The Village of Romeoville is on the west bank of the Des Plaines River in Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs.
The Des Plaines River has had a big role in the area’s history. In the 18th-century fur traders trapped beavers and stored supplies at Isle a la Cache.
Then the adjacent Illinois & Michigan Canal opened up Chicago and the Midwest to international trade in the mid-19th century.
The headquarters for the canal project were based next door to Romeoville in Lockport, and there are a few historic sites here to seek out.
Romeoville has plenty to love, with a superb vintage car museum, a thriving craft brewery, a packed events calendar, a world-class golf course, many acres of beautifully maintained parks and several forest preserves to discover close by.
1. Isle a la Cache Museum
The island in the Des Plaines River on the east side of Romeoville has a riveting story to tell thanks to its part in the American fur trade.
The island got its name as a storage, hunting and trading site for French voyageurs in the 18th century.
A visitor center, managed by Will County, has been established on the island. With well-researched and engaging displays, the museum inside explains the methods and implements used by the Native American Potawatomi people and the fur traders for trapping, skinning and fishing.
You’ll find out about the interplay between the two cultures, and can step inside a wigwam, touch those once-prized beaver pelts and check out traditional canoes crafted from birch bark.
There’s also a terrarium in the museum, keeping a Blanding’s turtle. Afterwards you can step out for a stroll around the island, which is a habitat for mink, numerous songbirds, turtles and bald eagles.
2. Beller Museum
Mainly devoted to Fords, the Beller Museum has an extraordinary collection of vintage and classic cars and trucks from the 1920s and 30s.
Where the museum differs from typical showrooms is the amount of technical and historical detail provided alongside the vehicles, recalling Detroit’s heyday or Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line.
You’re sure to pick up some interesting piece of information you didn’t know before. As well as 60+ vehicles, the Beller Museum has numerous car parts, as well as badges, signs, historic car accessories and an extensive library with a fascinating section dedicated to Ford print advertising from the 20s and 30s.
3. Lincoln Landing
Begun in the 1830s, the Illinois & Michigan Canal (I&M Canal) was an ambitious project with a seismic impact, linking the Mississippi, Great Lakes and New York, to open up Chicago and the Midwest to transatlantic trade.
Abraham Lincoln was one of the eight legislators involved in the canal’s conception, choosing Lockport as the canal’s construction headquarters.
You can see the canal’s Lock No. 1 in Lockport, while close by is a park and open-air museum celebrating the city’s unique transport heritage.
Here you can check out the I&M Canal’s original lines and peruse a series of connecting bronze medallions recalling a different aspect of the project’s history. The centerpiece is a statue of Lincoln with his gaze fixed on the canal.
4. Gaylord Building Historic Site
The early years of the I&M Canal’s construction were difficult, as this part of Illinois was essentially wilderness.
A repository was needed for supplies, and in 1838 this was built from local yellow limestone, possibly excavated from the canal itself.
Named for an owner later in the 19th century, the Gaylord Building can be found at the north end of Lincoln Landing, and has an Italianate three-storey extension that was added in 1859.
By the 1980s the building was derelict, before a multimillion-dollar restoration, and it now stands a fine monument to the canal, as well as a venue for various programs and exhibits.
On the first floor you can browse the permanent exhibit examining the history of the canal and its vast impact on Illinois.
5. Illinois State Museum-Lockport Gallery
The canal-side Norton Building (1850) hosts a superb museum focussing on contemporary and historic Illinois art.
In rotating themed exhibitions, enhanced by interpretive information, you can view painting, sculpture, drawing, quilts, as well as other decorative and ethnographic arts.
These shows are accompanied by talks, guided tours and all sorts of other outreach activities for adults and children.
A word on the building, which was erected by the I&M Canal as a grain-processing facility, with outsized windows that were once portals used for loading and unloading grain.
6. Metal Monkey Brewing
Close to the Des Plaines riverbank there’s a craft brewery founded by a team with decades of homebrewing experience.
Metal Monkey started out with a small 3bbl system, but brewery’s quick success has allowed it to upgrade to a 10bbl setup.
The taproom is open Thursday to Sunday and has seating for more than 200. On draft you can choose from an array of Sours and Pale Ales, as well as Belgian dark beer, an IPA, a Stout, a Porter, a Red Ale, a Mexican-style Lager, a Pilsner and a hard seltzer.
There’s a great program of live music, with an emphasis on local metal bands (acoustic sets on Fridays), as well as a lineup of food trucks on weekends.
7. O’Hara Woods Preserve
In the heart of Romeoville, behind the village hall is a gorgeous tract of woodland, connecting to a series of local parks.
The O’Hara Woods Preserve is part of the Lily Cache Creek preservation system and is an inviting space with mature trees and a spectacular display of wildflowers in spring (toothwort and Virginia bluebells).
Directly on the south side is the contiguous Village Park, home to the Romeoville Recreation Center, while on the east side is Romeoville’s own parcel of O’Hara Woods.
