Woodstock, Ill.: ‘Groundhog Day’ film site

Imagine the chords of Mozart, not the chortling of Janis Joplin. A place made for passing time, not a joint. There is a tidy town park, not a muddy farm field, and an air of order, not rebellion.

This isn’t your mother’s Woodstock, the one with its 35th anniversary today, the one where the crowd mushroomed in more ways than one to make music history in rural New York.

This is Woodstock, Ill., a quick whistle stop on the Metra train line that runs from Harvard to downtown Chicago. It makes its mark, too, but in more subtle ways.

The Town Square and its connecting streets are on the National Register of Historic Places. Businesses have gentle names, like The Thoughtfulness Shop, Harvest Moon Café, The Velvet Nest and A Timeless Impression. Wares are homey, upscale, often artsy and one-of-a-kind.

The Opera House, here since 1889 and owned by the city, is the anchor for plays, lectures and concerts – like the Mozart series that ends this weekend. At another corner is the former courthouse and jail, now a potter’s studio, restaurant, place to have tea – and place to learn about Dick Tracy.

The cartoon detective’s creator, Chester Gould, was a longtime Woodstock resident. There is a museum about him and originals of his artwork.

“We’ve been able to maintain the quaintness, and a certain uniqueness and charm downtown,” says Derik Morefield, assistant city manager and longtime resident. He was about 7 months old when the other Woodstock was held; one month later his family moved to this city – now 21,600 in population and growing about 4 percent per year.

“I like the geographic location, and the feeling that I have about the community,” Derik says. “It hasn’t been hard to stay here.”

The old A&P grocery, he notes, has become the Challenger Learning Center for Science and Technology, a place for fifth graders – some from Wisconsin – to learn science and math during simulated space missions.

Can adults just wander in? Not yet, says Derik, but that will change in about three months, when a space science museum and interactive exhibits open.

The Moose Lodge, Derik offers, was one of numerous businesses to get a Hollywood facelift in 1992 – the same year his wedding reception was held there.

That’s thanks to the filming of “Groundhog Day,” which starred Bill Murray and took advantage of Woodstock’s scenic character. In the works is a walking tour brochure that will include the 15 to 20 city sites included in the comedy.

“We didn’t have the Groundhog Day Festival before that movie, but I don’t know if it had a decisive impact on the downtown’s success,” Derik says, mentioning that historic building renovations occurred before, not because of, the film.

He also notes that numerous commercials and a bit of the 1987 “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” John Candy comedy also have been filmed in Woodstock.

The city presents its Artwalk from 6-8:30 p.m. Aug. 28. The Harvest Festival and Fiddlers’ Contest is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 19. Dick Tracy Days are in June; a big folk festival is in July. A farmers market, with organic products, is until 1 p.m. on Saturdays, through October.

Woodstock is about 100 miles southeast of Madison, 75 miles southwest of Milwaukee, and a 90-minute (or less) train ride to downtown Chicago. It is a free place to park the car when you don’t feel like putting up with big-city traffic snarls, stress and detours.

Just be sure to stand on the right side of the tracks, so you can climb on board.

If you miss the ride, look just beyond the depot and walk a block up the hill on Main Street, past the old-time movie theater marquee and the plush Town Square Inn.

Get a single scoop cone from Cobblestone’s and park it in the park for a while, until the next train rolls in.

Want to arrive a night early? I found that room rates were negotiable; one innkeeper went from $110 to $85 per night on the phone, “and you can take another $5 off if you don’t eat breakfast here.”

I settled for an online rate of $59 at the Holiday Inn Express, which included an extensive continental breakfast – fresh and hot cinnamon rolls, as well as hard boiled eggs, in addition to the more predictable items.

The next time, I may choose differently, particularly if I’m making a weekend of it. As it was, I got into town after 10:30 p.m. and found few late-night dining choices.

Determined to avoid the chains, I took a chance on Napoli’s Pizza – away from the Town Square – and lucked out. The place has been around for more than 20 years and serves a nice pie. Not on the menu was the extra-small, with two toppings, for $4.

If I come back with friends, I’ll recommend the mostaccioli or spaghetti, served with meatballs and garlic bread, sold by the bucket. Feeds four, or more.

For a Metra train schedule, go to www.metrarail.com or call (312) 322-6777. For more about Woodstock, go to www.woodstockilchamber.com or call (815) 338-2436.