One of the most rewarding trips to embark upon is simply acting like a tourist in your own town. A look at the many marvels of Southern Illinois through fresh eyes can make for an exciting vacation without the need to pack your bags and head to the airport.
Eateries and pubs
So often, diners hit the same spots they are accustomed to or just overlook the unique nature of some of our local eateries and pubs. One such establishment is Italian Village in Carbondale. The popular restaurant is bustling at both lunch and dinnertime with diners looking to fill up on the tasty thin crust pizzas served since 1960. Although pizza is one of the main reasons to hit up IV’s, the customer-created decor is the real treat. From floor to ceiling, covering the wood-paneled walls, window sills, and railings, diners have added signatures, professions of love and witty notes since the late sixties. After ordering at the counter and sitting down to wait for your number to be called, there’s no need to get out a tablet or phone. Hours can be filled by simply reading the innumerable scrawls on the walls or even trying to find a signature left behind by a friend or family member from an earlier generation.
Louie’s P & R
Louie’s P & R in Herrin is another gem of Southern Illinois known for both its delicious made-to-order sandwiches and a variety of sausages and fresh meats for sale at the back counter. The owner, Tony Gualdoni, says the shop is the perfect spot to grab a lunch to go or dine in at a table in the dining area that seats up to thirty.
“We try to stay a little bit different than other places. We’re not just a restaurant, we offer specialty items and fresh meat along with the sandwiches. We like to make sure and greet everyone when they come in. It’s all part of my business,” shared Gualdoni.
Diners at Louie’s can order deli sandwiches with ingredients of their choosing, Italian beef with Louie’s own seasoning, or hot salameats. Customers looking to prepare a meal at home can shop the market for Louie’s own handmade salameats, bratwurst, Italian sausage, Italian breakfast sausage, pepperoncini and Louie’s signature Italian beef seasoning. With friendly service and exotic offerings, Louie’s is a fantastic stop for a delicious meal and an unforgettable shopping experience.
PK’s Bar in Carbondale is another fun-filled stop for townies and travelers alike. The bar has a certain charm not found anywhere else in Southern Illinois and part of that unique allure is the wall full of more than 150 wooden mugs behind the bar. Patrons who own one of these mugs can use their personal stein when they visit the bar, to enjoy libations from the wooden vessels that are decorated with buttons, patches, jewelry and other trinkets. The personalized mugs are cherished and highly sought after by regulars of the tavern.
Curtis Conley, manager of PK’s, says bartenders get asked every day if mugs can still be purchased to join those already on display behind the bar but unfortunately the company that sold the mugs stopped production of the item and they are no longer so easy to find.
“They stopped making them in the nineties so a lot of them get passed down now,” said Conley.
A trip to PK’s is always a memorable one and perusing the many unique mugs behind the bar can fill your time while the bartenders fill your glass.
Several unique destinations occupy Southern Illinois whether travelers are looking for a glimpse into the history of a certain landmark or an outdoor adventure.
Heath Museum & Confectionary
In Robinson, the Heath Museum & Confectionary stands as a tribute to the original inventors and distributors of the tasty Heath candy bar. Norma Lowe, an employee of the museum, says the store is full of memorabilia including antique candy-making machinery, a jukebox, soda fountain and ice cream counter. The museum has been open for about ten years and sells a variety of candy, including large bags of Heath bars. The town chose to honor L.S. Heath, who bought a confectionary in Robinson as a business opportunity for his two sons, Bayard and Everett. The two young men opened the Heath Confectionary in 1914 as a candy store and ice cream parlor and expanded the business by opening a dairy factory in 1915. At some point along the way, the brothers acquired a toffee recipe which they began selling with milk and other dairy products. The now famous and beloved Heath Bar created many jobs throughout the time period that it was produced and distributed in Robinson. A visit to the Heath Museum is a great way to learn about the fascinating history behind this beloved sweet while getting a taste of the sugary goodness itself.
Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park
Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park in Carbondale, also known as Castle Park, is a tribute to a young man who tragically lost his life in a car accident in 1993. In his honor, Rochman’s family decided to build a life-size replica of the roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons, that Jeremy so thoroughly enjoyed playing. Just inside the north entrance of the park on Giant City Road, a giant dragon awaits children of all sizes who can climb his long tail and sit on top of his horns. Wizards, dragons, and horses are hidden among the trees and flowering shrubs throughout the immaculately landscaped grounds, where families can sit with picnic lunches to visit and relax in the shade. The most impressive part of the park, however, is the gigantic castle. Made of wood and stones with archers and swordsmen perched on towers throughout the structure, parents and children alike can spend hours traipsing through the open air architectural wonder. Crossing draw bridges, jumping from ledges, and climbing down chutes are all part of the fun and imaginations are free to run wild at this spot that honors a young man’s life.
