Lighting up the Night – Holiday Lights in ILLINOISouth

Alex Matthews
Events, Holidays, What's Happening

Picture this…you and the family are in your perfectly toasty car, hot chocolate in hand. You drive into a winter wonderland. Through the window you find scene after delightful scene of favorite Christmas Characters – Santa Claus, Frosty, eight tiny reindeer…nine if ol’ Rudolph is around – all adorned with bright, twinkling lights. Swirls of reds, greens and cool blues cover trees, bushes and fields…this is just a little bit of what you’ll experience at one of ILLINOISouth’s many BEAUTIFUL holiday light displays.

People come from all over the place to see the lights, but there is so much more to do! Many of the displays feature events, live entertainment, children’s activities and much more. Take time out this holiday season to make memories, and even start new family traditions at one of these fine attractions!

Fantasy of Lights
November 21, 2014 – December 31, 2014
Foundation Park, Centralia, IL
From Dusk to 11:00 p.m.
Admission: Free Admission

Lebanon’s Winter Wonderland
November 21, 2014 – January 1, 2015
Horner Park, Lebanon, IL
This annual event is a step back in time. It is a trip to a much simpler time with scenes depicting several of the area’s attractions, wonderful childhood memories, and fantastic ideas. A trip through Lebanon’s Winter Wonderland is truly different from other attractions in the area. We don’t pretend to be the biggest, brightest, nor most technically advanced. LWW is a view of the holiday that everyone remembers! See all the hand painted scenes and wonderful reminders of a much simpler time. Colorful lights and displays of all types are ready for your enjoyment. LWW includes a wide variety of illuminated venues and a life-size Nativity Scene.
Admission: Free







Way of Lights
November 21, 2014 – January 2, 2015
National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, IL
45th Annual Way of Lights – This unique celebration of Christmas features a drive-thru light display, tree & wreath displays, an interactive children’s village, camel rides and an indoor laser show. With over one million lights, this event celebrates the true meaning of Christmas…the birth of Jesus.
Admission: Free

City of Olney Christmas Light Display
November 27, 2014 – December 28, 2014
Olney City Park, Olney, IL
Drive through the Olney City Park to see thousands of Christmas lights and displays. Santa will be in the Community Building each Friday and Saturday beginning December 5.
Visit Our Website

Holiday Lights Fair
November 27, 2014 – December 30, 2014
Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, Du Quoin, IL
Three mile drive through Christmas lights display is open every night. Weekends in December, the beautifully decorated winter wonderland in Expo Hall, will have vendors with items for sale, food, kids’ corner and music entertainment.
Admission: $10.00 a car load

Christmas Lights Wonderland
November 28, 2014 – December 31, 2014
American Farm Heritage Museum, Greenville, IL
Tour the animated Christmas boxes and lights, then visit the Lil Red Barn Museum for free cookies, hot chocolate, coffee or tea. Visit with Santa every Friday and Saturday, ride the Polar Express on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and enjoy 1800s Christmas at Hill’s Fort.
Admission: Free Admission

Christmas Lights in the Park
November 28, 2014 – January 4, 2015
City Park, Carlyle, IL
Get into the spirit of the season as you view thousands of Christmas lights strung throughout the City Park.

Coulterville Holiday Light Display
November 29, 2014 – December 31, 2014
Coulterville City Park, Coulterville, IL
1/2 mile walk thru display features a million lights and 400 Christmas figurines! Don’t miss the walk through version of the “Candyland” game with favorites such as Lolli Pop Lane. Fridays and Saturdays evenings, there’s food, crafts and Santa.
Admission: Free Admission

Festival of Lights
December 5, 2014 – January 1, 2015
Leo French Park, Fairfield, IL
Come see the beautiful lights and holiday decorations.

Lights in the Park
December 7, 2014
Freeburg, IL
The beautiful light display will be turned on for the holiday season. To help celebrate, Santa will be on hand to visit as well as Christmas carols being sung.

