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Calhoun County offers quilts and more

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2010 - Everyone knows the pleasures of Pere Marquette State Park and the Great River Road but just a bit east is a hidden gem: Calhoun County. Tucked in between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, this narrow, hook-shaped finger of Illinois is home to rolling hills, historic towns and beautiful views of the America's most storied waterway.

It's also home to something else: quilts and churches as well as one unique tour that manages to combine both. For the fourth year in a row, the Calhoun Community Foundation will present a sampling of quilts and historic structures across four of the county's towns from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 22 and 23.

"It goes from Brussels to Belleview which is practically the whole length of the county," said Jane Wilhelms, the event's chair.

For an advance fee of $8 - or $12 at the door - visitors will receive an informational booklet and view about 100 quilts. The tour is self-guided and stretches over about 40 miles from south to north as it approaches the Pike County line.

The journey begins at the village hall in Brussels, where visitors can explore the historic building and walk the nature trails out back. Antique vehicles will be on display in the parking lot.

"After you leave, you can go to St. Matthew's Lutheran Church a half mile down the road and inside we'll have the quilts on display," Wilhelms said. "Each time we use a church we have the history of it on display so people know a little bit about the building and the history behind it."

Putting Brussels behind them, tourists can move on to the county seat of Hardin where the local Presbyterian church will feature another array of quilts and a quilt appraiser who -- for a fee -- will assess the value of specimens provided by visitors. A 10-minute presentation on the care and preservation of such items is scheduled twice a day.

Finally, visitors can enter a raffle for a selection of prizes including a quilt, a table topper and quilting store gift certificates before heading out for Kampsville, where they will visit the town's archeological museum.

"For people who have never been in there, it's an interesting place, but we will have quilts on display in the museum," Wilhelms said. "Then you walk across the street to the St. Anselm's Church hall."

More quilts will be on display there before a final stop in Belleview on the north end of the county concludes the tour.

Kelly Mazzacavallo, 64, has been on the tour twice in past years and said she enjoys the event immensely.

"I marveled at the older quilts and how well put together they were," said the Calverton Park resident. "That was what really caught my attention was the handiwork, especially on the older ones that had lasted all these years."

That's not the only reason she goes however.

"I love going across on the ferry," she said. "Calhoun County is just beautiful."

This year the tour will have another element, an expanded barn quilt tour. Barn quilts are painted images on the sides of the county's rural structures. Last year's event featured a map with 32 of them. This year, it will feature 61. Between Kampsville and Belleview, an artist will be out at work creating one of the barn quilts, assuming the weather cooperates, of course.

Not that participants need an extra reason to get off the main road and explore Calhoun County.

"It's almost like a treasure hunt," Wilhelms said. "You can drive throughout the county on these back roads because we have gorgeous scenery here."

For more information on the quilt and church tour, call 618-883-2728.

Getting There

Taking a ferry across the Mississippi or Illinois River is the easiest way to enter Calhoun County, Ill. The most convenient ferry for travelers coming from the Missouri side is the Golden Eagle Ferry across the Mississippi River. The ferry charges $13 for a round trip. The Brussels Ferry is a free alternative. The nearest bridge into Calhoun County is the Hardin Bridge along Illinois Route 100/Great River Road.

Seeing Sights

Calhoun County has many orchards open during the summer and fall for peach, apple and pumpkin picking. Hagen Family Orchard (mid-July - mid-October, daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) has a roadside market with a range of fruits, pies and gifts. Odelehr's Roadside Market is another roadside stand with seasonal fruit (Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., until Thanksgiving). There are many pick-your-own orchards and other roadside stands.

The Great River Road along the Mississippi is well known for bald eagle watching, and Calhoun County has its share of bird-watching opportunities. The 8,500-acre Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge  (visitor center open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) is a stop for 200 species of migratory birds, including 5 million ducks and 50,000 geese.

Refueling

Kinder's Restaurant Famous for its catfish, perhaps because it sits on the bank of the Mississippi River next to the Golden Eagle Ferry.

Laura's Restaurant (300 Main St. Hardin 62047) Serves the best Mexican food in Calhoun County.

Golden Eagle Country Store Home to an ancient soda fountain whose drinks are served in mason canning jars. Try the Golden Eagle's Nest Cheeseburger, a large cheeseburger surrounded by a nest of fries.

Wittmond Hotel Serves all-you-can-eat family-style dinners.

David Baugher and Alex Sciuto

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