If you’ve been following the series, this is the third stop along the Illinois portion of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. The byway follows the mighty river, in most places mirroring its bends and twists through the communities and natural wonders of southern Illinois. If this is the first article you’ve found in the continuing series, you can catch up on first part of the journey through Gallatin County, IL here and the second part of the journey through Saline Countyhere.
Originally, Hardin County belonged to Gallatin and Pope Counties. It came into being in its own right in 1839. Named for John Hardin, an officer in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, Hardin County has a long history.
Continuing along the Ohio River Scenic Byway from Karber’s Ridge in Saline County, the road will bring you to the Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow Recreation Area. Separated by a trail, Pounds Hollow and Rim Rock are two unique park areas. The connecting trail propels you to the tops of bluffs and then carries you to the valley floor below. A lake for public swimming and fishing with a scenic recreational area can be found at the Pounds Hollow end while caves and wildlife are the draws at the Rim Rock site.
After spending some time at Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow, the journey along the byway continues east and then south until you arrive at Cave-in-Rock, IL. The tiny town was settled in 1816 but did not become chartered for another 85 years, until 1901. Nestled cozily on the shore of the river, the town acted as a hub of transportation for communities on both sides of the river. River traffic was substantial in the area. The cave for which the town is named is now the centerpiece of Cave in Rock State Park. It was reportedly used by pirates who would watch from the cave for passing ships and then sweep out to capture their cargo. Today, the cave is made Accessible by foot by climbing a set of steep stairs up the park side of the hill covering the cave and then descending more stairs on the river side of the hill . It is not for the faint of heart in the heat of the summer. From atop the hill, a sweeping view of the river reveals itself to those who choose to spend some time appreciating its beauty.
Cave-in-Rock has other nuggets to offer up. An old jail stands open to the public. A sign on the main road points the way to it, just 2 blocks over. The barred door stands open inviting the curious to step inside. No lights exist. No signs give the visitor any clues about the building, its age or its history. But standing inside one of the 2 cells, each with the remains of the bed and bedsprings in place, you can imagine what it must have been like to have been held in such small confines for any period of time.
A pair of nearby murals illustrates the view of the cave as seen from the river. A ferry still operates at Cave-in-Rock. The ferry operates continuously throughout the day, offering a unique ride across the Ohio River into nearby Kentucky for vehicles and pedestrians alike, though there is nothing of interest within walking distance on the other side except for countryside. The ferry ride is worth taking for the slow leisurely pace it provides and the unique perspective of the cave from the ferry. The ferry is free. Before leaving, for those who are interested in history, you’ll want to spend a few minutes at the historical marker designating the site as a stop on the Lewis and Clark trail.
Back on the Ohio River Scenic Byway, the next stop will be in Elizabethtown, sometimes called E-town. It was once the county seat but went by the name of McFarlan’s Ferry at the time, named for James McFarlan. The current name owes it origins to the McFarlans too. It is named for James’ wife, Elizabeth. Records are sketchy but the couple appears to have arrived in the area sometime between 1804 and 1812. The brick home they built on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River was constructed in 1812. It still exists and is now known as The Rose Hotel. The state of Illinois purchased it and renovated it from top to bottom in 1998. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Rose Hotel is the oldest hotel in Illinois. Spend a few moments in the gazebo on the point of the bluff and enjoy another splendid view of the river as she rolls by Elizabethtown.
Next up on the Ohio River Scenic Byway is Rosiclare. Before you arrive, take a short detour to the Illinois Iron Furnace. This is another historical recreational area complete with trails, picnic areas and according to some, the best fishing around. For more information about this historic and natural site, read “Illinois’ Iron Furnace invites you to visit for the day”.
Following the Iron Furnace, the byway takes you to Rosiclare, a tiny mining town also on the bank of the great river. As was the practice, this town too is named for early inhabitants, specifically the daughters, Rose and Clare, of a French settler. The name was later blended to its current form. Before that, it went by the moniker of Ford’s Ferry and was first settled in 1807. A few years later, fluorspar was discovered and a town centered on mining quickly sprouted around 1843. At one time, Rosiclare was home to the largest fluorspar operation in the country. The mine closed in 1996 and the town is but a shadow of its once grand self. The American Fluorite Museum commemorates the town’s mining history and will, for a small donation, invite you to see the photographs, equipment and samples of fluorspar. The museum sits on the site of the old mine.
For a slideshow of places associated with this leg of the Ohio River Scenic Byway, click here.
Places to Eat in Cave in Rock
GeeJay’s Café 142 Main St., Cave in Rock, IL
Dutton’s Café, 130 Canal St., Cave in Rock, IL
Places to Eat in Elizabethtown
Ma & Pa’s Restaurant, 1st St & Main, Elizabethtown, IL
E’town River Restaurant, 100 Front Street, Elizabethtown, IL
Places to Eat in Rosiclare
Moores Main Street Diner, 1950 Main St., Rosiclare, IL
Directions to follow the Ohio River Scenic Byway through Hardin County from the Illinois Tourism Bureau:
After Karber’s Ridge, proceed east until you reach the sign for Rim Rock Park. Turn left to enter the park and then right back onto Karber’s Ridge Rd when you are through. Continue east to Illinois Route 1 and turn south (right) Follow Rt 1 to Cave-in-Rock on the Ohio River. As you leave Cave-in Rock, return north on Rt 1 to Illinois Route 146 and turn west (left) Follow Rt 146 west to Elizabethtown and then on to the intersection for Rosiclare and the Illinois Iron Furnace. Turning north (right) will take you to the Iron Furnace while turning south (left) will take you to Rosiclare. When you have finished exploring, return to this intersection to continue to the Pope County.
Sources: Personal travels