Admission: Free

Read more

Yuletide Gems – Holiday Theatrical Offerings Are NOT To Be Missed

Bill Beggs
Events, Holiday Guide, Holidays, Tourism Times

What to do once the kids or grandkids, nieces and nephews are finished performing in the school holiday show or church Christmas pageant? Cue up Miracle on 34th Street (or Christmas Vacation…), again, and settle in for a long winter’s nap?

You don’t get out much, do you? But you should. There are plenty of theatre and musical offerings all season long throughout ILLINOISouth.

Belleville and Edwardsville have a full slate of holiday offerings, and smaller towns hither and yon have special holiday performances scheduled. Here’s just a sampling of events confirmed for the season. (In many cases, holiday shows had not been finalized by the time we went to press.)

The Belleville Philharmonic Society is an orchestra of volunteers who comprise the second-oldest continuously performing symphony in the country. (The first concert was held in 1866, a year after the Civil War ended.) This season, listeners will be blessed with several classics, from Vivaldi’s Gloria to the Nutcracker suite and ballet.

Besides the aforementioned baroque offering from the society’s chorale and chamber orchestra, the “Christmas Wonders” concert will feature Rutter’s Magnificat. Tchaikovsky’s opus Nutcracker will include several professional soloists joining the dancers of the Belleville School of Ballet.

In Edwardsville there will be about as many offerings as there are visions of sugar plums dancing in children’s heads. Not too many these days? Well, the lovingly restored Wildey Theatre is a sugar plum in its own right, and has plenty on the slate to keep children and adults entertained. Along with a production of Nutcracker, there’ll be a showing of the beloved Bing Crosby movie White Christmas.

Kids can enjoy the Elves’ Workshop at the Wildey, where participants can work on nine separate craft projects for wrapping and giving as gifts to family and friends.

If you haven’t seen the Wildey, last refurbished in 2011, you must check out this fine 325-seat theatre that has featured the likes of Dave Mason, Judy Collins and Leo Kottke. “Everyone leaves here an ambassador,” says Rich Walker, who heads up Friends of the Wildey, the group that promotes the theatre.

In Lebanon, they’ll give you the Dickens. Looking Glass Playhouse will perform the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, which might scare the you-know-what out of some kids under 12… and even some adults who have been living more like a Scrooge than a Crachit of late. Some people are scared they’ve been too bad for Santa. Others fear being visited by three ghosts on the night before Christmas.

Two events are scheduled in Mt. Carmel at Wabash Valley College. “Mind & Spirit of Christmas” features the college’s chorale backing Gina Moore, Red Wick and friends for a medley of holiday classics. Also on the performing arts calendar, at Brubeck Arts Center, is “New Odyssey Christmas,” which spotlights the group New Odyssey – 3 Guys, 30 Instruments. Intrigued? Jerry Bayne, performing arts director at WVCC, is a true believer in this act. He says, “These guys have been hitting home runs for years.”

And in Olney, the city’s art council is showcasing the Olney Central College choir for a holiday concert at John Stull Performing Arts Center; the orchestra and chorus will be joined by several professional soloists.

So bundle up, get out, and let it snow!

CLICK HERE to find information on these performacnes and other great holiday events on our online claendar!

This information originally appeared in the Tourism Times Holiday Guide. Click here and sign up to receive our annual Visitors Guide at no cost!

Read more

Paying Tribute to Veterans in ILLINOISouth

Alex Matthews
Attractions, Events, Fall, Holiday Guide, Tourism Times, What's Happening

We at the Tourism Bureau are incredibly thankful for the brave men and women in ILLINOISouth who have fought, and continue to fight for our freedom. We encourage you to visit three new sites built in three different communities in honor of service people past and present.

Constructed on the main campus of Kaskaskia College, a community college located just outside of Centralia, The Veterans Tribute is a unique, heartfelt monument that honors the men and women who have served, are currently serving, and those who will serve our Country in the future.

