A Short Drive from Rockford IL – The Wisconsin State Capitol and Ella's Fantasyland!


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North America » United States » Illinois » Rockford
July 21st 2015
Published: August 23rd 2015
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I must admit I had sneaked several peeks under the slideout during my stay at the Rivers Edge Campground in Stevens Point WI to see if the tires on the driver’s side of the Pilgrim had lost any air. They had not; however, it was with a great deal of uneasiness that I set forth for Rockford IL, near where I was raised and where I spent most of my working life. I already had made an appointment at a local RV dealership to have routine maintenance functions performed on the Pilgrim as well as to complete a few repairs. The ole gal is a 2005 model, has logged quite a few trouble-free miles (for the most part) and has had a permanent occupant for 6 ½ years. Has it really been that long? Yes, even though The Great Adventure didn’t start until March 2010, I began living in the Pilgrim in Silver City NM in January 2009. That’s hard to believe!

When the 2015 Chapter of the Great Adventure was early in its formative days, I was planning to take a more leisurely journey through Michigan and Wisconsin, to attend the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward WI in late July and, then, to be in Rockford for my birthday in late August. My sister was aware of those preliminary plans. When I was told in February that my sister’s 85th mid- July birthday was to include a surprise party hootenanny, I decided to change my plans so I could attend. The list of formidable obstacles quickly began to grow. First and foremost was my slippery tongue! Second, since she is one of three people I regularly email my whereabouts (along with the contact information for the RV park office in case of emergency), I couldn’t realistically surprise her by showing up at the party unannounced. I told her I had revamped my plans so I could visit Rockford in July for her birthday. That would allow me to arrive in Arizona in time to take the final 7-day rafting trip of the season through the Grand Canyon for my birthday! When I told her of Plan B, her response suggested 1) some suspicion – perhaps she was anticipating a possible surprise party; or 2) some disbelief – “you’re getting too old for that kind of shenanigan!”

Early in the Plan B process, that was my plan; however, as reality set in, I decided a week-long “roughing it” white water rafting trip for an old fart’s ice-breaker would not be a good idea. I just don’t know how kindly the ‘ole bones will take to sleeping on the ground! Several iterations and numerous tweaks later, we are where we are. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! I do plan to take a whitewater rafting trip, but plan to go for only two or three nights. If that goes well, then perhaps, maybe….

I arrived at the RV dealership in South Beloit IL without incident. After going over my laundry list, I told the service manager of my close encounter and added that the serviceman thoroughly check the undercarriage for any damage I might have missed. Preparing to leave and already having backed from the parking space, I yielded to the little fella in my head which kept saying, “Buy two more rims and get two new tires so you have the old ones for back up.” When I have ignored “the voice” in the past, it usually ends up saying, “I told you so.” Returning to the counter, the service manager said no problem. With tranquility in my heart and duct tape on the little fella’s mouth, I set out for my sister’s place where I would reside for the next three weeks.

Sis has had some medical issues recently, had endured a long (by today’s standard) hospitalization and had come home from the hospital about ten days before my arrival. Her younger son’s daughter (and Sis’s youngest granddaughter) had been staying with her to fill in where “Bama” wasn’t yet quite up to the task – fetching something from the extra refrigerator in the basement, retrieving the mail, etc. Kudos to her for watching over my sister, but, as one would expect, this vibrant 16 year old was ready to go home. Bro’ actually didn’t verbally volunteer nor was he pointedly asked, but Uncle Larry very willingly picked up where his great-niece had left off. After all, some quality time with Sis was in order anyway.

Northern Illinois is still home to a large percentage of my relatives and friends, so I would not be at a loss for things to do during a normal three week visit; however, I had some local business that needed my attention such that when Sis’s daughter (her chauffer
The Panorama From Beneath The Central DomeThe Panorama From Beneath The Central DomeThe Panorama From Beneath The Central Dome

Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison WI
and aide-de-camp) had custody for a doctor’s appointment or Sis’s long-time beautician made a home visit, Uncle Larry would tend to some business. Everything worked out well in every respect, but my socialization and tourism activities were virtually nonexistent.

