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Amazing experience at crossroads village
By Mike Michaelson | Midwest Travel

Fall fun and apple picking at Royal Oak Farm Orchards.


Martini bars & wine lounges have supplanted some of downtown Richmond's antique shops.


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Published: 8/23/2008 10:47 PM

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The year was 1919 and American doughboys were returning from war-torn Europe when Arthur Anderson opened his candy shop in Chicago. In 1926, with Chicago rents escalating, the family bought an old two-story house in Richmond, a tiny crossroads town just south of the Wisconsin line. They turned the living room into a candy kitchen and the front porch into a storefront and sold chocolates to Chicagoans en route to summer homes at Lake Geneva.

The Andersons are still there, making and selling quality chocolate, candy and fudge in the same house - although they no longer live in it. Today, grandsons Lars and Leif - their names reflecting their Norwegian heritage - run the business.

Their specialty is handmade chocolates, attractively priced at about $22-$25 a pound - compared to $35-$60 a pound for imports. The Andersons keep their business hands-on and their chocolates handmade, refusing to take shortcuts or compromise quality. The brothers use a 1919 convection stove and cook up batches of English-style toffee or fillings such as prunes in a vintage copper kettle. Their workroom is the former garage where their grandfather kept his Model T.

Chocolates are hand-dipped by local women - eight or nine are needed during busy holiday seasons. "Dipping chocolates is a dying art," says Lars, explaining that it can take a year to fully train a dipper, who is taught to indicate by a swirl on the top of the chocolates the kind of filling inside.

Most popular are caramel, nuts, rich butter cream and peanut butter fillings, and intense chunks of chocolate-dipped crystallized ginger. A newer line of truffles also is popular, while two top-selling ingredients - caramel and nuts - combine in a chocolate bar that the Andersons whimsically call the Lars Bar (it is similar to Turtles™).

Another family-run business - now into its sixth generation - occupies land just north of Spring Grove. It was homesteaded by Robert Richardson who emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in 1840.

The Richardson family owns more than 450 acres devoted to traditional cash crops such as corn and soybeans. It also has two seasonal businesses which it describes as "agritainment."

A giant corn maze, arguably the world's largest, operates August through October, and a Christmas tree farm runs from the day after Thanksgiving until a couple of days before Christmas. These enterprises transform the farmstead into a lively venue for family outings that can attract as many as 1,000 visitors at a given time.

The maze covers 25 acres with about 10 miles of trail. Three interconnecting mazes provide routes that range from easy to extremely challenging. This year's theme focuses on the November election and features an elephant and, donkey. There's a wooded picnic area, wagon rides, a tube slide and bonfires with the toasting of s'mores (bring your own or buy them there).

The 70-acre Christmas tree farm is planted with 50,000 trees. Choices include Douglas, Balsam Canaan, Fraser and Concolor firs, Scotch and White pines and Blue Spruce. Pick your tree and enjoy a free cup of chocolate or freshly brewed coffee.

For apple cider and ambrosial apple cider doughnuts, it's hard to resist Royal Oak Farm Fruit Orchard at Harvard. It has more than 10,000 apple trees encompassing 24 varieties and more than 600 peach trees representing 12 varieties. The orchard grows summer and fall raspberries, as well as pumpkins, gourds and squash. Kids enjoy farm animals at a petting zoo and rides on a carousel and a miniature replica of a 19th century train.

In recent years, Richmond became home to a clutch of antique shops and attracted a steady stream of collectors. Lately, though, many of these shops have been supplanted by trendy eating and drinking establishments - such as a martini bar, a wine lounge and a handful of upscale restaurants.

Nonetheless, a number of antique shops remain, along with fun time-warp restaurants, such as Richmond Dog & Suds Drive In, founded in 1963 and known for its foot-long Coney Dogs and creamy root beer served by carhops. Doyle's Pub & Eatery, which occupies the site of a flour and grain mill (with original beams still in place) features acclaimed hot wings (named Chicago's best by WXRT radio) and a Reuben sandwich fashioned from thinly sliced roasted round of corned beef and slow-cooked sauerkraut. It's one of those "I'll-divulge-our-secret-recipe-but-then-I'll-have-to-kill-you" kind of places.

Strolling around the village, you'll find exquisite Victorian mansions, including a number of well-rendered "painted ladies." Richmond's "Historic Housewalk" guides you around town with book and CD ($20 - proceeds go the restoration of Memorial Hall). The latter dates from 1902 and has served as public library, village hall and police station and high school gym. Returning to theatrical roots, it now serves as a playhouse (which last season staged sold-out productions of "Urinetown, The Musical").

Lodging options include the Richmond Inn, a superior b&b in a converted 1893 mansion that sits on five acres. It offers four guestrooms and such activities as cooking and quilting classes, spa treatments and high tea. A 60-room Hampton Inn (being expanded to 100 rooms) is about a 20-minute drive south of Richmond and offers hikers and bicyclists easy connection to the Prairie Trail.

MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."