Kaskaskia Veteran's Tribute

Historically, memorials are designated for those who have left us, whereas the Tribute honors all veterans, both living and deceased. The Tribute allows students, family members and visitors a connecting link to veterans by providing a broader spectrum, appreciation, and understanding of the magnitude, of all the veterans have done in preserving democracy and in keeping the dream of freedom alive.

Planned for three phases, the Tribute currently consists of a warrior’s court featuring the seals of the five branches of service and a bronze American Eagle with a ten foot wing span. The Tribute also has two walls which contain granite panels that accommodate more than 25,000 names of veterans. The Tribute itself is ringed with American flags and cherry trees. Future phases include installing three additional walls to contain up to 38,000 names, and an education building.

St. Libory Veteran’s Memorial

Over in St. Libory, visitors can honor area heroes at the Veterans Memorial in Wenneman Park. After ten years in the making, the site has plaques for the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines and Coast Guard. Local veterans are honored with their names in bricks on the top level of the memorial. Freeburg has also recently added a new Military Flag Memorial and Honorary at the Village Park. Residents will gather on Veteran’s Day this year for the site’s first Flag Raising Ceremony.

Each Veteran’s Day, several of our communities hold events and services in honor of our veterans. Visit our online calendar for the latest information on events all over ILLINOISouth.

This information originally appeared in the Tourism Times Seasonal Guide. Click here and sign up to receive three issues every year at no cost!

Read more

Eleven Notable November Events

Alex Matthews
Events, Fall

Don’t get too caught up in the holiday buzz just yet…wait until we start writing about it on the blog next week.

For now check out these 11 super-unique (and mostly non-holiday related) events happening in ILLINOISouth this month. From cool history lectures to fantastic shopping events and days just for the ladies, there’s something happening this month that everyone can enjoy.

CLICK HERE to find more information about these and other great events on our online calendar!

1) Mascoutah in the Civil War: Stories You Haven’t Heard Before
Now through November 16, 2014
Mascoutah Heritage Museum, Mascoutah, IL
To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Mascoutah Historical Society has created an exhibit to highlight how the city’s citizens responded to the national crisis of the Civil War. Visitors to the Heritage Museum can explore the complexities of Mascoutah’s involvement through artifacts, images and documents.

2) Solid Gold Cadillac
November 7, 2014 – November 9, 2014
208 Kaskaskia St., New Athens, IL
Open House Theatre presents the three act comedy about a small stockholder versus a big corporation.

3) Toast of Marissa
November 8, 2014
200 N. Main St., Marissa, IL
This exciting event will feature wine tasting, live music, food, vendors, a 5K Run, a 1 Mile Fun Run, 50/50 raffle and a grape stomp.

4) “Expect Delays” Red Carpet Premiere and Film Screening
November 13, 2014
The Lincoln Theater, Belleville, IL
Join us for some extra holiday fun at the Lincoln Theatre for the Red Carpet Premiere of Expect Delays, an independent feature film from the creators of Belleville shot right here in Southern Illinois. Arrive at 6:30 for the Pre-Show and Red Carpet for your chance to meet the cast and crew, and stay for the 7:30 screening. Did we mention this is a Christmas movie?

5) Monroe County Welcome Center Scavenger Hunt
November 15, 2014
Monroe County Welcome Center, Columbia, IL
Don’t miss this fun-filled hunt through the magical towns of Monroe County. The event is not a race, but a joyful journey. Many prizes and giveaways!

6) Speaker Bill Nunes Presentation
November 15, 2014
Glen Carbon Historic Museum, Glen Carbon, IL
In this fascinating presentation, Bill Nunes will speak about about local prohibition bootlegger Buster Wortman as well as World War II.

7) Saint Louis Symphony Mondays
November 17, 2014
The Hett, Lebanon, IL
An exquisite concert experience features smaller chamber ensembles of Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians.

