The Lost Lake community is located near Illinois 75 as it runs from Freeport to Beloit. Off the road is a wide range of attractions.
The residents of Lost Lake often patronize B.J.’s Saloon, 106 N. Main in Rock City (815-865-5609), where the half-pound bar burger is not to be missed. “We grind up a whole steer for our meat,” swears owner Joe DeTellem, whose establishment is open from 9 AM to 1 AM every day but Thursday, when it opens sometime in the mid-afternoon, and Sunday, when the hours are 1 to 10 PM.
For breakfast, the best place near Lost Lake is Sonny’s Home Cookin’, a no-nonsense diner at 620 N. Stanton in nearby Davis (815-865-5880) where the appetites are, let us say, large. One recent morning a man in a window seat was seen consuming two orders of steak and eggs, a double order of hash browns, and four orders of toast–and capping it all off with a couple cheeseburgers to go. When owner Gordon (“Sonny”) Bruenning asked the man if he was satisfied yet, he responded, “Gettin’ there.” Open from 7 AM on weekdays, from 8 AM on weekends. Closed Mondays.
Freeport is best known to history buffs as the city where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas engaged in their second Senate debate in 1858. Last year the town fathers erected in a park at the corner of State and Douglas streets a sculpture of the two preeminent prairie politicians engaged in debate. The park, which has been freshened with new trees, was dedicated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, or so it says on a boulder in one corner.
For superior bar food head to the Stephenson Street Station, 219 E. Stephenson (815-233-9493), a downtown tavern with railroad decor, open from 7 AM to 1 AM Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday). Stop-and-go train lights provide the illumination, and there’s a much-used dart board. The hamburgers are juicy, the fresh-cut fries crispy, but the best thing is the sign posted over the toilet in the men’s room. “Aim at the water,” it reads. “It helps keep the floor dry. Thanks.” Other good spots to eat in Freeport include Cannova’s at 1101 W. Empire (815-233-0032) for thin-crust pizza and Club Esquire at 1121 W. Empire (815-235-7404) for Greek-style pork chops. Cannova’s, where owner Pat Beckman plays a mean jazz and classical piano, is open at 5 for dinner every day but Monday; Club Esquire serves lunch except on Saturday, and dinner every day.
The Freeport Art Museum and Cultural Center at 121 N. Harlem (815-235-9755) features examples of pietre dure (“hard stone”), a bright style of Florentine mosaic popular in 19th-century Italy, and paintings brought over from Europe by Freeport spice importer W.T. Rawleigh. Open noon to 5 Wednesday through Sunday and by appointment; a $1 donation is requested from adults, 50 cents from seniors and students. Otherwise, check out the Stephenson Historical Society Museum at 1440 S. Carroll (815-232-8419). Banker and attorney Oscar Taylor built the stone mansion that houses the museum in 1857; educator Horace Mann and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson were among Taylor’s guests. The museum is half a memorial to Taylor and his family–note the manuscript inlaid with precious stones that his daughter made–and half a hodgepodge of period furniture and exhibits on old Freeport. A log cabin, one-room schoolhouse, and farm museum adjoin the building. Open 1 to 4 Friday through Sunday. It’s free.
The Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad, the creation of railroad buffs, is operating this summer at Lamm and Walnut roads in Freeport. A Heisler logging locomotive, circa 1912, hauls riders on a four-mile trip through farmland and forest and across a stone bridge. The railroad is open on select weekends through October 17 (call 815-232-2306 for exact dates) from 10 AM to 5 PM. Cost: $3 for adults, $1.50 for kids under 12. A museum across the street features a 130-ton stationary steam engine, farm equipment, and articles manufactured in Freeport.
Rockton, a small Illinois town tucked just below the Wisconsin border, is known for its mayor, who’s ungodly young–Bill Vedra, 32, was just reelected to his fourth term–and its display of 40 or so historic limestone houses. One house downtown has been converted into the Dairyhaus, an ice cream shop serving the homemade stuff at 113 E. Main (815-624-6100), open noon to 10 PM every day. The Macktown Forest Preserve, at the intersection of Routes 75 and 2, contains a limestone trading post from 1846 (now being renovated) as well as the Stephen Mack House, a wood-frame building dating from 1939 that’s open on Sunday 1 to 4 through Labor Day. Admission is $1. (Call 815-624-7048 for more details.)
At Glocke’s Deputy Dogg, a hot dog stand at 202 W. Main (815-624-6506), the ambience is as much of a draw as the food, especially if co-owner Walt Glocke is about. A Chicago policeman on disability, Glocke runs the place with his ex-wife and son-in-law. “In Chicago, I was dealing with drunks and criminals and irate husbands slugging their wives,” he says. “In Rockton, people say good morning to me, and I end up talking to them for half an hour.” Glocke sometimes greets customers by singing the old Oscar Mayer wiener jingle. Open 11 AM to 9 PM seven days. From 5:30 AM each morning you can try the long johns and cinnamon rolls at the Golden Nugget Donut Shop, 104 W. Main (815-624-7010). For lunch or dinner the preferred choice in Rockton is the pork chop sandwich at the Rockton Inn, an establishment with a golf-and-fishing theme at 102 E. Main (815-624-2533). Open every day but Monday.
