois natives), history got us there.
When you think of Illinois and U.S. presidents, perhaps Abraham Lincoln comes first to mind. He certainly does for me. Springfield, Illinois boasts a number of tributes to his life and times that you can visit from his presidential library to the only home he ever owned, to a visit inside his law office, the cemetery where he was laid to rest, and more.
But don't forget the other presidents who called Illinois their home. Consider this one.
Do you remember that President, California Governor and actor Ronald Reagan came from Illinois and spent from age 9 to adulthood in Dixon, Illinois? Here we are in front of the home his family rented for a few years which is a tour-able landmark in the town.
I'll do a separate post later on the home, as it is worthy of its own essay. It was a fantastic stop, and glimpse into an iconic man of humble roots. Our fellas stand next to a life-size cardboard version of the 1980s president. It appears accurate in stature as President Reagan was 6'1" and our guys measure up to prove that about right.
After a stop in Dixon, it was on to Galena. The drive was exceedingly charming as we rode in Rick's comfortable pick-up truck chatting away the hours and looking out for miles and miles over tidy fields and farms in our friends' treasured home state.
You can have your majestic mountains, and while I love looking out over water, my personal eye candy consists of massive green fields of Midwestern crops. You've got the best view of those in Illinois and Iowa.
In Galena, it was like checking in with an old friend as Brierwreath Bed & Breakfast owner Joe Cook greeted us. His inn is perfectly located in this hilly city because it's an easy walk downhill to the downtown where we had our choice and then some of dining options. We went for a repeat of last year's trip as we sat outside at Vinny's for an Italian meal.
On Saturday at breakfast, that uncanny thing that always happens to Gay and me happened again. At the first of two fine breakfasts served by Joe, we met B & B guests with a connection to Gay. One worked in public relations for the community college where Gay's father serves as a trustee. The guest could not believe it! She knows Gay's dad and the two had a lot to discuss about the college and their connections.
Then it was on to catch our trolley where we got a splendid overview of Galena's history from a lead-mining and steamboat hub in the 1800s to the home of a future and then post-U.S. president in the form of U.S. Grant and family in the mid-to-late 1800s to a town that celebrates commerce, history and architecture in the city it is today.
We had a wonderful tour of the home of U.S. Grant and family, above. More than 90 percent of the home's contents are original. Grant had lived in Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri but after marrying a wealthy farmer's daughter and being gifted with land, Grant found that he was not cut out for farming.
He brought his family to Galena, Illinois where his family owned a tannery. It is there he worked, living in a small, humble home to suit his means until his true talents as a West Point-educated soldier were recognized and he became the key figure in saving the union and will forevermore be recognized in that remarkable way.
To thank him for his war contributions, some wealthy men in Galena gifted the Grants with this home. It never left the family until the Grant children gifted the home to the state of Illinois in the early 1900s as a permanent tribute to their parents.
We enjoyed lunch outside at Gobbie's and then it was back to our B & B to rest up in our rooms before heading out to dinner downtown at Fried Green Tomatoes. We had a lovely meal including Harvest salads, pesto and tomato brushetta and crab cakes.
When it was time to leave, we discovered a drenching rain outside the restaurant. We waited in the entryway for it to clear but before it did, the restaurant owner, Fred, graciously appeared and asked where we were staying. He sent for his personal vehicle to transport us to our doorstep at the inn! Talk about above and beyond!
I promised Fred (he said to think of his name as Fried without the i) that I would mention this in my blog. So this is for you, Fred! I also would recommend your food and staff to anyone!
Gay and I enjoy attending church services in the towns we visit. We took the United Methodist Church up on its offer, via a display board out front, to sit in Grant's pew. On Sunday morning we all went to church a short walk down the street from our B & B to the former Methodist Episcopal Church where the Grant family pew is distinctively and tastefully marked with a small American flag. We got the photo shortly after services.
A couple special moments for me from the weekend were during the meet-and-greet portion of the church service, turning around to shake hands with a woman who formerly lived in Shirley, Indiana. That's a tiny town in the circulation area of the newspaper where I work.
Also, in the Grant home, upstairs a framed picture depicts key figures in the Civil War and in the group photo is included one Gen Ambrose Burnside -- who happens to hail from my hometown of Liberty, Indiana.
When you think of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, remember that four U.S. presidents called this beautiful Midwestern state home -- Lincoln, Grant, Reagan and Barack Obama.
We'll certainly never forget.
Donna Cronk is a blogger, newspaper journalist and author of two novels: Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, available from the author , at specialty venues and on Amazon.com.
In fall of 2014 I had the thrill of spending 10 days in Israel. I have never been the same since. I will never be the same in the future.