8) Frauenabend
November 21, 2014
Maeystown, IL
Enjoy an evening just for the ladies! Frauenabend, or Ladies Night Out, will feature unique dining, shopping and pampering for the holidays. Vici’s Front Porch and Tea Garden will be open for dinner during the event, with dining from 4:30-8:30 p.m. The Maeystown General Store will offer private label food samplings, the Village Kaffeehaus will feature its Smooth Brew and teas, the Sweet Shoppe will offer discounts on teapots, Georgia Mae’s Antiques will offer discounts on select items and the Preservation Society Museum will be open for visitors.

9) Girls Day Out
November 22, 2014
National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, IL
Jump start your Christmas shopping and enjoy lots of fun at the Shrine’s Girls Day Out! With a multitude of vendors, and so much more, this exciting event has something for girls of all ages!

10) Fall Indian Market Days
November 28, 2014 – November 30, 2014
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site,  Collinsville, IL
Purchase holiday gift items made by Native American artists and crafters; jewelry, paintings, baskets, pottery, weaving, herbals, bronze work and more.

11) The Great American Train Show
November 29, 2014 – November 30, 2014
Gateway Center, Collinsville, IL
This show features operating model railroads, train dealers, collectors, hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, workshops and much more! There is a train for kids to ride on as well. It’s a great way to spend the day whether you are an avid modeler or just looking for fun and an interesting day out with the family.

What November events are you most looking forward to? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more

Swing Around ILLINOISouth – 52 Great Golf Courses

Alex Matthews
Attractions, Outdoors, Recreation, Sports, Tourism Times

Our 19 county region features 52 golf courses, great for players of all skill levels. The Fall Season is a great time of year for getting out and playing some holes. Many challenges await players all over the territory, as our course designs feature everything from 18-hole championship layouts of 7,000+ yards to par 3, executive style courses. So grab your clubs, make a tee time and hit the links in ILLINOISouth!

Arlington Greens

Arlington Greens in Granite City is owned and operated by the Collinsville Area Recreation District. This 18-hole course is a par 72, and reaches almost 7,000 yards from the back tees. This facility also has a driving range.

Bent Oak Golf Course

Bent Oak Golf Course in Breese is a great little 9-hole track, and this year, it is celebrating 20 years in operation. This par 36 layout is almost 3,300 yards and features 4 sets of tees.

Mt. Carmel Golf Course is a superb par 71, 18-hole design and is wappred around the city park. This 6,100+ yard layout hosts numerous tournaments, is always in great shape and was opened in the 1940s

Stonewolf Golf Club


Nashville Golf Course is owned and operated by the City of Nashville in Washington County. This 9-hole Muni is par 36 and is 3,200 yards long. This course is located on the edge of the city’s park with a large number of mature trees lining the fairways.

Stonewolf Golf Club in Fairview Heights, a Jack Nicklaus design, is one of the top rated courses on either side of the river year after year. This challenging par 72 layout is spread over 6,943 yards, with multiple sets of tees for all members of your group to enjoy. Be sure to check out Jack’s on the Green restaurant, located in the clubhouse.

This information originally appeared in the Tourism Times Seasonal Guide. Click Here to download and read the issue, or Click Here and sign up to receive three issues every year at no cost!

Read more

BOO! Haunted Happenings in ILLINOISouth

Alex Matthews
Events, Fall, Halloween, Holidays, What's Happening

Don’t look behind you…

We told you not to look!

It’s a frightfully fun time here in ILLINOISouth. Ghosts, Goblins and Ghouls lurk around every turn. Haunted hikes and spooky spectacles are the norm for many communities throughout October leading right up to the big day…Halloween.

Head out to one of the many Halloween parades to see all of the classic creepers like mummies, vampires, Frankenstein, witches…even zombies. Watch out for the zombies though – Walking Dead comes back on this weekend, and it has me convinced you can never be too careful.

Show off your costumes and, most importantly, let the kiddos collect candy at trunk-or-treats and Halloween parties. For the ladies, Lebanon and Columbia host “Witches Nights Out”. (They said it, not us.)