Although I badmouth Rockford for its long, long list of shortcomings, the small city has developed some fantastic annual celebrations over the years. Probably foremost among them is the Independence Day Fireworks display. It’s impossible to see more than one fireworks extravaganza on any given Independence Day and nobody provides a “shell count” or a “dollars spent” chart to use as a comparison; however, ever since my youth, Rockford has set the fireworks standard in my mind for Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. I had lost track of the time and arrived shortly after the parade had started. The parade is nice but nothing beyond the normal bill of fare. After the parade, I walked into one of the local pubs, ordered a sandwich and struck up a conversation with a born-and-raise local veteran of Vietnam. About thirty seconds after stepping outside, the fireworks began. As I had recalled from many years ago, Rockford put on a nice celebration. Home
Even The Apex Of The Dome Is Art-LadenEven The Apex Of The Dome Is Art-LadenEven The Apex Of The Dome Is Art-Laden

Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison WI
and in bed before 11 PM – my kind of fireworks!

One of my business engagements was in Madison WI, about an hour north of Rockford, and would take only ten minutes or less. I asked my sister-in-law if she and her two daughters would like to ride along and accompany me on a tour of the Wisconsin State Capital, and then to hook up with her brother who resides in nearby Oregon WI. We headed out for Madison mid-morning on Monday, July 6, 2015, tended to my business and then headed for the Capitol building.

The Wisconsin State Capitol houses both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Office of the Governor. The current Capitol building, completed in 1917, is the fifth to serve as the Wisconsin Capitol since the first territorial legislature convened in 1836 and is the third Capitol building since Wisconsin was granted statehood in 1848. The building is the tallest building in Madison – a distinction that has been preserved by city legislation.

Belmont WI was designated the temporary capital of the Wisconsin Territory. The first territorial Capitol was a prefabricated wood-frame council house that had no heat or running water. Legislators met there for 42 days and chose Madison as the permanent site of the territorial Capitol. They also chose Burlington IA as the site of further legislative sessions – until a Madison facility could be readied. Huh, no heat or running water – who do they think we are, commoners? The council house and an associated lodging house still stand in Belmont and are operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society as the First Capitol Historic Site.

The second Capitol was constructed during 1837 in Madison and was made of locally harvested stone and oak. Located on the site of the present Capitol, it was a small but typical frontier capitol that cost $60,000 to build. Growing government forced the state to construct a new Capitol, also on the site of the present Capitol. This structure, with a dome inspired by the U.S. Capitol, was built between 1857 and 1869. During 1882, it was expanded at a cost of $900,000; however, it wasn’t long before a commission had begun investigating a replacement for the structure.

On the night of February 26, 1904, a gas jet ignited a newly varnished ceiling in the third Capitol building. Although the building had an
I Find Ornate Totally InadequateI Find Ornate Totally InadequateI Find Ornate Totally Inadequate

Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison WI
advanced fire-fighting system, the nearby reservoir (which supplied the Capitol) was empty and allowed the fire to spread substantially before a switch to an alternate city water supply could be made. Madison firefighters could not handle the blaze on their own, so additional men and equipment was summoned from Milwaukee – over 75 miles away. By the time they reached Madison, the reinforcements found their equipment had frozen in the extremely cold temperatures and needed to be thawed. With the exception of the north wing, the entire structure burned to the ground. Am I to be surprised? Numerous records, books, and historical artifacts were lost; however, through the efforts of University of Wisconsin students, much of the State Law Library was saved. The fire occurred just five weeks after the State Legislature voted to cancel the Capitol's fire insurance policy. I wonder if the little fella in the heads of any of the legislators was saying, “I told you so!”

Construction of the current Capitol began in late 1906, and the building was completed in 1917 at a cost of $7.25 million. Financial limitations, and the need for immediate office space to house state government employees, caused construction of
The Craftsmanship Is CaptivatingThe Craftsmanship Is CaptivatingThe Craftsmanship Is Captivating

Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison WI
the new building to be extended over several years and focused construction efforts on completing one wing at a time. The Capitol is 284’ 5” inches tall from the ground floor to the top of the "Wisconsin" statue headdress on the dome. The "Wisconsin" statue, sculpted in 1920 by Daniel Chester French of New York, holds a globe surmounted by an eagle in its left hand while it’s right arm is outstretched to symbolize the state motto, "Forward." It wears a helmet with a badger (the state animal) on top, is made of hollow bronze covered with gold leaf, is 15’ 5” inches tall and weighs three tons. The statue, "Wisconsin," is commonly misidentified as "Lady Forward" or "Miss Forward," the name of another statue on the Capitol grounds.

