By Jessica Mozo
Nearly everyone has wondered what it would have been like to live in the past. Visiting the towns of Arthur and Arcola is about as close as you can get. With a population of about 2,200, Arthur is at the heart of Central Illinois’ Amish country and is home to the largest and oldest Amish community in Illinois, which was founded in the 1860s.
Nearby Arcola is slightly larger than Arthur and features many tourist attractions, including the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center. The friendly atmosphere of both communities is perhaps best summed up with Arthur’s motto, “Where you’re a stranger only once.”
All About the Amish
Immerse yourself in the quaintness of Amish culture with a visit to the Illinois Amish Interpretive Center in downtown Arcola. Explore Amish exhibits and watch a video about their faith and lifestyle. Then embark on the center’s Amish Culture Tour, which includes historic Amish wagon rides, Amish home tours, woodworking and farm tours, and a meal in an Amish home. It’s bound to be the best made-from-scratch fried chicken, mashed potatoes, noodles, homemade pies and breads you’ve ever tasted.
Shopping in downtown Arthur and Arcola will also give you a taste of Amish culture, but don’t expect to find any chain stores here. What you will stumble upon are dozens of small shops selling everything from antiques and quilts to wood furniture, crafts, artwork and baked goods. While in downtown Arthur, don’t miss Dick’s Pharmacy, a traditional pharmacy with a soda fountain that still serves up old-fashioned sodas and hand-dipped malts and shakes.
Stay a Spell
Charmed yet? You will be when you book an overnight stay at the Arcola Flower Patch & Diamond House Bed & Breakfast. Two historic homes make up the complex and are connected by picturesque floral landscaping. The Flower Patch house is an 1864 Victorian-Italianate structure with five graceful guestrooms, antiques and art, and a well-stocked gift shop with tea, English teapots, candles, cards and more. Next door, the 1914 Diamond House was built in Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie house style and offers five guestrooms and three suites. Guests at both homes enjoy the bed-and-breakfast’s legendary seven-course breakfast that usually incorporates fresh produce and herbs grown on the property.
You can also relax and unwind at Arthur’s Country Inn, located within walking distance of an Amish pastry and coffee shop, a cheese shop, a woodcraft store and Yoder’s Kitchen restaurant.
When the sun goes down on Amish country, you can still find quality entertainment at The Little Theatre On The Square in nearby Sullivan. The small-town theater has been bringing Broadway-style shows to Central Illinois since 1957 and was recognized by USA Today in 2005 as one of the top 10 places to see the lights way off Broadway.
Want to take a piece of Amish country home with you? Located in a vintage building, Arcola Emporium Antiques is a great place to pick up a souvenir, with an inventory that includes antiques, primitives, collectables, glassware, pottery, toys, jewelry and Raggedy Ann and Andy memorabilia.
More Sites to See
Stop and smell the roses at Arcola’s Rockome Gardens, a complex that draws hoards of visitors for its 15 acres of lush gardens, buggy rides, family-style dining, shops and nationally famous festivals. You can also witness demonstrations of century-old traditions such as soap making, broom making, candy making and pottery, and take a peek in a blacksmith shop, one-room school house and haunted cave. Kids especially love Rockome Gardens for its train rides, petting zoo and tree house playground.
Springfield may be considered the “Land of Lincoln,” but the Arthur/Arcola area might as well be called the “Land of Lincoln’s Parents.” The Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in nearby Lerna preserves the 1840s farm of Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, father and stepmother of the beloved president.
The 86-acre historic site is a working living history farm that includes a reproduction of the Lincolns’ two-room cabin constructed on the original cabin site. Visitors can observe interpreters tending to 1840s chores such as butter making, rail splitting, mending and barn mucking.
Former hippies and hippie wannabes will fully appreciate the World’s Only Hippie Memorial, a work of art some 62 feet long in downtown Arcola.
The memorial’s creator, Bob Moomaw, was a colorful fellow who served as the town’s tax assessor and railroad clerk, but his favorite “job” was painting messages to the public on the side of a downtown building he owned. One such message read, “America, you’re turning into a nation of minimum-wage hamburger flippers. Rebel. Think for yourself. It works!”