Close but not too close to big-city hubbub and high-rises of Chicago, Kankakee County offers a refreshing down-to-earth mood: golf, hiking, kayaking, biking, delicious wine bar visits and more. This year, the fun is amplified by the region’s special spotlight on world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s profound Kankakee connection.
It was the turn of the 20th century when a young Wright designed Kankakee’s B. Harley Bradley House and the adjacent Warren Hickox House, the very first examples of Wright’s revolutionary Prairie Style: low-slung, landscape-hugging structures accented by Wright’s furniture designs; expanses of lustrous, quarter-sawn oak woodwork; and his own beautiful art glass windows.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth (June 8, 1867), the community is curating a June-through-September calendar of Wright-centered events devoted to fun, history and Kankakee’s founding role in Wright’s impact on the built environment.
In June, the Bradley House will host Frank’s Birthday Extravaganza, an event designed to meet the standard set by Wright’s action-packed life, which stretched to 91 years and still could barely contain his many adventures, creations, and personal reinventions.
Wright’s houses as living spaces take center stage in July with Growing Up Wright, a program featuring Tim Totten and Kim Bixler. Both are experts on Wright-designed homes, Totten by way of an interest in Wright dating to his childhood and Bixler because she grew up in a Rochester, New York home designed by Wright.
Wright homes are “built to fit the landscape, not fight the landscape,” says Bixler, who has written a book on the subject and was included in a PBS Wright documentary. Totten, considered a “master storyteller,” has studied hundreds of Wright homes. He’s been quoted as saying, “There is something different about his work…The shapes and geometry and feel of his structures evoke a certain emotion. That, to me, is the difference between architecture and art.”
In August, bluegrass fans will get the chance to kick up their heels at the Bradley House at Pickin’ on Wright, which will feature the music of local bluegrass artists in an evening hoedown under the stars, and then in September Kankakee will come alight with the Paramount Theatre premier of An American Home, a documentary on the Bradley House.
The film will feature segments on Gaines and Sharon Hall, the Kankakee couple who accepted the challenge of restoring the Bradley House to Wright’s standards after years with no upkeep, a fire and decades as a popular eatery. The film includes re-enactments of how life was lived in the house when it was new.
Celebrations take an even more flavorful turn with a series of dinners, Dine on the Prairie, at Locavore Farm in the countryside near Kankakee. Guests will sit down to neighborhood-sourced haute cuisine served outdoors amid the boundless prairie vistas that inspired Wright.
Laughing camaraderie and great meals shared at the farm’s purpose-built, 100-foot cedar table spark a “growth of community through local food,” according to their mission. That’s something Locavore has sought from the beginning, part of its owners’ search for “the simplicity and joy of seeing the sunrise and set, gathering with friends face-to-face (over) real food from the earth and wine that gladdens human hearts.”
These dinners, scheduled monthly between June and September, will let Wright fans savor a delicious, locally sourced meal and Locavore Farm’s unique, homey ambience. Where else would the summer dusk be set aglow by suspended canning jars full of glimmering lightning bugs?
Complementing the full schedule of Frank Lloyd Wright activities, Kankakee County offers endless recreation options as well to keep visitors entertained throughout their time in the area. Plan to stay for a few days; there’s plenty of fun to be had.
On the Surface: The Kankakee River flows between shaded, sometimes rocky banks—a perfect environment for canoeing, kayaking and wading. Or, drift-boat fishing for small mouth and rock bass, sauger, northern pike and other hard-fighting gamefish either on your own or guided by one of several Kankakee County outfitters.
Deep Dive: To go a little deeper, Haigh Scuba Diving Quarry offers instruction, equipment rentals and tank-fills to explore the county’s spring-fed quarry lakes. Meet large schools of freshwater fish and explore a wrecked cabin cruiser and several other underwater high—or low—points.
On Two Legs: There’s nothing like a walking pace for getting the lay of the land, and Kankakee River State Park, Kankakee Valley Forest Preserve, Perry Farm Park and Kankakee Sands Preserve offer miles of trails alive with songbirds and the rustle of woodland creatures bustling in the underbrush.
On Two Wheels: To cover even more of Kankakee County’s sparkling outdoors, paved bike paths or natural trails at venues like Kankakee River State Park, Kankakee Valley Forest Preserve and the Riverfront Bike Trail make perfect pedaling.
Rugged Relaxing: Campfire fans enjoy circling the wagons at Kankakee River State Park, 4,000 forested acres spanning the Kankakee River that offer boots-on-the-ground options for hiking, fishing, hunting and camping retreats to the natural world. Check out the many outdoor places to lay your head here.
Refined Revelry: For those who like their outdoor fun on gracefully manicured grounds, Kankakee County offers plentiful links opportunities, including Aspen Ridge Golf Course, the Elks Country Club, High Point Golf Club, Manteno Golf Club, Minne Monesse Golf Course, Oak Springs Golf Course and Shamrock Golf Club.
Art in a Glass: Palate pleasing concoctions are a Kankakee County specialty. Flight 102 Wine Bar offers great wines from around the world and a selection of creative plates; Off the Vine Winery tantalizes with wines, brews, and a selection of meats and cheeses; and Grapes & Hops explores an ever-evolving selection of boutique-quality wines and brews from around the state of Illinois.
Art Outdoors: With Frank Lloyd Wright’s art glass window creations at the B. Harley Bradley House as guiding inspiration, local artists bring Kankakee public spaces to life with their own renditions of the groundbreaking architect’s decorative vision. Explore downtown Kankakee and check out these murals on a walking tour.
Whether the goal is revolutionary architecture, outdoor fun or tasty tasting experiences, Kankakee County is doing it Wright in 2017.Plan your next getaway to Kankakee County.