However your family likes to celebrate Halloween – we want you to stay safe and have fun. Here’s a list of Haunted Happenings in ILLINOISouth:

October 10-11, 17-18, 24-15
Haunted Hayrides
Eckert’s Farm, Millstadt
There’s lots of ghoulish fun for young and old during this hayride through Eckert’s haunted orchard.

October 9
Ghouls (Witches) Night Out
Dress the part – witches costume, hat and broom contest, and enjoy a fabulous night of shopping and prizes.

October 10 – 11, 17 – 18 & 24 – 25
Historical Museum Haunted House
Historical Museum, Centralia

October 10 – 12 & 17-19
Little Shop of Horrors
Avon Theater, Breese
Clinton County Showcase presents this rock musical, comedy, horror hit at the historic Avon Theater.

October 17 – 18
Haunted Trail
McDonald’s Restaurant, Carlyle
Climb aboard a hay wagon in the McDonald’s parking lot and take a hay ride down to a trail where ghosts and ghouls hide.

October 17 – 18
Haunted Hike
Silver Lake Park, Highland
Go for a haunted hike into the darkness and see what lurks at night in the Park!! The hike on the 18th is for families with younger children. On the 19th, prepare to be scared!

October 24
Belleville Trick or Treat
Main Street Belleville
Trick or treat on the Nation’s longest main street, and stock up on candy and goodies!

October 24
Halloween Party
Caseyville Community Building, Caseyville
Lots of games, costume contest, Halloween pictures, food, and more.

October 25
Halloween Parade, Fall Festival & Craft Fair
Centralia Recreation Complex, Centralia
This parade is older than the Macy’s parade and features floats, marching unites, horses, old fire trucks, costumed characters, school bands and more. The Fall Festival is held during the day with a children’s parade, chili cook-off, mini train rides, haunted house, craft fair, games for the kids, food and car show.

October 25
Halloween Hi-Jinks
Main Street Columbia
Main Street merchants have stocked up on treats for the little princesses, ghosts and all.

October 25
Halloween Parade

October 25
Pumpkin Patch & Children’s Bike Parade
Downtown O’Fallon
Children are invited to join the bike parade and trick or treat at downtown merchants.

October 26
Witches Night Out
Sharpen the point on your hat, oil the broom and fluff up the cat, leave the little goblins where they’re at and com to Lebanon’s scariest shopping event. Restaurants and shops will be open. A fortune teller will be strolling the street. The spooky music and historic buildings provide a haunted backdrop for some wicked good fun. It’s a “ghoul’s night out.” Costumes are encouraged; it’s quite a sight to see.

October 26
Halloween Parade
Leu Civic Center, Mascoutah
It’s a party with food, costume contests and children’s games, plus a parade!

October 31
Scare Square & Pumpkin Glow
City Hall Fountain Park, Columbia
Loads of Halloween fun, trunk-or-treating for the kids and pumpkin carving contest for all ages.

October 31
EdGlen Chamber of Commerce Halloween Parade
Over 100 floats, marching bands, school groups and entertainers take to the streets of Edwardsville to experience this 90+ year tradition called the biggest Halloween celebration in the Metro-East.

October 31
Trunk or Treat
Waterloo Courthouse Square
Organizations provide a safe trick or treating environment for the kids. Event features a Candy Check Point sponsored by the Waterloo Fire Department and Monroe County EMS.

For more Fall fun, read about great Fall Festivals and Chili Cook-offs on our blog.

Click Here for a complete list of ILLINOISouth events.

Read more

TURN UP THE HEAT – Chili cook-offs in ILLINOISouth

Alex Matthews
Events, Fall, Food, What's Happening

Communities all over ILLINOISouth come together this time of year to celebrate the best part of Fall…STEAMING POTS OF CHILI!!!

Individuals, businesses and community groups bring their A-games to festive events every year, with one goal – to make the best chili in town. Searching far and wide, they find the best meats, the hottest peppers, the right blend of beans, and secret ingredients that they simmer to perfection.

