Wagon Wheel History

    The Roots of the Blackhawk Curling Club can be traced back to the Wagon Wheel Resort in Rockton, Illinois.

    One of the Midwest's premier resorts and Rockton's most famous attraction, the Wagon Wheel Resort began as a gas station and hamburger stand in 1936. Eventually the resort sprawled across 314 acres, with an air strip, golf course, swimming pools, ice skating rinks, restaurants, a private club, hotel, bowling alley, seven specialty shops, miniature train, a 35 acre lake, two-run ski hill, dinner theater and tennis building. 

         See map.

    Throughout the 1950s into the 1970s, people came from throughout the Midwest to stay at the resort and enjoy its many attractions. Numerous celebrities flew in to the air strip to enjoy a stay at the resort, including Bob Hope, Tyrone Power, Ronald Reagan, Charles Lawton, and Gene Autry. The Andrews Sisters sang there.

    One of the best known figures associated with the Wagon Wheel Resort was Janet Lynn the 1972 Olympic Bronze Medal winning skater who trained at the Ice Palace under the direction of her coach Slavka Kahout.  Scott Hamilton also trained there while living in Rockton and attending Hononegah High School.

    From 1958 to 1962, the Wagon Wheel Cardinals played senior amateur hockey in the Illinois Ice Hockey League.

    In the winter of 1960-1961, a four sheet curling facility was built next to the ice arena with the ice ready for play in February, 1961. Curling Clubs were formed from surrounding cities. 

         The Capital Times, November 14, 1960

         Rockford Morning Star, January 1, 1961

         Janesville Daily Gazette, January 26, 1961

         Rockford Morning Star, January 26, 1961

         The Capital Times, February 6, 1961

         The Capital Times, March 13, 1961

         Freeport Journal Standard, March 14, 1961

         Janesville Daily Gazette November 11, 1961

         Rockford Register-Republic, December 14, 1961

    In Monroe, the Alpine Curling Club was formed.  The Swiss in that area have been exposed to curling for a number of years, and have visited the Madison Club on various occasions.  Alpine started play at their own facility un the Fall of 1963.

         Alpine Curlers  

    In Beloit a core group nine from Fairbanks Morse who had curled elsewhere formed the Beloit Curling Club.  By the end of the 1961 season, their ranks had grown to 32. 

         Fairbanks Morse newsletter, Summer 1961

         Beloit Curlers

    In Janesville, the new Blackhawk Curling Club was formed with their first action slated for December 3, 1963.  The Blackhawk Curling Club played at the Wagon Wheel through the 1967-1968 season.  In January 1969 they started play on their own ice facility at the Back of the Yards in Janesville. 

         Wisconsin State Journal, November 24, 1963

         Janesville Daily Gazette, December 3, 1964 

         Janesville Daily Gazette, January 5, 1966

         Janesville, Daily Gazette, January 27, 1966

         Janesville Daily Gazette, March 26, 1966

    The women from Janesville were not a part of the men’s club.  They formed their own league and played Tuesday mornings. 

         Janesville Daily Gazette, April 3, 1965

         Janesville Daily Gazette, Summer 1965

         Curling at the Wagon Wheel

         Curling at the Wagon Wheel

         Curling at the Wagon Wheel

    There isn’t a reference as to how long curling was played at the Wagon Wheel.  In 1989, after some years of neglect and declining popularity, the resort was closed.  There were three suspicious fires in 1993, 1995 and 1999 that leveled most of the structures.  There is very little there today.

    Tom Vetter

    Information from the Rockton Township Historical Society

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