Posts Tagged ‘Des Plaines River’


Just after the reverberations of musket fire and the resounding boom and hazy smoke of a cannon’s call,  shouts came, proclaiming

 “the voyageurs are coming“.


This was once the clarion call heard up and down rivers, lakes, and waterways from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and down to the Gulf of Mexico. It signaled the approach of canoes bearing goods from the French-Canadians. Goods to be traded with native Americans and with the settlers along the water routes. This water bound trade route opened the way for exploration that followed.

These voyageurs, as they were called, paddled up to 70 miles a day; powerful men singing songs that kept them rowing and set a cadence to match the pull of oars in the water.

Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.


This weekend, we witnessed a reenactment of voyageurs disembarking on the banks of the Des Plaines River and we saw settlers and traders welcoming them as they came ashore. They were greeted and asked for their “papers”, which seemed to have fallen overboard. No problem, for there was liquor to proffer instead.

 A River Thru History – The Des Plaines Valley Rendezvous is an interesting and historical reenactment of the early trading and lifestyles in the Des Plaines Valley during the 1830’s. The rivers and rowers were the rapid transit systems of their time and predated the City of Chicago.

We have been meaning to go to the Rendezvous for several years and decided that it was time to make it happen. Busses shuttled visitors from an expansive free parking area to Columbia Woods, a Forest Preserve in Cook County, not far from our life here on the Cutoff. The Woods follow the river and are a scenic spot for fishing, canoeing, and birding – except on the second weekend in September, when it becomes an encampment for blacksmiths and tanners, weavers and potters, local historians and history buffs – and modern-day voyageurs of time.

As we disembarked from our 21st century means of transportation, we saw an expanse of 17th century tents, tools, wares and costumes. Campfires held that welcoming allure of being outdoors (or pretending to be in the wilderness) and we strolled around seeing what was to be seen.

img_0385img_0386img_0419img_0446img_0421img_0426It was fun to watch children attempting to make toothpicks and a potter turning her wheel, the milking of goats and the blessing of landing on soil by a priest. It was especially fun to hear our names called out in greeting as a relative who we haven’t seen in a decade recognized us. I love when these chance meetings occur, don’t you?



We are all voyageurs, are we not?  So goes life here on the Cutoff.


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As we left Morris on Saturday, we took a spin around its quaint streets with well-tended turn of the century homes and an old stone church, sitting quietly on a corner. How interesting that it is now divided into condos. We passed a long footbridge we saw earlier while at  the 3 Hens Market, then pointed the buckboard, aka mocha VW, to the road out of town.

Off we went, Ma and Pa, taking in the colorful display of Autumn kissed trees blushing in the sunshine. It was such a splendid day and we were so enjoying the scenery  that we just meandered along, like the slow moving I & M Canal we were leaving, and neared the confluence of the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers.

We’ve been lucky of late. We seem to be finding the loveliest of places as we’ve wandered  on those roads less travelled. Such was the case on Saturday as we found ourselves coming upon the Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area. Tom stopped the car, we rolled down the windows, and sat for spell, listening to the ancient peace of the Illinois prairie.

As I looked out at the more than 2,500 acres of reclaimed prairie, “the largest remnant of prairie left in Illinois”, I felt just a glimpse of what early pioneers must have felt and seen as they traveled westward in covered wagons, seeking a better life and some land of their own. I could smell the scents of the tall grasses, some over ten feet in height, and I could  hear the music of the wind in the prairie cord grass. The rusts and golds and bronzes were glorious with the goldenrod and asters peeking through. It was a panoramic vista and we were one of only a dozen or so pilgrims on the prairie.

The day was starting to cast its shadows, so, we took the shorter Tall Grass Nature Trail, which led us to a small marsh and replica of one of the first log cabins in the area.

There is no lake on the Goose Lake Prairie. Settlers drained the 1,000 acre lake for farmland in 1890, which proved to be a folly, for the land remained too wet to farm. The clay, so prevalent in Illinois, was used for pottery, the land mined for coal, and later, strip-mined. In 1968, the first 240 acres were purchased by the State of Illinois, with more land being reclaimed through the following years, giving us all the 2,500 prairie today. Thank goodness for the foresight and determination of those early environmental pioneers who saw the vision of returning the prairie.

We walked along, finch flitting about in their search for seeds, some butterflies looking for nourishment, and a chorus of crickets and frogs.

The reconstructed Cragg Cabin, was, according to the preserves’ brochure, “A predecessor to a truck stop. The Cragg cabin served as a stop on the old Chicago-Bloomington Teamster Trail.”  The Cragg family lived there and often put up twenty or more teamsters a night.

Well, dear reader, Ma and Pa’s pioneer adventure is over for now. The 21st century has crept back in as I hit the “publish” space.

Snip, snap, snout – this tale’s told out.

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One of my favorite area libraries is in a picturesque suburb a few miles outside of the Chicago city limits. The entire town of Riverside has been on the National Historic Landmark for some forty years and is sometimes referred to as the town inside a forest. Stately trees and winding streets take motorists past homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries. Riverside’s library is among dozens of buildings in Riverside deemed an Illinois Historic Structure. After my “protest” yesterday, and an article in Friday’s Chicago Tribune regarding Riverside, I was eager to return to this historic library. The picture above is just outside the library, whose serene reading room has three walls of windows facing this, the Des Plaines River. I love going there in the winter to feel the warmth of the sun while sitting in the prairie style armchairs overlooking the river.

Riverside was designed by the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York’s Central Park and the Midway Plaisance  of the Chicago Columbian Exposition (have you read The Devil and the White City?)

We parked the car and crunched through the snow, admiring this little snowman along the walk. He didn’t seem at all intimidated by the gargoyles holding court overhead, and the sticks in his hands seemed to point to the entrance, so, off we went to browse the library’s shelves, and see if a fire was roaring in the cozy reading nook inside. Be sure to click on the picture on the right to get a better look at the gargoyles and the leaded windows.

Limestone and wood and more nooks and crannies than a Thomas’ English Muffin fill this library and we each wandered about, finding our favorite genres, trying to quietly click pictures. It is, after all, a library, and while libraries no longer are the quiet places that many of us remember with Madame Librarian shushing even the turning of pages, we did try to be respectful, so, I’ll do the same here. I’ll be quiet and just let you look around at this wonderful library and the area just outside its doors.

Gargoyles . . .

. . . and more gargoyles.


Additions to the original 1930 structure were tastefully and historically executed.

A view of the Des Plaines River from inside the reading room.

Just a few yards from the library, a scenic place for children (of all ages) to sled onto the frozen pond.

One of my library picks (okay, okay, I was really judging this book by its cover.) Has anyone read it?

This is chock full of recipes from restaurants along Route 66, from downtown Chicago to Los Angeles. (even Brantville is mentioned, Country Mouse).

Books under arms, cheeks rosy from watching the sledders, and appreciation for this wonderful library, we crunched back to our car, through the snow, appreciating the sunshine – and the thoughtful planning of those who came before us.

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