While you’re chowing down on chili peruse a variety of vendors, entertainment, art exhibits, children’s crafts and more – you can even carve a pumpkin in some cases.

Not a chili fan? Most events offer several great food and beverage options making for a well-rounded menu.

October 3 – 4
Chili Cook-Off
Downtown Belleville
Belleville’s Chili Cook-off features the culinary creations of individuals, local organizations & area businesses, as well as children’s area and entertainment throughout the weekend!

October 4
Du Quoin Fall Festival
Keyes Park, Du Quoin
There will be craft vendors, chili cook-off, live D.J. and open mic, Elvis impersonator and whistle pigs.

October 11
Chili Cookoff
Make a day of it at the chili and salsa contests, washer tournament, bike show, white lightening run, music, truck pulls, children’s activities, craft show and fireworks.

October 11
Chili Cook-Off
It’s chili tasting for all, and prizes for the best chili, people’s choice and best decorated booth. Kids activities, wine tasting, additional food items, beer, soda and other beverages are also available.

October 18
Fall Festival, Chili Cook-Off, Craft Fair
Dupo Community Park, Dupo
The whole family will have fun tasting the chili, browsing the arts & craft and food vendors and enjoying live music and games.

October 18
Fall Fest & Chili Cook-Off
This annual event has something for the entire family. There’s a Chili Cook-off, Car Show, craft & product vendors, children’s area, food and entertainment. In the Chili Cook-off you can sample over 20 kinds of chili. The Car Show offers a variety of makes and models. The wide variety of Craft and product vendors that line Main Street is just the place to start your Christmas shopping. The free children’s activity area has crafts, bounce houses and the highlight is the story time featuring the Mascoutah Library Players, who bring a season story to life. From 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. 618-566-2244

October 25
Chili & Soup Cookoff
New Baden Village Park, New Baden
There’s a Tasters’ Choice competition for both chili and soup with prizes awarded in both categories. Families will find a craft fair, touch-a-truck equipment display, bounce houses and more.

October 25
88th Annual Halloween Parade & Fall Festival & Craft Fair
Centralia Recreation Complex & Downtown, Centralia
This parade is older than the Macy’s parade and features floats, marching unites, horses, old fire trucks, costumed characters, school bands and more. The Fall Festival is held during the day with a children’s parade, chili cook-off, mini train rides, haunted house, craft fair, games for the kids, food and car show.

October 25
Fall Festival
Downtown Collinsville
The day is packed with fun family festivities that include Trick or Treating, a Chili Cook-Off from 10am to 3pm, a Children’s Costume Contest at noon, and a Pet Parade that steps off from the Dog Park at 2pm.

November 22
Santa’s Holiday Avenue Parade & Chili Cook-Off
2000 Edison Ave., Granite City
Large holiday parade with over 100 entries followed by Chili Cook-Off and vendor festival. There will be St. Louis food trucks and local vendors as well as arts, crafts, jewelry and much more. Free stuff for the kids, face painting, pony rides, giant blow-up slide, bouncy house and train rides. 

November 22
Holiday Happenings
Red Bud
A full day of fun is on the menu with a chili cook-off and deer sausage competition, trolley rides, home tour and taste of Red Bud and make sure you don’t miss Santa’s arrival to town at noon!

Love Fall events? Click here to check out our recent post about Fall Festivals in the region!

Read more

Vandalia Second Annual Armed Forces Tribute

Alex Matthews
Events, Vandalia

Don’t miss this fun-filled weekend!

The entire family will enjoy military vehicle displays, living history encampments, WWII & Vietnam battle re‐enactments, weapons & equipment demonstrations. Plus, there will be Swap Meet Vendors, Military Collectibles, Food Vendors and much more!


Saturday, October 11
1st battle 1:0 p.m. (Vietnam)
2nd Battle 3:00 p.m. (WWII).