The Wagon Wheel Resort, at 600 S. Blackhawk Blvd. (815-624-8711), has been through some tough times lately. The popular rustic hotel, erected of bridge timbers and telephone poles in 1936, became famous as the site of quickie weddings and the spot where Olympic ice skater Janet Lynn, a Rockford native, once trained. The skating rink is long gone, and the bowling alley, theater, and candy shop were destroyed by fire last February 2, just as two new owners were starting to renovate. The place remains open, however–doubles begin at $55 a night–and you can be sure the owners will be glad to see you. There’s a swimming pool, restaurant, paint-ball games, a lounge that features sing-alongs, quick access to four golf courses, and Peppy the mynah bird, who keeps up the conversation in the giant living room.
Ten minutes to the north lies Beloit, a college town that also bears the reputation of the snack capital of the world: Frito-Lay, popcorn-making Pate Foods, and McCleary Industries, a duchy of caramel corn and cheese curls, all have plants in the vicinity. Intent on establishing its chip-belt image, a public/private partnership has embarked on an elaborate spruce-up of Riverside Park, on the banks of the Rock River, off Pleasant Street north of Woodward Avenue. Currently you can take a walk along the river, under new bright green street lamps, to a renovated convention center and lagoon pavilion, where jazz and big bands will play 7 to 8:30 on Wednesday nights between June 23 and July 28 (call 608-365-4838 for details).
On the high ground above the river sits Beloit College, at Chapin and College streets (608-363-2000), a small private school founded in 1846. Unfortunately, the Logan Museum of Anthropology, esteemed for its archaeological and ethnographic collections, is closed for renovation until 1995, and the Beloit summer theater was shuttered last year. The 40-acre campus, however, boasts 23 animal-effigy mounds built by local Indians between 700 and 1200 AD; the most prominent is a turtle-shaped hillock behind the Wright Museum of Art, also closed this summer (reopening this fall). Don’t miss the Jeffris-Wood Campus Center, one of the few buildings by Chicago’s Burnham and Root architectural firm outside the city. The student lounge, a majestic room with a cathedral ceiling and wooden trusses, contains bronze sculptures by Frederic Remington as well as Civil War battle prints by Louis Kurz, a cofounder of what became the Art Institute of Chicago.
At Hanson’s Tavern, 615 Cranston (608-362-8559), they call a hamburger a “burgur” and a sandwich a “sammitch,” but if you can swallow the cuteness the food’s good. And cheap: a third-of-a-pound hamburger runs $2.85, and the Friday-night fish fry–cod, walleye, catfish, or boiled whitefish, with all the trimmings–costs as little as $5.95. The grill operates from 11 AM to 11 PM every day. At the State Street Cafe, 315 State (608-362-9889), the soups and pies are homemade and the malts are extra thick, courtesy of owner Opal Beighley, who does the cooking, the prep work, and the dishes. Open 5 AM to 7 PM Monday through Saturday. You might feel obliged to don some finery for The Manor, quartered in a pillared white-brick mansion one block west of I-90 on Freeman Parkway (608-362-9749), but dress is casual. The $7.95 prime rib is recommended, and there’s usually dancing to a bass-and-piano duo. Open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday and for lunch on Sunday; reservations advised.
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Greg Vaughn and pitcher Bill Wegman emerged from the Beloit Brewers, a Class A farm club that plays its home dates through August 28 at Telfer Park, at Prairie Avenue and Cranston Road (608-362-2272). The current hotshot to watch: Kenny Felder, a right fielder out of Florida State University. General seats are $3, box seats $4. Games are normally at 7 PM, Sundays at 5 PM. The Hanchett-Bartlett Homestead, at 2148 Saint Lawrence (608-365-3811), is an Italianate limestone house built in 1857 by engineer James Hanchett, best known locally as the place where the three Bartlett sisters, who all became doctors, were reared early in this century. Docents in period costume conduct tours from 1 to 4 Wednesday through Sunday, June 2 to September 1. Adults pay $2. Kids 12 and under pay 75 cents. Blackhawk Farms Raceway, at 15538 Prairie Road, back over the Illinois border in South Beloit, features a varying schedule of vintage-car exhibitions and motorcycle, go-cart, and sports and formula car racing on Saturday and Sunday, 8 AM to 6 PM, through the end of October. Admission $8-$10. (Call 815-389-3323 for information.)