By Julie Young
Tucked away in the countryside, Illinois’ Spoon River Valley is showcase to many natural wonders. Woodlands, river valleys, and farms. And every fall they are touched with a spectacular palette of colors.
Each October, thousands of people flock to Fulton County, Illinois, the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive. This is a very unique fall festival. It’s the largest of its kind, as well as being a free. And is a great event for families and folks of all ages.
Inspired by the nationally known writings of Edgar Lee Masters, author of the “Spoon River Anthology”, the Scenic Drive founders decided to hold a fall festival. Even though the drive is open year round. The unusual beauty of the fall colors throughout the Spoon River Valley was too awesome to be ignored. So back in 1968 they organized and planned their first fall drive. That first weekend was such a success and brought such great numbers of tourists, that it was held a second consecutive weekend. The Scenic Drive has been held the first two weekends in October for almost 40 years. And it now attracts over one hundred thousand visitors over the two consecutive weekends.
Visitors come from all over the country to behold the glorious beauty of fall. Following the self-guided tour through seventeen little boroughs like London Mills, Farmington, Avon, Waterford, and Astoria, there are over one hundred forty miles to be enjoyed.
Each town features many, many historical attractions. As well as booth after booth of arts and crafts, with the crafters and vendors dress in turn-of-the-century period costumes.
There are exhibits, demonstrations, antiques, collectibles, produce, and entertainment, all surrounded by a backdrop of nature’s autumn hues.
Food, of course, can be found anywhere and everywhere during the fall festival. While you can find many varieties all along the drive, each area is known for its particular items. Where else can you go to see apple butter made outdoors in huge iron pots but the historic town of London Mills? Stop in Farmington for baked potatoes and hot cider. Or at Smithville’s Red Brick School for chicken and noodles. Ellisville boasts of Ellisville Hams. Lewistown fries funnel cakes.
Here is just a sampling of the wealth of historical sites you can see along the tour:
London Mills – Old Mill Wheels, Restored Ross Hotel (an early 1900’s rural hotel), a replica of the Statue of Liberty
Middle Grove – 1894 Schoolhouse, Rapatee Coal Mine
Lewistown – Edward Lee Masters home, (where the famous poet and biographer spent his childhood years. And based upon his own childhood experiences wrote his most famous creation “Spoon River Anthology” in 1915. )
Oak Hill Cemetery, Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop and Museum
Avon – many historical homes, Railroad Museum
Ellisville – old store fronts, restored turn-of-the-century Opera House, the Sullivan house, and the smallest Public Library in IL
Mt Pisgah Park – site of an early Indian village, and a high overlook of the Spoon River Valley
Fairview – 1838 Dutch Reformed Church, Octagon-shaped Village Hall, picturesque store fronts
Canton – many historical mansions and homes including the Orendorff Mansion (http://www.outfitters.com/illinois/fulton/orendorff.html), the Fulton County Playhouse (www.fultoncountyplayhouse.com), Civil War Monument in Greenwood Cemetery, historic Train Depot
Cuba – Underground Railroad Station, 1895 Cuba Christian Church
Smithfield – Old City Jail, Red Brick Schoolhouse, Welch Art Studio & museum
Bernadotte – the only Dam site on Spoon River, 1915 Iron Bridge over Spoon River
Farmington – Shad Hill Culteral Center, Luther Birge Home (Underground Railroad Station)
Ipava – Quaker Cemetery, restored Log Cabin, world famous stained glass windows in Ipava Presbyterian Church
Duncan Mills – Isabel Town Hall, replica of Covered Bridge, Tarvin Horse Farm
Waterford Area – Dickson Mounds Museum (ancient burial grounds and village) (http://www.museum.state.il.us/ismsites/dickson/)
Waterford Plank Road Ticket Office
Astoria – Village Bandstand, South Fulton Church
Vermont – Civil War cemeteries, Historic mansions, Masonic Hall
Table Grove – Camp Ellis Memorial (WWII army training camp)
There are also many areas which offer camping, fishing, canoeing, and other recreational activities on the Spoon River. Plus motels, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants. (http://www.fultoncountytourism.org/foodandlodging.htm#fultoncoconservationanchor)
The Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive is worth taking the entire weekend for. In fact, you still might not have enough time…and will have to make it part of your autumn tradition. Returning each October to experience more. More of the smells of autumn, like wood smoke and hot apple butter. More of the tasty yummy-ness of rib-eye sandwiches or pumpkin fudge. More time to walk slowly through the crunchy falling leaves.
It will definitely be an experience unlike no other. One you will not soon forget.