Sunday, October 12
1st Battle 1:00 p.m. (Vietnam)
2nd Battle 2:00 p.m. (WWII)

Plus a Swap Meet, Living History & Vehicle Displays open all day.


Event Sponsored by: Wildlands Outdoor Equipment.

For more information: Matt Hannabarger ‐ 217‐690‐9239

Read more

Fall Bounty Abounds: Orchards in ILLINOISouth

Bill Beggs
Fall, Farms, Orchards, Tourism Times

They say money doesn’t grow on trees. Well, when there’s a bumper crop, orchard owners would beg to differ.

The 19 counties of ILLINOISouth are dotted with successful orchards where apples ripen throughout the summer and are ready for market, juicing… or for visitors to pick themselves… come mid summer or early fall.

Alas, the time for peaches and pears has passed. The last strawberry was picked months ago. And first frost will have put the kibosh on the main produce to be had throughout the summer at John Brown Melons, in Carmi.

But meanwhile, great pumpkins are everywhere to be had—it’s fall, after all. So, let’s visit three orchards and that melon patch: Eckert’s, whose main location is in Belleville; Schwartz Orchards, in Centralia; and Grissom’s “Lost Creek” Orchard, in Greenup.


It’s now the sixth and seventh generation of Eckerts working the rolling prairie just southeast of Belleville, where the family orchard has been since the 1800s. There’s also the “fun farm” in nearby Millstadt, and an open-air style market up north along the Big Muddy at Grafton, where empty-nesters can savor a day, or two.

Apples are the main attraction, of course, and Eckert’s has long been a destination for visitors from far and wide for its ever-popular “you pick” operation. (The ferocious winter meant peaches were not to be for public picking this season, but apples are a hardy crop.) Meanwhile, folks minding their vegetables can pick tomatoes and cukes, in season… or even a peck of peppers for pickling.

There’s much for the family to enjoy in Millstadt, what with live music, carnival rides and even such grand foolishness as pig races and “punkin’ chunkin’”… experts in this enterprise load the orange spheroids into a special cannon for blasting a country mile.

Back in Belleville is the big red barn, where since 2010 the country store has resided. And a fine one it is, indeed, what with artisan cheeses, pies baked on site, 200 labels of wine… open all year. Plus, the restaurant is a destination in itself.


Included in the first planting here, in 1963, were both apple and peach trees. The fuzzy fellows are typically available third week of July, with the harvest coming to a close by early September… just in time for the main crop of apples to be picked.

By and large, customers here drive up to get their fruit, pumpkins and other goods, including gourds and mums for fall decorating. Kids, once their enthusiasm for produce has worn thin, will have plenty else to keep them occupied. There’s a maze to negotiate and a petting zoo. And the whole gang can enjoy a crisp fall hike along one of several trails throughout the expansive property (70 acres are under cultivation).

Grissom’s stays open from mid-July, when the first apples ripen, until January.


Chances are that fine sip of cider was pressed at Schwartz, not far southeast of the airport in Centralia. Tom Schwartz calls it “schweet” juice, and how schweet it is… whether the luscious golden-bronze variety or mixed with strawberry (strapple cider; mmm, yum) or blackberry (blapple cider; ooh, tart). Sixty percent of the fruit harvested here is prized for its juice.  In fact, Tom recently accepted two “First Place” awards this past January in Springfield, IL at the Fresh Cider Contest sponsored by the Illinois State Horticulture Society and the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference:  National Cider 2014 and ILLINOIS Cider 2014.

Sample some the weekend of Oct. 11 at Applefest, where you can also dig into cobbler, enjoy down-home music and watch the kids light up as their faces get painted.

Tom obviously loves his work: “My bucket list is coming right along.”

John Brown

Not far from the Little Wabash River is a fruit stand unlike many others these days. It may not be occupied, as Richard Brown has work to do in the field. Painted on an inside support: “We Trust You—Put Money In Box.”