The Capitol is constructed of 43 types of stone from six countries and eight states. The exterior stone is Bethel White granite from Vermont, and the dome is the largest granite dome in the world. The corridor floors, walls and columns are marble from Tennessee, Missouri, Vermont, Georgia, New York and Maryland; the granite is from Wisconsin and Minnesota; and the limestone is from Minnesota and Illinois. Marble from the
Everywhere One Looks, There Is ArtEverywhere One Looks, There Is ArtEverywhere One Looks, There Is Art

Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison WI
countries of France, Italy, Greece, Algeria and Germany; and syenite from Norway were also used. Other Wisconsin granites are located throughout the public hallways on the ground, first, and second floors. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in2001. To bolster city legislation, a 1990 state law prevents any building within one mile of the Capitol from being taller than the base of the columns surrounding and supporting its dome.

The Capitol recently experienced a 14-year renovation and restoration project – the primary purpose of which was to convert the Capitol into a modern working building while restoring and preserving its original 1917 appearance. Remodeling projects of the 1960s and 70s had introduced features out of character with the architecture of the building, such as dropped ceilings, movable partitions and fluorescent light fixtures, and many of the original decorative stencils had been painted over. Those stencils, gold leaf and marble surfaces were repaired or replaced, restored or recreated and cleaned. Murals were cleaned, and skylights which had been sealed during the 1970s were uncovered. The exterior granite was cleaned and repaired by workers who rappelled down from the dome. The basement floor was lowered two feet to provide additional, usable office space. Modern technology was integrated into the original architecture, but the restoration project returned public spaces to their original appearance. The project, which started in 1988, was completed in 2002 at a cost of $158.8 million and was performed wing by wing just as was the original construction.

Many state Capitol tours include numerous antidotal narratives; however, such was not the case with this Wisconsin Capitol tour. Perhaps it was because we were included in a tour comprised mostly of high school students. Perhaps it was because the Capitol, like her straight-shooting citizens, has no flowery stories to tell. Perhaps it was because our tour guide thought such stories are inappropriate. For some reason, we learned no interesting tidbits of trivia or gossip. Shazam! The Capitol building itself definitely is remarkable, as are almost all capitols, and is a “must see” when in Madison.

Another ABSOLUTE “must see” is Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor also in Madison. Yes, Ella's is an ice cream parlor, but WHAT an ice cream parlor. Somehow, between my sister-in-law, her brother and his wife, Ella's had been chosen as our meeting point. Would the responsible party please stand and take a bow? Not only
More Art And More Intricate Trim MoldingMore Art And More Intricate Trim MoldingMore Art And More Intricate Trim Molding

Wisconsin State Capitol - Madison WI
is the extensive menu interesting, the eye candy is mesmerizing! Models of Ferris wheels and carousels are in show cases, trains venture along tracks mounted on the upper reaches of the walls and mobiles hang from almost every square inch of useable ceiling space. It kept this oldster turning his head and would captivate any youngster – at least for a while, the first time! Well, in this age of video sensory overload, maybe not so much! Of course my nieces and I had to venture outside for a ride on a genuine 1927 carousel. For those with young children or with young hearts, Ella’s is a must see.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t note my sister’s 85th birthday party. Several days after I had arrived at my sister’s, I learned that the surprise was no longer a surprise – did someone else have a slip of the tongue, or did the secretive obstacles become insurmountable for the planners? Sis’s 85th did not go without a couple of surprises. First, my great-nephew revealed his engagement and Fall 2015 wedding to his grandmother. Second, my great-niece from Arizona (the betrothed’s sister), her beau and younger son made a surprise entry during the height of the festivities. (Her 16 year old son had stayed behind to tend the critters and to take advantage of a few precious parentless days.) Sis relished two fantastic birthday presents that money can’t buy. I had a chance to visit briefly with some relatives I generally see for several hours during my forays into the area and with some mutual friends I also regularly call upon during my stopovers.

I had a nice time in Rockford but little of that had anything to do with tourism. I took full advantage of Sis’s high-speed Internet connection when she was watching some of her TV game shows. I do like the game shows that wipe off a few cobwebs like “Jeopardy” and “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” but don’t make a point of watching them on a regular basis. We had lots of opportunity to discuss family history. Unfortunately, that’s a subject of little interest to most until the majority of the resources have vanished. Human nature – a very mysterious beast!


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Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor - Madison WI
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Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor - Madison WI


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