125 N. County Road 425E, Arcola, IL
Rockome Gardens are well known in central Illinois as a family tourist attraction and Amish theme park. The park entertainments are low-key, such as a horse-drawn carriage ride down to the river, or watching park staff husk corn with antique farm equipment. But Rockome Gardens seem to draw their inspiration as much from Amish farm life as from Knott's Berry Farm, as there is a decidely non-Illinois wild west town with Indian Trading Post, a Haunted Cave, and even a ghost-town style bottle house made of Fresca bottles. There are mineral displays in a rock shop, and home-style candy for sale in the general store, a petting zoo, miniature trains, even a few trained chickens in vending machine-like boxes that play tic-tac-toe.
Rockome Gardens was put up for auction in early 2005, and its fate seemed uncertain. As of 2006, new owners have reopened the park with a new vision as a time capsule of 1940s rural America. Since 1958 the attraction had been operated by Elvan Yoder and his sons. But the rock garden areas of the park predate the Yoders' Amish theme park additions. Beginning in 1939, local factory owner Arthur Martin decided to build a large garden on the grounds of his country home. He hired workers to bring in rock from the area and construct concrete and rock walls, arches and ponds. While these garden does not display the idiosyncratic style of more widely-known folk-art grottoes, there is a certain quaint rough-hewn charm to the constructions. Martin named his creation Rockhome, and opened it up to visitors from all over the area. Eventually it became known as 'Rockome'.
In 1952 Arthur Martin deeded the property to the Mennonite Church, which used the house as a retirement home for a while, but in 1958 it was sold to Elvan Yoder. The area around Arcola has been home to many Old-Order Amish since 1864, and Elvan Yoder, who was raised Amish, felt that visitors would be curious about this way of life that is not widely visible to outsiders. So he added a few farming exhibits and a recreation of an Amish home to the gardens and reopened Rockome Gardens as an Amish theme park. Over the years, the Yoders have added various attractions and antique farm buildings from the area, creating something between a theme park, living farm demonstration, and local-history museum.
The idea of an Amish theme park may appear quaint and outmoded to us nowadays, and as Rockome added various attractions to keep up with changing times, the park seems to have meandered far from its theme in bids to attract visitors. The tour busses of seniors, horse-drawn tractor enthusiasts and quilt club members probably could care less about what theme unites the sprawling accumulation of rural antiquities in the park, but it seems to me that the areas of the park with the most integrity are those old rock walls and flower gardens that were there from the beginning. Their rugged construction and honest simplicity create beautiful and restful garden spaces, despite the clutter of folksy aphorisms and sentimental folksiness all around.
Rockome Gardens are located 6 miles south of Chesterville and 4 miles east of Arcola, Illinois.
References and Links to Rockome Gardens
presented by Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi