Thomson is the Melon Capital of the World, according to the signs. They do grow a lot of melons around here. They also have a number of pleasant recreation areas nearby.
Visitor information is available through the Thomson Chamber of Commerce (815.259.2455), Carroll County Motel Hotel Tax Board (866.367.6505) or the York Township Public Library (see below).
Thomson is one of those communities that exist because of a decision made by a railroad executive. In 1864, the Western Union Railroad selected this location for their tracks, bypassing the older and more populous community of Bluffville that was located two miles to the northeast. The first post office carried the name Sandville, but the town was eventually named after G.A. Thomson, one of the officers in the very same railroad company that created the town. In its early years, Thomson grew as the railroads attracted stockyards, warehouses, and most of the businesses from Bluffville. The melon industry has been strong for generations due to the sandy soil in which the rotund gourds thrive.
Ayers Sand Prairie Nature Preserve (Airport Rd.; 815.244.3655) is another treeless sand prairie remnant, representative of how the immediate area once looked; it is located north of Thomson near the Savanna Airport.
The Thomson Depot Museum (907 Main St.; 815.259.2361; open weekend afternoons in season) has the usual relics of local history, plus railroad memorabilia, an old telephone switchboard, and a very cool antique post office service window and post office boxes.
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The Thomson Causeway Recreation Area (815.259.2353) is located at one of the widest spots along the Mississippi River. Besides the numerous campsites, the recreation area has plenty of space to picnic, fish, or just hang out next to the river. This is a popular spot on summer weekends.
The York Community Church (2301 Illinois Hwy 84; 815.259.2901) traces its roots to 1852 when it was founded as the Church of Christ. The current frame church was completed in 1865 as a standard Gothic Revival structure with a central bell tower and vestibule entrance. Church members quarried the rock and did most of the carpentry. The congregation retired its debt by hosting a big dinner at the church’s dedication: a plate at a table with roasted pig was $20; roast turkey was $10; roast goose was $5; and roast chicken $2.50. The event brought in more money than they needed, so they used the extra funds to purchase a bell. In the 1920s, the building was expanded and the tower moved to the southeast corner; new pews were installed, as well as a full immersion baptistery (which was removed in 1983 and replaced with a mural). The church became the Community Church in 1937. The father of Smiley Burnette—Gene Autry’s movie sidekick and the train conductor in Petticoat Junction—served as the congregation’s pastor for while in the 1920s.
Just east of Thomson, French Bluff State Natural Area (Scenic Bluff Rd.; 815.273.2731) was once the site of the village of Bluffville. It withered away when the railroad went to Thomson. You can hike through the natural area on old service roads that make for a moderately easy hike to a bluff-top ridge, but the views of the valley are blocked by trees in the summer.
For something completely different, consider a farm tour. The brochure called Carroll County Farm Tours (available at the tourism info kiosk in Savanna or by calling 800.678.2108/815.244.3001) lists about a dozen options for touring operating farms that produce things like pigs, Christmas trees, dairy, beef, and grain. Call the farms directly to set up a tour.
Getting Out on the River
Fin & Feather Campground (6284 Riverview Rd.; 815.273.3302) rents fishing boats and canoes.
Thomson celebrates the harvest of its favorite crop over the Labor Day weekend with Melon Days (866.367.6505), a traditional hometown festival but with free watermelon.
The Heirloom Market and Cafe (2200 Illinois Highway 84; 815.259.0166) cooks up light fare like sandwiches and fresh salads, plus heartier entrees like steak and tuna fillets. The market sells heirloom seeds, meats from local farmers, the locally-brewed Pecatonica beer, and a variety of other stuff that is good for you.
Thomson Causeway Recreation Area (815.259.2353; April–Oct.) is one of the better Corps-operated recreation areas. The campground has plenty of shade and is not too cramped; most of the 131 sites have electricity and share a common water source. The Fin & Feather Campground (6284 Riverview Rd.; 815.273.3302; May 1–duck hunting season) won’t win any awards for “best-kept campground” but is located next to the river, and it is inexpensive; there are a handful of overnight sites, some with electric; no showers.
The Executive Inn (800 One Mile Rd.; 877.575.3233/815.259.7378; WiFi) is a newer motel with 40 very clean rooms equipped with fridge and microwave.
Arnold’s Bikes & Embroidery (831 Main St.; 815.259.8289) rents bicycles of the recumbent and regular kind).
Post Office: 705 Argo Fay Route; 815.259.3121.
York Township Public Library: 1005 W. Main St.; 815.259.2480.
Heading upriver? Check out Savanna.
Heading downriver? Check out Fulton.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009