Today, Israel is on my mind and in my heart in a special way. It's the 70th anniversary today in terms of world governments and recognition. But it is the eternal city of God. And today, the U.S. Embassy is newly located in Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
So many moments, images, sights and sites, sounds and sound bites come to mind when I think of this most unique country of Israel and its Holy City and capital of Jerusalem. Here's one moment. Our group, about 35 of us with my Ovid Community Church, walked along together toward our next stop in Jerusalem. In the opposite direction some Jewish men walked by. One man's eyes met mine and with neither of us stopping or even slowing down, he called out, "Where you from?" I said "U.S.A." His response?
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
And that is where we are in a special way today.
We don't get too far into the Bible before we read this in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." NIV
Indeed, Jesus came through the Jewish people ... the whole earth blessed by Him.
Is there any place on planet earth more important to so many as this spot? It is calledThe Wailing Wall, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount. This wall is part of the mount, or platform, that once held two Jewish Temples before they were destroyed. Jews pray here and leave notes in the wall. See the temporary fence at left with the women looking over it? This is where many Jewish boys have their Bar Mitzvah.
Psalms 132:13-14: For the LORD has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, "This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it." NIV.
Israel is the size of New Jersey. Everywhere (EVERY-WHERE) you step, you are walking on history. In fact, I best describe this experience as one where someone dropped me into a Bible and allowed me to walk around there. Events of both Old and New Testaments merge and mingle.
Whereas the Bible was once in black and white, it is now in living color.
Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May those who love you be secure. (NIV).
As the man said in the crowd in the heart of Jerusalem,
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
This column ran Sunday in the New Castle Courier-Times.
By DONNA CRONK
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier this fall, Brian and I visited Washington, D.C. One of my just-for-fun objectives was to look for Hoosier symbols wherever we went. They are, in fact, everywhere.
Consider the federal monuments and buildings alone. Indiana limestone and other stone went into these, along with many others not mentioned: The Lincoln Memorial, the interior dome of the Jefferson Memorial, the National Cathedral, The Pentagon and marble in the Indiana Memorial stone in the Washington Monument.
Also, Indiana limestone or stone grace the National Archives, National Theater, Departments of Commerce and Interior, Federal Triangle Building, Botanic Gardens, Federal Trade Commission and more.
In the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Italian-American artist Constantino Brumidi painted the frieze that appears as almost three-dimensional around the rotunda. It illustrates major events in U.S. history. We were told by our guide that two spaces in the frieze remained when the painter fell from a
ladder and never finished the frieze. However, the artwork was completed by other artists.
One spot went to Henry Ford for his contributions with the automobile, and the last blank area to complete the ring went to Henry County native Wilbur Wright and his brother Orville in an homage to flight.
When the House of Representatives was moved for more space in 1857, the Old Hall of the House became National Statuary Hall. Each state was invited by Congress to provide two statues of its most notable citizens, according to a capitol brochure. These statues in the collection are displayed in the Hall, the Rotunda, the Capitol Visitor Center and corridors.
Can you guess the identities of the two Hoosiers who are depicted in
The first is Wayne County’s own Oliver P. Morton, Indiana’s Civil War governor.
He was a Centerville attorney whose home survives on the western edge of U.S. 40 (originally called The National Road) in Centerville and is on the National Register of Historic Places. He was elected to two terms as governor, beginning in 1861, and left office to serve as a U.S. senator. He died at age 54 during his second term.
Morton lived from 1823 to 1877. His statue graces the Statuary Hall collection.
The second statue is Gen. Lew Wallace.
Wallace was born in Brookville in 1827 and died in Crawfordsville in 1905. An attorney, Civil War Union general, governor of the New Mexico Territory, and Hoosier author. He wrote the classic Christian historical-adventure novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” in 1880.
The state of Indiana commissioned his tribute statue in marble. In it, he wears a military uniform. The statue was unveiled in 1910.
During all of my childhood, Lisa Charles was a pleasant, curly-headed girl, two years my junior, who lived back a long lane in a big, pretty farmhouse. Lisa’s mom, Mary, was my mother’s hairdresser and I’m pretty sure she gave me my first professional perm – something other than the Toni ones out of a box at home.
At Lisa’s farm, just a couple of properties away from ours at Route 1, Brownsville (before they did away with rural route numbers), we had 4-H meetings.
But of course Lisa and I grew up and lost touch. I saw her for the first time in nearly 40 years two years ago at The Liberty Festival and learned that she and her husband bought her folks’ place and of all things – they have turned it into a Maple syrup farm!
On well over 100 acres of woodlands, they tap the maple trees (not with buckets, we’re talking modern technology these days, folks, and lots of cool equipment and tubes that drain the sap back at their central production area).
They sell their pure Indiana Maple Syrup and related products at some of the best farmers’ markets in the state. Pretty sweet.
So this weekend, today and tomorrow, Maplewood Farms are on tour and along with watching production and Lisa explaining how it’s done, you can purchase the delicious products too.
Right there at Route 1 Brownsville, on the Charles farm.
Only now it’s 3737 N. Philomath Rd. Brownsville, Indiana 47325. And it’s the Hart place. You can email Lisa at email@example.com.
I loved going down Lisa’s lane. I thought of it as Memory Lane.