The Knox County Scenic Drive is a winding path that passes by cornfields, covered bridges, haunted antique stores, artillery pieces and at least one emu. Open on the first two weekends in October, it aims to highlight the history and charm of Knox County through a series of designated stops, all easily reachable from Galesburg by car.
Leaving from campus, the first stop is the Hawthorne Center Craft Mall, located on Veteran’s Drive in Galesburg itself. The Hawthorne Center carries a staggering amount of antiques ranging from the stately (a grandfather clock admonishing shoppers “Tempus Fugit”), the charming (a ceramic bank of a washing machine labeled “Laundered money”) to the downright mysterious (a lone bowling pin that seems to have been separated from its nine companions long ago).
Owners Kathy and George Knapp are more than happy to talk about their store, which only joined the Scenic Drive route last year. Built on the site of a World War II-era Army hospital, the spot has seen a parade of unlikely visitors over the years, from German POWs to students taking classes at the University of Illinois, which held its first off-campus classes ever here.
These visitors also include a resident ghost, a spectral figure dressed in an Army uniform who was spotted during renovations to the building quite recently. The Army moved away a long time ago, but it seems it did not take everyone with it.
Though their business brings in visitors from as far away as Japan during normal times, joining the Scenic Drive has brought a boost to their business.
“We had a fabulous weekend last weekend,” Kathy Knapp said. “It was the first time I had ever seen so many men in the craft mall.”
As much as we might like to browse more among their crammed shelves, this is only one of nine stops, so we really need to be going.
Our next destination, downtown Knoxville, feels like visiting the Hollywood set of a movie about time travel.
Incongruously placed in the middle of a downtown that could otherwise be a stand-in for Anytown, USA sits a preserved log cabin from 1832 that was once a general store. If you turn away from the cabin, you are immediately faced with the imposing nineteenth-century Old Knox County Courthouse. The smell of gyros from a nearby food stand, though, prevents you from ever forgetting what century you are in.
To heighten the temporal confusion, modern cars driving down Main Street are protected by two WWII-era howitzers. “No invasions from Galesburg guaranteed” promises the website. It is a good thing we only came here to take in the sights.
Although it is by now getting fairly late, we set off for Walnut Grove Farm, a restored nineteenth century farmstead listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and also a modern working farm.
Though not far from Knoxville, to reach Walnut Grove you must follow a winding road through forests and cornfields that seems far longer than the few miles it actually is. Along the way you drive over what must be half of Illinois’s total supply of hills.
At the end of the road we arrive at the farm only to find that it has closed for the day. We can still see the barn but it is very disappointing. Driving away, there is a man at the side of the road next to a pigpen who waves at us, perhaps wishing us better luck next time.
Though we managed to successfully visit less than half of the stops on the Scenic Drive, it doesn’t feel like failure. Just the glimpse we got is enough to remind us all how much there is in Knox County outside the confines of our campus bubble.