Center yourself
Published:
Mar/Apr2004

The Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum in Rantoul is the largest aerospace museum in Illinois. Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs photo

Before You Go
For more information, contact:

• Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-369-6151, 1-800-554-7270 or www.cucvb.org;

• Central Illinois Tourism, (217) 525-7980 or www.visitcentralillinois.com;

• www.IllinoisAmishCountry.com, or 1-800-72AMISH (800-722-6474).


Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

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Historic attractions, amish communities and out-of-this-world
museums make central illinois a great family getaway.

B Y   S H E L L Y   A .   S C H N E I D E R

s spring blossoms open, let plans for a short family getaway take root. Champaign-Urbana, approximately 85 miles northeast of Springfield, is perfect for a three-day escape.

This Big Ten community is home to the University of Illinois and Parkland College, but there is so much more to this Midwestern gem than football in the fall.

Families might want to start their weekend with a Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market in Urbana. This year-round feast for the senses in spring returns to the Lincoln Square Mall. Here, mom will find beautiful spring flowers to brighten her day, along with handcrafted jewelry and hand-sewn quilts. Youngsters will delight in wooden toys and handmade doll clothes.

As with traditional farmer’s markets, patrons browse throughout aisles of fresh produce. Fresh-baked breads, cookies and pies are always a big hit with the market regulars, and visitors can bring home a small reminder of their experience when they purchase fragrant candles that smell of fresh lavender and homemade pies.

Up, up and away

A visit to the William M. Staerkel Planetarium is educational and inspiring. The state’s second-largest planetarium is located on the Parkland College campus in Champaign. The planetarium is an affordable and fun diversion from the ordinary.

Open year-round, the planetarium provides science education programs and amazing light shows to nearly 40,000 visitors each year. Perfect for a family weekend, the facility is open on Friday and Saturday evenings, offering children’s programs and light shows to rock ‘n’ roll music. The planetarium’s Zeiss star projector creates approximately 7,600 simulated stars, the sun, moon and five planets onto a 50-foot dome-shaped screen.

Emerge from the virtual heavens and head north to Rantoul for aerospace exploration. The Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum is the largest aerospace museum in Illinois. The museum boasts more than 40 aircraft and missiles, including replicas of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” and the Curtiss Jenny biplane, Chanute Field’s first aircraft. Chanute Air Force Base closed in 1993, but was the premiere training site to more than 2 million men and women.

The museum is also home to a rare Boeing XB-47 Stratojet prototype. Children will love the hands-on exhibits, including the cockpit of a Boeing B-52D Stratofortress and the cargo bay of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

Explore the past

Isn’t it great when children learn while having fun? Parents, youngsters and grandparents will have an old-fashioned good time at the Early American Museum in Mahomet, one mile north of Interstate 74 on state Route 47. The museum is part of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District and opened in 1968 to house the collection of William Redhed, a prominent local businessman and collector.

From the sights and sounds of a 1918 blacksmith shop to a Civil War tent, the Early American Museum is home to the tools, implements, personal belongings and other artifacts of 19th- and early 20th-century domestic life. The museum staff asks visitors to make the connection between the past and the present through sight, sound and hands-on activity. The Discovery Room exhibit allows children to explore the life of people living on the prairie. Even grown-ups learn a thing or two at the Early American Museum. For instance, did you know that John Deere made buggies from 1913 to 1922?

After experiencing all the cultural, educational and entertaining venues in the Champaign-Urbana area, travel south to a simpler way of life in Amish country.

Amish Illinois

Douglas County is home to the heart of Illinois’ Amish settlements: Tuscola, Arcola, Arthur, Newman, Atwood and Villa Grove. Visitors will find horse-drawn carriages in Arthur that automatically transport them to a less hectic time.

Tuscola and Arcola are just off Interstate 57 in Douglas County and offer a sample of yesteryear, combined with the great shopping experiences found in the 21st century. Arcola is home to the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center, the first museum in Illinois dedicated to the Amish culture. Known as the “Broom Corn Capital of the World,” Arcola is a great place for those who love to search for antiques and collectibles. Don’t pass through this quaint Illinois town without a stop at the Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann & Andy® Museum. Arcola is the birthplace of the beloved characters’ creator. Memorabilia, art and archival material are on display. Another popular stop in Arcola is Rockome Gardens, a 15-acre park that features buggy rides, shops, festivals and beautiful gardens.

Just north of Arcola on I-57 is a shopper’s paradise, Tanger Outlet Center, with more than 45 name outlets. This spring, visitors may see construction of the Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library, devoted to creating an awareness of “The Forgotten Victory.”

Historic downtown Tuscola is charming with its specialty shops and a tea room. Don’t miss Amishland’s Red Barn Buffet that also includes an Amish bakery.

Arthur is Illinois’ largest Amish settlement and the nation’s fourth-largest. This quiet community of 2,300 offers a peek into the way life used to be and the way life is today for its residents.

Summer adventures

Don’t miss the Snowmobile and ATV Grass Drag Racing held throughout summer. This family friendly and fun-filled sports attraction consists of four races, June through October at the Homer 500 racetrack. Spectators will marvel as the vehicles race from 0 to 100 miles per hour in a few seconds. In an effort to attract all members of the family, the Homer 500 hosts a flea market on the premises during the race.

Curtis Orchard is another Champaign County favorite. Open Aug. 1 through Dec. 23, the orchard features a variety of apples and just about anything that could possibly contain apples, including hand-dipped caramel apples, apple cider slush and mouth-watering, homemade apple donuts. Pick your own fruit, then head to the petting zoo or the three-acre Giant Jungle Maze. There are also pony rides, horseback trail rides and live entertainment on the weekends. Come hungry because members of the Curtis family serve up bratwurst and hotdogs on the weekend.

No matter what time of year, central Illinois packs a great vacation punch for the dollar, and is a great escape from the ordinary.

Shelley Schneider is a contributor from St. Peters, Mo.

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