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Experience The Charms Of Illinois Amish Country



AmishCountry
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Horse-drawn carriages are a common sight throughout Illinois Amish country. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
April 25, 2012
View Illinois Amish Country map

Horse-drawn buggies are nearly as common as automobiles on the roads of Central Illinois. Since 1865, when three Pennsylvania Mennonite families first settled in the area, it has become known simply as "Amish Country."

Located north of Effingham, off Interstate 57, the communities of Arthur, Arcola, Tuscola and Sullivan are home to about 4,500 conservative, rural Amish who strive to "be not conformed to this world." Their presence, combined with their more progressive "English" neighbors, creates an intriguing cultural blend of the old and the new. The two factions are respectful of one another's differences and together have created a haven for tourism.

The Amish influence means, among other things, that the vibrant central shopping district in downtown Arthur hasn't been decimated by big-box retailers. The tidy town is chock-full of Amish-owned or operated shops selling handcrafted clothes, custom cabinetry, home furnishings and unique gifts.

Arthur also doesn't have any chain restaurants. Instead, locally-owned eateries serve lovingly prepared comfort food.

Cathy Gregory Studio Gallery
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Arthur hosts several annual festivals and ongoing events, such as the Downtown Arthur Market, held the third Saturday of every month with an array of crafts and antiques. The Gunny Sack Revue, a bluegrass jam session, is a weekly favorite on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

On the third Saturday of each month, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 10 to 20 crafters, some antiques and bakers, gather in downtown Arthur to display and sell their wares.

On Saturday, June 2, enjoy the annual Strawberry Jam Festival, which features live music, strawberry treats of every kind, crafts, games and more.

Events are scheduled throughout the summer, such as the Annual Moultrie-Douglas County Fair, July 8 to 14. For a complete schedule of activities, visit www.illinoisamishcountry.com.

On the Saturday closest before July 4, Arthur plays host to about 30,000 who come out for the Freedom Celebration, which features fireworks, craft shows, parades, food and more.

While Arthur is considered the heart of Amish Country, the Amish Interpretive Center in neighboring Arcola offers an in-depth introduction to the Old Order lifestyle. The museum has activities for young and old, and arranges tours of Amish homes and farms. Visitors may also stay for a family-style meal. More information is available at www.amishcenter.com or by calling 888-452-6474. Most Amish-owned businesses are closed on Sundays.

For those in the market for Amish furniture, Arcola has plenty of options at its various furniture dealers.

Arcola is also the boyhood home of Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy, and for being the broom corn (a type of sorghum) capital of the world. These distinctions are honored with annual events. The Raggedy Ann & Andy Friendship Gathering will be held June 1 and 2. The weekend after Labor Day, Arcola celebrates its heritage with the Broom Corn Festival. For information, visit www.arcolaillinois.org.

On June 20-24, the annual Pop the Top Festival featuring the Arcola Walldogs Project will be in downtown Arcola. Watch as the Walldogs mural artists transform 14 walls in Arcola. Also featured will be an art auction, Pop the Top Beach Party, 5K race, children's activities and more.

Other small towns in the area offer their own charms. Sullivan marks the west edge of the area's Amish settlement and is the county seat of Moultrie County. It is home to The Little Theatre on the Square, the only equity theatre between Chicago and St. Louis, which has been bringing Broadway-quality entertainment to Central Illinois since 1957. Its summer season kicks off June 6-17 with "Grease." For details, call 217-728-7375 or visit www.thelittletheatre.org.

Outdoor recreational activities can also be found in Central Illinois.

Near Sullivan, about 25 miles west of I-57, is Lake Shelbyville, an Army Corps of Illinois lake featuring 200 miles of shoreline, camping, boating, hiking and more.

Surrounding the nearby Kaskaskia River, a tributary of the Mississippi, is a 20,000-acre wildlife area that is also ideal for outdoor activities. Visit www.dnr.state.il.us for more information.

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