Hotel Baker is a luxury lodging choice in St. Charles, Illinois.

Urban Playground – St. Charles, Illinois

These days, St. Charles is often mistaken as just a suburb of Chicago. The reality of its beginnings is something far more interesting. To gain a better grasp of its history we spent a couple of days exploring the nooks and crannies of the city. With the Lincoln Highway running just to the south, it is a popular destination for visitors from the surrounding regions. Trains run daily from Chicago, ferrying urban dwellers to this upscale outpost. Today this urban playground has moved on from its early days, but there are still reminders of days gone by. To get a better grasp of the city’s unique history, we dropped by the St. Charles History Museum.

We want to thank the St. Charles Business Alliance for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.

The St. Charles History Museum is a good place to start your visit to this urban playground.

Learning Local History

In the 1830s, the Fox River Valley was recovering from the Black Hawk War. When the government opened the land for settlement, it didn’t take long for this valley to draw attention. By 1840, St. Charles was incorporated. Getting to the village required a three-day journey from Chicago, as the Fox River was not favorable for navigation by large boats. Without a railroad, it left the town isolated. This was finally rectified when the Chicago Great Western Railway created a direct connection. The increased accessibility led to business growth, marking St. Charles as a relaxation destination for Chicago dwellers.

While St. Charles was far from the scene of battle, it still played a role in the Civil War.

Camp Life

Illinois was spared from any major battles during the Civil War. St. Charles lay in the midst of abolitionist territory and therefore supported the Union. A few months after war was declared, a training facility for a cavalry regiment was created in the young township. Initiated by Colonel John Farnsworth, the 8th Illinois Cavalry would see action in notable battles. Their presence was noted in Fredericksburg, Antietam, Mechanicsville, and Gettysburg. The group also had the honor of being honor guards for Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train. They escorted the fallen president to his final resting place in Springfield.

For many years, St. Charles had the distinction of being known as the Pickle Capital of the World.

Pickle Capital

How do you become the pickle capital without producing any pickles? In the 1960s, St. Charles became home to Pickle Packers International. This promotional group touted the benefits of pickles around the world. Some of the promotions included pickle phones, greeting cards, and purses. While the organization would eventually relocate to Washington, the title of Pickle Capital stayed with St. Charles. It was even used as the subject of a question on Jeopardy.

Old signage for Hotel Baker hints at this being an urban playground.

Familiar Name

While the St. Charles History Museum is smaller than some others we’ve visited, it is jam-packed with plenty of artifacts. As we continued to explore, we came across a display about one of the town’s most notable landmarks. Hotel Baker sits just down the road and across the Fox River. While the streetcar no longer runs along Main Street, we could imagine visitors hopping aboard to traverse this urban playground. What a fun way to navigate the rolling hills of Eastern Illinois.

Hotel baker still maintains its historic charm.

Historic Lodging

With a grasp of St. Charles’s history under our belts, we headed off for our next stop. Our lodging during our visit had been arranged at Hotel Baker and we were anxious to see it with our own eyes. It was a short walk across the river to the front door of this historic hotel. Built in 1928, it was the home of Colonel Baker but also a stop for weary travelers. The site had previously been used by a mill, which was destroyed by fire. When the hotel opened its doors, it was filled with some unusual features. It had its own hydroelectric facility that supplied inexpensive power. This helped run a lighted dance floor, and a radio station in what would become the penthouse suite, in later years.

While some of the past was kept in place, the rooms have been upgraded.

Checking In

To prove that it was a world-class luxury hotel, they also included a 9-hole miniature golf course and a fishing pond. Travelers were treated to one of the most elaborate parking facilities. This included a Hudson car dealership with a service bay, car wash, and gas station. Inside the hotel, guests would find that each room was decorated in its own style, so no two stays would be the same. All of these features would set a visitor back $2.50 per night. That sounds to us like quite a deal, even for 1930. We were fortunate to get a room with a view overlooking the Fox River.

The authors enjoy a stroll near Hotel Baker.

Urban Playground

These days, Hotel Baker is highly regarded as a wedding destination. The historic vibe, along with amazing architecture, is the perfect backdrop for exchanging vows. In fact, during our two-night stay, we saw three ceremonies take place. It is kind of fun staying in a 53-room luxury hotel and being the only ones not in the wedding group. You can imagine it drew some surprised glances. Our exploration in St. Charles was showing us many sides of this urban playground. While many will visit for the relaxed, upscale vibe, there is also plenty of history to discover. It’s a good thing we planned three days, but even that would only scratch the surface. Have you ever visited St. Charles, Illinois?

the authors signatures.

24 thoughts on “Urban Playground – St. Charles, Illinois”

  1. I have been to St Charles often as I grew up just north of it in Elgin, IL. I love the Fox River towns.

    I do some travel blogging and autos too. Thanks for your post!

  2. The train goes to Geneva, not St. Charles. Route 64 goes thru St. Charles. Lincoln highway is route 38 and goes thru Geneva Illinois. Also a great place to visit. The shops on 3rd street, and restaurants, are great.

  3. Had a wonderful fun experience at Sweet Beginnings. A local store filled with a fun variety of items. The hats are beautiful and unique. Thank you for a pleasent experience and will be visiting for the holidays.

  4. I live in downtown St. Charles. The only grocery store, the Blue Goose closed it’s doors and now there is no shopping within 3 miles. The town now has more bars and breweries and trendy restaurants , very few quaint shops anymore. Definitely changed in the last ten years.

    1. Jeffrey Sengenberger

      My family and I moved to St.Charles within the last 18 months. 3. Blocks east of downtown. While I was sad to see the Goose close her doors, those restaurants, bars, and breweries were a big part of our decision. Mount Saint Mary park and the bike paths up and down the Fox River deserve mention as well. The art in the park is a unique touch.

  5. Lincoln Highway does *not* run straight through town, as suggested here. It’s a pretty line, but untrue. Lincoln Highway runs through Geneva. North Avenue runs through STC.

  6. I live next door in Geneva. I love the Fox Valley. It is beautiful. Third Street in Geneva is a treasure. There are dozens of restaurants in the area.

  7. These folks seem like very nice people. Why the need to so harshly correct them in print? The need to one-up them? It’s not a competition, for goodness sake. St. Charles, Geneva, nobody’s keeping track. Maybe lighten up a little.

    1. Thank you very much. We realize that by publishing articles we are putting ourselves out there for any and all corrections. That is fine, because ultimately it gets people to think about adding some of these spots to their travel plans. In the end, we are simply attempting to show people that there are so many great places to explore all across North America.

  8. The corrections are minor in an otherwise very good story. North Avenue is also Rt. 64 which was created on an east-west line from Chicago to Iowa following a familiar route to west-bound travelers. Some older buildings downtown still carry the name of the hotel which they once were, but now have other businesses. It is a Mecca for bars and restaurants, but some diversification as found in Geneva would make it even better.

    1. We’re glad you enjoyed the article. I’m guessing that there are always a few details that are more difficult to nail down. Especially for someone who is not native to the area. thanks for helping fill in the gaps.

  9. My boyfriend and I love taking walks across the bridge or just walking along the river. Its beautiful at night and day.

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