As it happens, in a year Brown does more pumpkin than melon business. And the little ones are a hit. Many buyers stack them in small towers, a spectrum of colors and countless shapes—some nearly flat, others shaped like Cinderella’s coach.

Of course, all summer long it was melon time. Watermelons grow for a little longer than cantaloupes, which seem to all ripen over just a few days.

“Watermelon are like draft horses,” says Brown. “Cantaloupe are like racehorses. Anything planted after summer solstice ripens really fast.”

It’s a race to the finish, he points out: “The plant’s sole purpose on this earth is to produce seed.”

Of course, not all the good stuff at many orchards grows on trees, ripening mostly in the fourth quarter. As is the case at Schwartz, much of it gets only knee-high to a grasshopper: Strawberries.

And, although Grissom’s is only open July to January, and Eckert’s is open year-round, from farm to farm daily open and close times vary, as do dates of operation.

Before the goodies ripen in Carmi, John Brown Melons may truck in produce from Florida to tide themselves over.

Another word to the wise: It wouldn’t hurt to call a produce purveyor before visiting. Some may have more than expected, such as blackberries or other sweet surprises. Some may have less; one or another variety may have had a bad season for any number of reasons… remember, it’s all up to Mother Nature.

Click here for information on ILLINOISouth’s 23 amazing orchards!

This information originally appeared in the Tourism Times Seasonal Guide. Click here and sign up to receive three issues every year at no cost!

Read more

Olney's White Squirrels

Bill Beggs
Attractions, Events, Fall, Olney, Tourism Times, What's Happening

People in Olney are nuts about squirrels—snow-white squirrels, specifically. (To be precise, these are albino squirrels, as retired college instructor John Stencel will remind you.)

Two adorn the city welcome signs. One is on police officers’ uniform patches. A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed couple is depicted on a panel outside the Holiday Motel and Restaurant, their tails curling above to form a heart. And the real thing is practically everywhere you look. You just have to know where, and when.

Coming face to whiskers with one of these critters is like meeting a Shetland pony… the ordinary becomes extraordinary! Imagine your typical grey squirrel in white mink, with translucent pink ears and even pink claws. And, those eyes…

Matt Smith can testify. He lives in Naperville, near Chicago. “Pretty much everywhere you’ll see a squirrel. But these are like you’d only see in a zoo,” says Matt, who with mom Deann has journeyed to the Richland County seat the last four Octobers. To help count.

Counting squirrels? No, this isn’t like herding cats. (More on cats later.)

In 1977, Stencel started estimating squirrel numbers by enlisting resident volunteers and his Olney Central College students. For one thing, it demonstrated concepts like genetic drift and the impact of recessive genes in a population said to have been discovered here in 1902.

But for people carrying a clipboard, map and legend about 7 a.m. on October’s first three Saturdays, it’s just plain fun.

“It’s at an hour I don’t normally move on Saturday,” says Jean Weber, who for 10 years with husband Tom has surveyed a route of a few blocks in an hour or so, marking down grey and white squirrels, plus predators. Foxes are on the list, but cats are the real problem.

 “They’re supposed to be kept inside,” says volunteer Barb Roberts, with frustration. Yes, people here are seriously nuts about squirrels: There’s a stiff fine for running one over. BB gun-toting kids should shoot cans, or else.

Belinda Henton, a retired Olney city clerk, rehabs injured and abandoned squirrels for release into the woods. Volunteers say she does a fantastic job reminding them, producing maps and averaging the counts. New recruits are always welcome.

“You know it’s going to be a good day when you’re on your way to work and see a white squirrel,” Henton says.

Why not put this trip on your bucket list? The White Squirrel count happens every year over the first three Saturdays of October, and f course, albino squirrels aren’t Olney’s only attraction: CLICK HERE to see for yourself, or call 618-395-7302 x3 to sign up!

This information originally appeared in the Tourism Times Seasonal Guide. Click here and sign up to receive three issues every year at no cost!

Read more