A Drive in the Country
Twelve family farms along Garden Valley and River roads open their doors during Autumn Drive to share the fall harvest, pumpkins, arts, crafts, antiques, entertainment — and plenty of delicious food.
It all started 22 years ago when artists along Garden Valley Road between Woodstock and Marengo decided to host an event that would “help each other, help the community and provide a fun fall weekend for visitors,” according to Autumn Drive coordinator Robert Blue of Blue Eagle Pottery. “It is about neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors enjoying each other and getting to know each other.”
Today, Blue, along with neighbors Joe and Lois Grasser and Melissa Stake, continue to organize the fall event, which takes place October 16 through 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They expect 15,000 people will visit 12 family farms along Garden Valley and River roads.
‘Unique Country Experience’
There are plenty of reasons why this annual event draws people from McHenry County and beyond. “Autumn Drive allows visitors to spend a leisurely day on a real country road,” Blue said. “Each stop along the way offers a unique country experience.”
Kids of all ages take something away from the Autumn Drive experience. “Highlights include pick-your-own pumpkins, hayrides, a fire pit to roast marshmallows, corn maze, music, barrel rides, a pumpkin launcher, go-karts and a huge corn box, which is like a ball pit, but with corn,” Blue said. “Adults even get into the corn box.”
It’s a weekend where people can “look at beautiful artwork, find wonderful things to purchase for their homes, have lunch, listen to music, and just have a very enjoyable day out in the country,” he added. “You can really relax at each stop. It’s so eclectic. There’s something for everyone.”
An Evolving Event
After more than two decades, Autumn Drive has certainly evolved. The weekend event was the brainchild of watercolorist Fran Stake, her art instructor husband Vern, and their neighbors, including Blue and farmer Henry Boi. The group was inspired by garage sales held in Algonquin. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we do that, but with an emphasis on the arts?’” Blue recalled. “Fourteen of us signed up.”
The group decided Autumn Drive would take place on one weekend in October on the 3-mile stretch of Garden Valley Road — just as the leaves were turning fall colors. With five artists living on the road in the beginning, it only made sense each stop would emphasize the arts, but the event grew to include the larger community, and today features antique dealers, farmers, churches, ceramic artists, potters, photographers, crafters and bakers. “To add more interest to visitors, we invited others to participate at our stops so it was more than just neighbors offering their talents,” Blue said.
The event now also encompasses charitable organizations, such as McHenry County Historical Society, Woodstock High School Cheering Squad, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Faith in Action of McHenry County, church groups and animal shelters. “We wanted to give back to the community through Autumn Drive,” he said.
This year, Autumn Drive adds a new stop, Cody’s Farm Fresh Vegetables, on scenic River Road, and then extends down its usual path of Garden Valley Drive. Be sure to visit all of the stops on this year’s Autumn Drive route:
1. Cody’s Farm Fresh Vegetables (NEW!): Homegrown vegetables/pumpkins, fall decorations, food, barrel rides, corn box, corn maze, pumpkin launcher, children’s tractor track, antique tractors, music and many crafters.
2. Simon Says Great Danes Kennel (NEW!): Giant-sized dog biscuits and homemade puppy treats, dog-lover accessories, handmade wooden toy guns for children.
3. RB’s Concessions: Great food and inside dining available, plus many crafts, sweatshirts and novelties.
4. Recycled Madness: Blue Moon with limited antiques, treasures and collectable.
5. The Rivers Edge Farm (NEW!): In-season farm products, and photographic scenes of cities, flowers and animals.
6. Lisk Family & Friends: Pumpkins, squash, Indian corn and straw, plus hand-crafted ornaments and holiday decorations. Lunch Barn: Great food with all proceeds donated to Faith in Action of McHenry County, which helps seniors stay in their own homes. Donations will help with the food pantries of Marengo and Woodstock.
7. Ceramic Bug Supplies: Rhinestone/crystal jewelry, craft exhibits, sweet shop, gourmet caramel apples and authentic Italian ice, plus original gems by S&C Candles and holiday decorations. Garden Valley Farm (NEW!): Family antiques, along with special bargains at a garage sale section.
8. Grasser Antiques: Antique furniture, trunks, white elephant sales, linens, vintage and costume jewelry and books. New this year: “Lois’ Kitchen Corner.”
9. A Bit of Everything: Lang’s Orchard features locally grown apples and jellies; Tastefully Simple’s great treats; Annie Fee’s uniquely hand-crafted jewelry with beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces; Sue McDonough’s beautiful floral arrangements; Gambler’s wire name jewelry; handmade table runners by Paula Walsh; collectable street signs and license plates; and Animal House Animal Shelter with pups for adoption.
10. Blue Eagle Pottery: Handmade, functional and home decorative pottery (porcelain and stoneware), glass jewelry, holiday decorations, McHenry County Living and dog treats by the “Liver Lady.”
11. McHenry County Historical Society: Visit the 1885 original Seneca Township Hall, now called Perkins Hall. Walk back in time for handmade articles, unique local historical books, historical and picturesque note cards, used books, quilt raffle and freshly popped Wisconsin kettle corn.
Be sure to pick up an entry drawing for a door prize and have it initialed at each stop to be eligible to win one of several gift certificates that have been donated by the participating landowners.
>> For more, visit www.autumndrive.net or call 815-923-2415.
Fall Festivals Around McHenry County
- Shades of Autumn at Stade’s Farm and Market (3709 Miller Rd. in McHenry, 815-675-6396, www.stadesfarmandmarket.com) includes a fun house, corn maze, barrel train, combine rides, hayrides to the pumpkin field, cattle trailer maze, petting zoo, pumpkin cannon and free live entertainment every weekend through November 1.
- Von Bergen’s Country Market Fall Fest (9805 Rt. 173 in Hebron, 815-648-2332, www.vonbergens.com) has pumpkins, farm animals, squash, gourds, Indian corn, mums, a corn maze, children’s maze, pumpkin barrel ride, craft corner, seasonal vegetables, jams, honey and more starting September 26.
- Red Barn Farm Market Pumpkin Festival (3500 S. Rt. 47 in Woodstock, 815-338-4343, www.redbarn.us) is family fun, with corn mazes, a spooky house for children, farm animals, Mom’s Kitchen, whimsical pumpkin figures, squash, gourds, potatoes, popcorn and pumpkins galore through October 31.
- Royal Oak Farm Market Pumpkinfest (15908 Hebron Rd. in Harvard, 815-648-4141, www.royaloakfarmorchard.com) features giant pumpkins, ornamental pumpkins and gourds, hayrides, the Royal Oak Express, petting zoo, carousel, playhouses, the Country Kitchen, apple barn, bakery and more through November 15. Royal Oak is closed on Sundays.
- Tom’s Farm Market and Greenhouse Fall Festival of Fun (10214 Algonquin Rd. in Huntley, 847-669-3421, www.tomsfarmmarket.com) has pumpkins, pony rides, face painting, farm animals, a corn maze, homemade fudge, baked goods and Tom’s Country Café through October 31.