Mary’s River Covered Bridge
Mary’s River Covered Bridge, just outside of Chester, is a stunning work of architecture and an important piece of history in the Mississippi River town. Built in 1854 and used continuously until 1930, the bridge is one of the last of its kind in Southern Illinois. It is eighty-six feet long, more than seventeen feet wide and sits on its original stone abutments. The Burr trusses used in the construction of the bridge were patented in 1817 and the original timber is still present within the structure. Although the bridge is now only open to foot traffic, the location is a beautiful spot to enjoy year round while admiring the peaceful landmark.
The bridge was originally used as a tool for tradesmen transporting goods to the Mississippi River for shipment and in 1974 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The many continued efforts to preserve the bridge have paid off as it remains an immensely popular tourist destination.
“For riverboat tours and people who come to town with bus tours or private tours, it’s one of the places that they all want to go,” said Patti Carter, Recreation Director for the City of Chester.
The red, smooth boards, knobby stone abutments and serene Mary’s River flowing underneath it, all make up this beautiful part of Chester’s history.
Fort de Chartres State Historic Site
For a step back in time in one of the most beautiful areas of Southern Illinois, visit Fort de Chartres State Historic Site just outside of Prairie du Rocher. The massive stone fort was constructed in 1753 by French colonizers and served as the seat of government for the French military. While visitors are welcome year-round at Fort de Chartres there are several special events throughout the year, most notably the annual rendezvous in the first weekend of June. Complete with shooting competitions, drum and flute music, food, and military drills, an entire day can be spent taking in the sights and sounds of what civilization at the Fort was like in the eighteenth century. Craft and trade demonstrators are abundant, many of whom sell handcrafted items like candles, clothing, and housewares, and reenactors in period costumes roam the grounds throughout the weekend.
Jason Duensing, Vice President of Events for Les Amis du Fort de Chartres, said that participants travel from all over the country for the event and that the remote location of Fort de Chartres really adds authenticity for the reenactors, away from the sounds of modern civilization. The Fort de Chartres Rendezvous attracts thousands of visitors each year and continues to grow thanks to the many demonstrators, sponsors and entertainers who are passionate about the historical site.
Just a few minutes south of Carbondale sits Cedar Lake, a nearly two-thousand-acre reservoir where fishermen, kayakers and hikers go for a peaceful day to enjoy the sparkling waters and surrounding forest. Built in 1974, the lake is a popular spot for kayakers and canoers due to the ten horsepower boat motor limit. The lake boasts forty miles of breathtaking shoreline which provides a variety of different landscapes to view from the water or while hiking around the lake’s trails.
Rick Reeve, owner of Shawnee Trails Wilderness Outfitter in Carbondale, has lived in Southern Illinois since 1972 and regularly visits Cedar Lake to kayak and canoe.
“I think Cedar Lake is the prettiest lake down here. Rock cliffs coming out of the water, it’s just really beautiful. There’s a lot of wildlife out there and I also like hiking around the lake, too, on the Cove Hollow side,” shared Reeve.
Reeve is happy to share the waters with the numerous boaters looking to catch bass and crappie out of the fresh water and knows of several spots to visit along the shore to enjoy the solitude of the outdoor oasis.
Head to Cedar Lake in Carbondale to test your luck as an angler or to spend hours paddling across the clear, rippling water.
Tunnel Hill Trail
Tunnel Hill Trail, a forty-five-mile long route between Harrisburg and Karnak, was originally part of the railroad between Vincennes, Indiana and Cairo, but now acts as a regular excursion for walkers, runners and cyclists alike, looking for a safe and quiet course upon which to exercise. The breathtaking trail winds through dramatic rock walls, quiet farmlands, thick forests and peaceful pastures while the soft crushed limestone trail is an ideal surface for athletes of all kinds.
Sue Kramer is a frequent visitor to the trail, living just eleven miles from Tunnel Hill, and appreciates the tranquil nature of the trail.
“When I am training for a half marathon or a full marathon, I do my weekly long run on the trail. The crushed gravel surface is a wonderful cushion when running. If I’m training for a triathlon, I bike there, run some miles and then bike home. I love the trail because it is peaceful, easy to run or walk on for any ability, and I feel safe there,” said Kramer.
Tunnel Hill Trail provides an ideal setting for outdoor fitness enthusiasts and all portions of the trail are worth exploring, from the lone, dark train tunnel, to bridges built over creeks and ravines.
For locals looking to explore something close to home and travelers coming from miles away, Southern Illinois has a bevy of wonderful treasures to explore. Put aside the normal, everyday excursions like trips to the grocery store or office and set off for an adventure to one of the many hidden treasures in the area.