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
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
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
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.
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
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
However, the Yoders soon realized the potential of the
land and opened it to the public.
“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
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,”
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
Tom C. Doran can be reached at 309-828-1432 or
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at AgNews_Doran.