Greetings, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen of the Road. If you’re taking part in the Dixon, Illinois stopover of the Mumford and Sons tour, we have a unique tour guide for you. 93XRT’s Mary Dixon is a native, and wants you to enjoy the weekend in her hometown.
I was born in Chicago, but grew up in Dixon, which is about 100 miles directly west of the city.
You’re probably not the only one asking, “why Dixon?” I certainly did, and so did a lot of Dixonites, when the Mumfords and Jam announced they were camping out at this county seat on the banks of the Rock River.
Take a look around, though, and you’ll see charming scenery, interesting history and nice people. A combination that should make for a great weekend in Lee County.
Why don’t we start our tour in Page Park … the main staging area for the Mumford and Sons stopover?
PAGE PARK — is on the north side of the Rock River, in the heart of town. It is one of the key locations for the Petunia Festival, which runs the week of July fourth. Every summer there’s a carnival, and pancake breakfasts, and a beer tent. It’s also right next to my alma mater, Dixon High School, home of the Dukes and Duchesses. That’s the building that looks like a castle at the corner of Peoria Avenue and Lincoln Statue Drive. You see it on the Mumfords’ crest for the Dixon stop, along with the arch.
Mary’s Dixon [DOWNLOAD]
FOOD ON FIRST STREET (ALSO CHICKENS):
Maybe you’ll see the Chicken Car. What is it about Dixon and chickens? I don’t know. Back in high school, another chicken restaurant had an even bigger chicken statue, and it was a thing for everyone to go out and climb it. And this was before you could post the pics on social media.
You can still walk up Peoria Avenue to Second Street, and Joe’s Pizzeria is still there. The Vitales came over from the old country and we have been the beneficiaries ever since.
If you walk a block over, you’ll see the post office, and kitty-corner from there is Haymarket Square, at Highland and Second. There’s a farmer’s market there on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.
Back along First Street, there are a number of restaurants worth checking out:
There’s Orom, which my foodie brother John says served one of the best meals of his life. Kind of a farm-to-table approach to Hungarian food, and it works.
Touch of Thai serves very good Thai food and sushi.
Next door is the Crystal Cork wine bar. Eric and his family serve good wines by the glass, and you can enjoy the art gallery up and downstairs. It’s a nice place to hang and relax before getting out and seeing more music. If you want to order in food from any of restaurants along First Street, you can do that too. If you want Italian, there’s Basil Tree or low key, delicious Mexican? That’s Salamandra.
Also on First Street, you have to stop in and say hi to Larry and Carolyn at Books on First. It’s one of my favorite independent book stores, with a big kids section, excellent personal service, and they serve a very good latte.
This one isn’t on First Street, but if you were back across the river and really wanted a homemade sub or pizza, you should stop at Al and Leda’s … they’re on Everett Street north of the high school.
DIXON (AND REAGAN) HISTORY:
As you stand at the corner of First and Hennepin, you can look north and see the relatively new statue of Ronald Reagan on horseback.
Before he became a film star, or California’s governor, or the 40th president of the United States, Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois and he grew up in Dixon. You’ve got the riverfront statue by Donald Luppen Reed, which is the centerpiece of the new Heritage Crossing. It’s a lovely place to sit and watch the Rock River go by, maybe do some fishing. There are plaques commemorating Dixon’s history and Reagan’s place in it. If you walk south on Hennepin, you’ll find the Dixon Historic Center at Fifth Street. It used to be South Central School, where he attended … and also where I went to kindergarten.
A few more blocks south is the Ronald Reagan home, and another statue.
Let’s walk east a block, to Galena Avenue. As we walk north you might see a lot of petunias. Why? Back in the 60s, Dixon fell victim to the Dutch Elm disease that cut down so many trees around the midwest. The Men’s Garden Club, of which my Grandpa Kline was a member, started planting petunias in their place. They’re hardy and pretty, and out of these flowers grew a whole summer festival.
And as you go along, we come up on Dixon’s version of the Hollywood sign — the Dixon Arch. It was first built in 1919 to honor the dead of World War One. To the southwest is the new Lee County Courthouse. My Uncle Henry is the state’s attorney. Please obey the law while you’re in town. You don’t want to be on Uncle Henry’s bad side.
Directly to the east of the arch is the old Lee County Courthouse.
West of the arch is the Old Post Office, and next to it is the Nachusa House Hotel. It’s one of the oldest in the US.
Nachusa, by the way, was the nickname given to the founder of Dixon by the native Americans he met along the Rock River. Nachusa means head-hair-white.
Father John Dixon, or as we call him, great-great-great-great-grandfather Dixon, founded the town when he bought out the ferry operator on the river and set up a trading post in 1830. There’s a big rock that commemorates it, at the corner of Peoria and First Street. And across the river, on Lincoln Statue Drive, is a statue of Father John’s best-known customer, Abe Lincoln. He was in the Illinois militia then, fighting Chief Blackhawk and the Sacs and Foxes. He still owes us money.
Still on Galena Avenue: there’s Freedom Park, and a winged phallic statue-y thing. That’s the Wings of Peace, donated to the town along with a full-size replica of the Berlin Wall. It’s another tribute to Reagan.
Walking North, you’ll see the historic Dixon Theatre, where they used to show movies and now they have all kinds of theatrical and musical productions.
As you walk north on Galena, you’ll wind up crossing First Street and the Rock River. There’s the Stables, good place to have a beer. And if you hang a left, you’ll wind up at the high school and Page Park.
MORE PARKS FOR NATURE LOVERS:
If you head north and out of town, you might find Lowell Park. This is where Reagan was a lifeguard, and saved dozens of swimmers from the Rock River. It’s also where Stephen Colbert’s band of clever writers led college students to their silver turtle prize this year. For anyone else, Lowell Park is a beautiful spot along the Rock River, with picnic and playgrounds and trails for hiking.
For anyone wanting to explore more outdoor activities — and no, we do not tip cows! — in the region around Dixon … I’d suggest White Pines State Park, near Mount Morris … or hike near the Loredo Taft statue of Chief Blackhawk across the Rock River from Oregon, Illinois … or, if you’re heading south, stop by Starved Rock.
So that’s the lay of the land, you gentlemen and gentlewomen of the Dixon stopover. I hope you enjoy the music and scenery and the fun.