By Jessica Mozo
Located 60 miles west of Chicago, DeKalb County combines the past with the present. In this agricultural community, you’ll find historic mansions next to modern homes and antique stores next to trendy shops and eateries.
Made up of 19 townships, DeKalb County has a population of about 105,000. The county seat, Sycamore, features a quaint downtown where you can still park for a penny. Northern Illinois University – attended by some 20,000 students – brims with arts and cultural opportunities. In the farming community of Malta lies the “first seedling mile” of the Lincoln Highway, the first hard-surface road from New York to California.
Historic downtown Sycamore pulls out all the stops to celebrate the holiday season, beginning with the Festival of Trees at the Midwest Museum of Natural History. Visit the museum during December to discover dozens of Christmas trees creatively decorated by local groups and businesses. You can even vote for your favorite tree.
On Dec. 6, sample an array of fine chocolate desserts while browsing downtown Sycamore’s shops during the Winter Chocolate Walk, sponsored by Discover Sycamore. And on Dec. 7, Santa Claus will arrive in Sycamore for the seventh annual Walk with Santa and Courthouse Tree Lighting.
Kids can join Santa as he walks down State Street to the courthouse lawn for a spectacular tree lighting that kicks off the holiday season.
If you have kids in tow, make sure to visit Pete’s Train in Waterman. Waterman & Western Railroad hosts a Holiday Lights Train every December, where you can marvel at more than 250,000 twinkling lights in displays featuring giant toy soldiers, candy canes, flying reindeer and more.
Enjoy free hot chocolate and popcorn in the heated train station, ride the train and meet Santa every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in December.
Antique shops and other boutiques line the charming Main Street in nearby Genoa, which hosts an impressive Quilt & Fiber Arts Walk in January. Quilts, baskets, needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, lace and more will be on display throughout downtown Genoa with free demonstrations and workshops.
Love the outdoors? Shabbona Lake State Park, DeKalb County’s top tourist attraction, offers cross-country skiing, hunting, ice fishing, ice skating, sledding and a seven-mile snowmobiling trail. The park, open year-round, can be accessed from U.S. Highway 30 in Shabbona. Visitors to Russell Woods Forest Preserve on Illinois Route 72 in Genoa can enjoy sliding down its toboggan runs and sledding trails.
Theater and Art
A Chicago architect designed DeKalb’s restored Egyptian Theatre, built in 1929, around the theme of Rameses II, one of Egypt’s pharaohs. More than 25 community groups perform at the Egyptian Art Deco movie palace, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If your style leans more toward visual arts, stop at Nehring Gallery in DeKalb, which showcases local artwork. The gallery celebrated 100 years of DeKalb agriculture this year with an exhibit called DeKalb Ag Memories. The DeKalb County Farm Bureau, located in Sycamore, is observing its 100th anniversary this year.
Apples, Pumpkins and Wines
If you’re passing through DeKalb County during the warmer months, don’t miss Jonamac Orchard in Malta. Open late summer through November, the family-owned orchard features pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, a corn maze, a barnyard play area and acountry store and bakery that carries jams and jellies, apple butter, cider, homemade fudge, apple doughnuts, apple pies, apple pizzas and hand-dipped caramel apples. For hours and more information, visit www.jonamacorchard.com.
DeKalb County Must-Sees
J.F. Glidden Homestead & Visitor Center
Ellwood House Museum
NIU Convocation Center
Downtown Sycamore and DeKalb
Main Street Genoa
Lake Shabbona State Park
Midwest Museum of Natural History