Here you’ll find a superb playground laid with wood chips, as well as picnic areas, horseshoes and a pavilion.
Finally, further east is Conservation Park, on the banks of Lake Strini, a hotspot for fishing and with yet another playground, as well as amenities for picnicking, birdwatching, horseshoes and volleyball.
8. Centennial Trail
From Isle a la Cache, or Schneider’s Passage just beside it, you can embark on a walk or bike ride northeast beside the Des Plaines River.
The Centennial Trail is just over three miles long, offering views of the river and its waterfront industry both modern and historic.
Portions of the trail will take you through peaceful woodland, while the highlight is the 135th Street Bridge, an iron and steel swing truss bridge constructed in 1899 and moved to its present location in 1996.
At the north end, the trail connects with Cook County’s own Centennial Trail, while at Schneider’s Passage at the south end you can get onto the I&M Canal Trail (3.17 miles) and the Veterans Memorial Trail (4.73 miles).
9. Mistwood Golf Club
It might be hard to believe, but this multi award-winning golf course in Romeoville is a public facility.
Following a marvellous two-year renovation by designer Ray Hearn, Mistwood Golf Club takes inspiration from Scottish links courses, St Andrews in particular.
The course has authentic St Andrews-style sod wall bunkers, while water constantly comes into play, along Mink Creek and a pair of expansive lakes.
In 2015 the finishing touches were made to a beautiful clubhouse that resembles a Scottish lodge, and this is home to McWethy’s Tavern, for comforting pub grub.
10. Romeoville Area Historical Society Museum
Named for prominent citizen and Lewis University alumnus, James P. Sczepaniak (1935-2014), the local historical society museum is well worth checking out.
At the time of writing this was raising funds for a new building on Independence Blvd., and was located close by at 14 Belmont Drive.
The museum is open on Saturday afternoons and every 2nd and 4th Sunday, and has tons of interesting material on different aspects of Romeoville’s past.
There’s a trove of local history artifacts, donated by Sczepaniak, as well as documents on the Illinois & Michigan Canal and The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, tools used by early farming families and historic maps.
You can also view documents relating to Valley View School District’s All Year Round School Program, a pioneering late 1960s education initiative adopted by schools across the country.
11. Prairie Bluff Preserve
On the east bank of the Des Plaines River, between the Lewis University campus and the Stateville Correctional Facility is a parcel of restored wetland and prairie on what used to be prison land.
The preserve was acquired by Will County in the mid-2000s and it’s thrilling to see nature slowly taking hold once more.
Prairie Bluff Preserve is in 680 acres, and has more than three miles of trails for hiking/running, biking, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. There’s also a large picnic shelter with a scenic view of the landscape.
12. Heritage Falls Water Park
Open for the summer, this outdoor water park is in Romeoville and managed by the Lockport Park District.
Families seeking to cool off on the hottest days will find plenty to love about Heritage Falls, which has a large pool combining lanes and a deep end with a wading area that has beach entry.
For smaller kids there’s a splash pad with lots of spray equipment, while the park also has two slides and a diving area. Parents who want some time out will find plenty of sun loungers with a good view of the main pool.
13. Canlan Ice Sports
The main skate facility in Romeoville is Canlan Ice Sports, part of a chain of ice facilities in Illinois and Canada.
The Romeoville branch is a modern, three-sheet facility, hosting a wealth of special events, leagues, tournaments, sport development programs for all ages and also birthday parties.
For casual visitors there’s a regular schedule of public skating sessions, and all kinds of other drop-in activities, from stick & puck to rat hockey and freestyle figure skating.
And for a brief run-down of the various programs on offer you’ve got “learn to skate”, figure skating camps & clinics and hockey camps and tuition for all levels.
14. Lake Renwick Preserve
This large wetland habitat west of Romeoville is a former aggregate quarry that flooded and became a vital rookery for wading birds.
Among the species making their nests on the network of linear islets on the lake are great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, great egrets, cattle egrets and double-crested cormorants.
During the nesting season, from March to mid-August, access is restricted at the reserve, but you can visit a dedicated bird-watching area at the adjacent Copley Nature Park.
The rest of the year you can explore the preserve via a three-mile trail along former railroad spurs and tracks onced used by trucks at the quarry.
The biggest event of the year in Romeoville is this four-day celebration, typically held over the first weekend in August.
RomeoFest is organized to appeal to all-comers, with a highly diverse bill of live music from Thursday to Sunday, as well as a carnival packed with rides, midway games, and delicious food.
All kinds of events take place over the weekend, including a soft ball tournament, bingo, a classic car show, a 1-mile race, a bean bag tournament and fireworks on the Friday and Sunday.
On the Saturday morning people with special needs can use the various carnival attractions for free. Over the four days you can bring kids to the Family Fun Zone, which has mini golf, laser tag, Lego, face painting and more.