Visitors pass a treehouse and rock-formed water fountain during a leisurely Amish buggy ride through Rockome Gardens near Arcola, Ill. The popular tourist site highlights Amish culture and early agriculture in Douglas County.
Visitors pass a treehouse and rock-formed water fountain during a leisurely Amish buggy ride through Rockome Gardens near Arcola, Ill. The popular tourist site highlights Amish culture and early agriculture in Douglas County.
ARCOLA, Ill. — There’s a popular tourist stop in Douglas County that gives visitors some insight into Amish culture and a bygone era all framed by picturesque gardens and unique rock creations.

Rockome Gardens has been preserving a simpler time for more than five decades with its restored farm structures and school house, blacksmith shop, horse-operated buzz saw and Amish-style buggy rides.

Its Illinois Amish Interpretive Center focuses on the Amish religion and lifestyle. Exhibits include buggies, barns, homes, quilts and the Anabaptist history. An introductory video gives more insight into the Amish culture.

Rockome Gardens soon also will be the home of the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy Museum, previously located in Arcola.

Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy creator, was born and raised in Arcola. Some of the memorabilia already is on display at Rockome Gardens.

In addition, the site features historic farm equipment, a Native American-themed trading post, gift shops, Amish restaurant, food store and cheese factory, a free train ride, an ice cream shop, petting zoo and “old town” area.

The two-story Martin house sits in the middle of the grounds and has undergone major restoration.

Rockome Gardens began through the foresight of Arthur and Elizabeth Martin who sought to have the largest flower garden in Douglas County. They purchased a 208-acre farm and devoted seven acres to flower gardens, rock formations and their summer cottage.

Work on the gardens has been ongoing since the Martins began in 1937.

Rock On

Martin owned Progress Industries in Arthur, and when business slowed during the Great Depression, instead of laying off his workers, Martin had them construct rock formations and fences on his property.

Construction of the rockwork began first with a metal framework, and then a special consistency of concrete was imbedded into the frame, followed by native stone being set into the concrete. About 90 percent of the stone was local rocks from Martin’s property, as well as neighboring properties. 

Perennial gardens were installed throughout the grounds.

The Martins gave the property to the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities in 1952 for use as a retirement village. It was sold nine years later to Elvan and Irene Yoder who first planned to start farming the locations.

However, the Yoders soon realized the potential of the land and opened it to the public.

Amish Tours

“There is something here for all ages,” said Janita Miller, group tour coordinator.

“We also offer tours of Amish homes. You can have a meal in an Amish home, or go on a farm tour with a tour guide in your car. We have several other tours that we’re working on including buggy shop tours and a wagon ride tour.”

Special events throughout the year include the Chet Kingery Memorial Bluegrass Festival in May, the Raggedy Ann Rally and World War II re-enactment in June, the annual Bluegrass in the Gardens Music festival in August and the upcoming Harvest Festival Oct. 11-13.

“We also host weddings and parties. We rent out the gardens for the weddings, and the large red barn is also popular for parties,” Miller said.

Plans also are underway to move the 1866 Moses Yoder house, as well as the 1870s Daniel Schrock house, to the site as the basis of developing one or more living history Amish farms at Rockome. Yoder was one of the first Amish settlers in the area, and his workshop already is at the site.


Tom C. Doran can be reached at 309-828-1432 or tdoran@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow him on Twitter at AgNews_Doran.