Day Trip To Dixon

 Posted by at 12:02 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 082012

Yesterday we drove about an hour north of Hickory Hollow Campground to Dixon, Illinois, a nice little town with a lot of history.

Former President Ronald Reagan grew up in Dixon and graduated from high school there. The Reagan family lived in several rental houses in Dixon, but the two-story frame house at 816 S. Hennepin Avenue is the only one that Reagan specifically mentions in his biography. The home has been restored to the way it looked when the Reagans lived here in the early 1920s.


The house has been furnished with period furniture and personal items, some of which were donated by President Reagan’s estate. There are many photographs throughout the house of the Reagan family during the time they lived here.



While it looks to be good sized from the outside, the house actually seems pretty small on the inside. But it was interesting to see where the future president lived a modest lifestyle while growing up. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the Reagan family and the history of Dixon, and shared a lot of interesting details with us.

The Visitor Center, next door to the Reagan home, has more photographs, a gift shop with books and souvenirs, and an 8-minute long video on President Reagan and his connection to Dixon.

After we toured the home we drove down the street past the school where Reagan and his older brother Neil attended classes, and the library where he borrowed hundreds of books over the years.


The street ends at the Rock River, where a statue of Ronald Reagan on horseback stands. A lot people don’t remember that before he became a politician, Reagan was a popular movie actor who starred in a lot of Westerns.


Ronald Reagan wasn’t the only American president with a Dixon connection. A short distance across the river, a 19-foot-high bronze statue honors Abraham Lincoln’s service here during the Blackhawk War. Lincoln is depicted as a 23-year-old Army captain, clean shaven and in uniform. This is the only statue in existence of Lincoln in uniform.


Being an old newspaperman, I couldn’t resist stopping at the Dixon Telegraph newspaper to check out the small museum that showcases the newspaper and the role it played in the history of the community. The display included the original printing press, some examples of old lead type, and lots of photographs from over the years.



Though we do everything on the computer these days, Miss Terry recalled using these tools when we first started the Gypsy Journal and laid everything out my hand. I actually worked as a printer’s devil for a while when I was a youngster, at an age when today’s kids are honing their skills on video games, so the lead type on display brought back some memories for me.


When we drove back to Utica, we made a stop at the JC Whitney outlet store, at the same exit as our campground. Long before there was an Internet, back in the days when the Amazon was only a river in South America, the JC Whitney catalog was the wish book for anybody who had an old car, truck, or motorcycle. In those pages, you could find anything and everything, from leather saddlebags to glass pack mufflers, eight-ball gearshift knobs, and every chrome goodie and doodad ever invented to make your hot rod look cool when you are cruising down the boulevard.


We had a good time wandering the aisles, and even found a few things we couldn’t live without. Miss Terry, who is the mechanical one in our family, was wishing she had a garage or workshop someplace to put all the nifty tools and gadgets we saw there.

We’ll be back on the road this morning, headed for Muskegon, Michigan. It’s been way too long since we’ve had some time with my cousin Berni Frees and her husband Rocky, two of our favorite people in the world. We’re really looking forward to spending a few days with them. It’s going to be a lot of fun, it always is.

Thought For The Day – Doesn’t a lightning rod on top of a church show a certain lack of faith?

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Nick Russell

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  13 Responses to “Day Trip To Dixon”

  1. The print shop tools were in my background, too. I started my newspaper jobs working up front in the editorial department and in the backshop as the industry was transitioning from hot type to cold type. I still have my original pica pole and percentage wheel!!! I used to love teaching my college journalism students about the origins of upper and lower case terminology. Oh, I also remember many a sliced index fingertip from my #11 Exacto knife. “Don’t bleed on the copy.” That should bring back a memory for Nick, the tool guy (not).

  2. Very Interesting town…thanks for sharing that!!

    So nice to have some kin who are also friends to go spend some fun days with!! Ah, retirement is grand eh??

  3. So they tell me, Elizabeth, but I don’t know. We’re not retired, we’re working RVers. Way too busy (and poor) to retire.

  4. Any time you want to find somebody, just contact JC Whitney. They sent me catalogs for 30 years. If I moved, they could track me down in short order so they could resume sending me their catalogs several times per year. Finally after not making any purchases from them for close to 20 years they stopped sending me printed material.

  5. You can always get Terri a trailer to tow behind the motorhome. Bob called it his garage.

  6. What do you call the type when you drop a tray?

  7. one other thing dixon is famous for is city clerk stole 15 to 30 millon dollars one of the things she bought was a 2.4 millon dollar liberty motor coach

  8. Well Nick if one must work, seems your way of doing that is a better one!! (We may need to work later too…not sure…too early in the game….but a “C R A Z Y beyond belief” boss was why hubby has to quit early…he is only 62…his health was going down the tubes…and we wanted him to have a few good years before he dies!! Our moms only lived to be 69 so one never knows…money is not everything…we do not have a lot either…but we are downsizing like mad….and will live however small we must…and to live in peace!!)

  9. Elizabeth, at age 46 we walked away from our very stressful workaholic lives with no retirement, no huge savings account, nothing to fall back on, and we have done very well. We may not make as much as we did, but we don’t need as much, and our lives are much less stressful and a lot more satisfying now.

  10. You are blessed you could do that at age 46!! We still had our last child at home with us, until a year ago. She is struggling to make it, as are so many these days, but so far getting along. She has more medical costs than most her age, so needed our help. But now we are foot loose and fancy free!! So we shall see what happens. Again, so grateful for all the information you share here, it may prove very valuable to us in future!! We have not very much at all either…but truly how much does anyone need?? A decent place to sleep and fix food!! Seems to me…

    One friend who lived quite a few years in a 27 travel trailer with hubby, 3 dogs, 3 cats and 3 sons!! TRUELY!! Told me that the best part of living that way was when the neighbors begin to bug you, you move on and quickly. Having had some neighbor problems (they annoyed us, probably unknown to them…but you know, kids causing trouble, even one couple next door fighting all the time, police there….you name it…) in way too many places we have lived, even in the current one where it is high middle class in value…we have kind of “had it”!! Much to be said for peace and quiet!!

  11. We called it “pie”.

  12. I’ve been off the grid for a while so am just catching up on Nick’s blog. For those who are traveling at a more leisurely pace across Iowa I would recommend the Grotto of the Redemption near West Bend, Iowa. We first went there years ago because it was in red on the map. Quite an interesting place and it used to be free, donation only, but I suspect that has changed now.

  13. It’s not too far from Forest City for all those Winnebago owners.

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