Points Of Interest
On a bluff high above the west side of the Rock River, 2 miles north of Oregon, stands Stronghold Castle. Built in 1928, as a summer retreat by Walter Strong, owner and publisher of the Chicago Daily News, the edifice is home to: sixteen bedrooms, nine baths, eight fireplaces, four secret passages, and a 55 by 34 foot “Great Hall” with a 34 foot ceiling. In addition, the grounds include a swimming pool and tennis court. Sadly, Strong enjoyed the retreat for a single summer before he died in 1931, at age 47. His widow maintained the property for 30 more summers. During the first weekend in October, Stronghold becomes the site of an Olde English Faire. Today it is a four season Conference, Retreat and Camping Center operated by the Presbyterian Church.
Ogle County Courthouse and Historic District
The current structure was completed in 1891 having been preceded by two other buildings. Following the destruction of the first courthouse by the “Prairie Bandits” in 1841, the county was without a judicial building for a period of time during the 1840s. The present edifice was designed by Chicago architect George O. Garnsey in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture. The ridged roof is dominated by its wooden cupola which can be seen from a distance. Through the years the courthouse has undergone extensive restoration inside and out in order to maintain its original integrity. In 1981 the courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse no longer serves as the primary judiciary center for the count; its successor is located directly to the west.
Several thousands of men from Ogle County served in the Civil War and their names are listed on Lorado Taft’s impressive 1916 Soldiers’ Monument on the Courthouse Square. Two cannons installed at the front of the courthouse in the late 1890s also honor Civil War veterans. Memorials have been added to honor Ogle County soldiers who served in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf.
Since 1896, sitting at the northeast corner of the Ogle County Courthouse Square is one of Oregon’s unique historical landmarks, “Iron Mike.” This is one of the few remaining cast iron drinking fountains in Illinois. Installed in the horse and buggy days, “Mike” was presented by the Humane Society in cooperation with the City of Oregon. Small animals drink at the base, there is a trough for horses, and a fountain at the top for people.
Oregon Public Library and Library Gallery
Designed by the Pond brothers of Chicago, members of the Eagles’ Nest Art Colony, the library was built in 1909. It is an Andrew Carnegie Library and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the second floor, visitors will enjoy the historic treasure of paintings and sculptures from American artists who live in and visited Oregon from the late 1890s to the early 1940s. These artists named themselves Eagles’ Nest Art Colony.
John Deere Historic Site
In 1836, John Deere, a blacksmith recently transplanted from Vermont, set up shop in the small Rock River town of Grand Detour, Illinois. Deere, who was enterprising and innovative, met many disheartened and discouraged farmers due to the sticky Midwestern soil.
Deere was convinced the soil would shed itself from a plow the opportunity to pass along that was highly polished and properly shaped. In 1837, using a discarded saw blade, he forged such a plow. His “self-polishing” plow grew in popularity and as it did, so did the company that bears his name.
Today, the John Deere Historic Site features the home John Deere built, a gift shop, and an archaeological exhibit which shows the site of John Deere’s original blacksmith shop.
Model Railroad Club – Conover Square
Having grown up with model railroads, members of the Blackhawk Model Railroad Club enjoy having the opportunity to pass along a hobby that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
The club has a train layout on the second floor of Conover Square in Oregon. The club’s layout has many interesting details, from a mountain with a tunnel to a small town and everything in between, including passing by a small circus which can be activated with the push of a button.
The layout is open three days a week……Wed from 11am to 2pm…….Sat from 10am to 4pm…….and Sun from 1pm to 4pm. In addition, you can call 815-918-4468 to schedule a visit at other times of the week.
The very first depot in Oregon was a two-story building constructed in 1872. It was a frame structure with ticket office, passenger waiting room, and freight room on the first floor and crew sleeping quarters on the second floor. A fire was discovered at 5 am on Saturday, November 10, 1893, and an alarm was sounded and the fire bell was rung. The fire department showed up with their hose cart, but because the nearest fireplug was one-half mile from the depot, the structure burned to the ground. The building, insured for $3,000, was a total loss.
The railroad promptly replaced the original depot with a frugal single story frame structure in 1894, but that too was struck by fire in 1909; this time however, the Oregon Fire Department was able to save most of the building. Since only the ticket office had suffered serious damage, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad had serious doubts as to whether the salvaged building even warranted replacement, and was considering the elimination of Oregon as a passenger stop altogether.
At the time however, one of the more influential residents of the area was Congressman Frank Lowden who had established his Sinnissippi farm just southeast of Oregon; but perhaps of equal significance was the fact that the congressman’s wife Florence happened to be the daughter of George Pullman, manufacturer of the Pullman Palace cars, widely used for passenger service among all of the nation’s railroads. Lowden’s input weighed heavily in the railroad’s ultimate decision to build a brand new single story depot in 1913.
Passengers boarded trains from the depot until 1971, when Amtrak discontinued service to Oregon. After modifying the depot’s interior, the Burlington Northern continued to use the structure for office space until 1986, when the property was sold to the city…for the grand sum of one dollar. After a decade of use and abuse as a repository for unclaimed stolen bicycles and a variety of other castoff items, the depot was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. But as the structure continued to show signs of human neglect and weather beating, it became apparent that action was needed if this piece of history was to be preserved. And people responded. In the summer of 2001, with financial assistance from the City of Oregon and several private donors, a hearty group of volunteers began the Oregon Depot Restoration Project.