Standing as tall as a 20-story building, the Cross at the Crossroads in Effingham is difficult to miss for those traveling on adjacent Interstates 57 and 70.
Still, I sometimes overlook the Cross at the beginning of a journey south from my Mattoon home while my thoughts are on what lies ahead and the sun is shining down. At the end of the journey, the Cross always catches my attention. When I am tired and ready to get back to the comforts of home, the sight of this 198-foot-tall landmark strikingly lit at night lets me know that I do not have much farther to go.
My family and I have driven by the Cross countless times, but we had never visited it up close until recently. Our 7-year-old daughter had often asked about stopping there on our way through Effingham, but we always seemed to be in too much of a hurry to take this side trip.
With this summer winding down, my family and I decided to rectify this situation. We set aside time for a short Sunday afternoon drive specifically to visit the Cross and to get to know Effingham a bit better, including trying out the Homewood Grill for the first time. The Cross is located on the south side of Effingham, not far from exit 159 on the interstates.
We started our visit to the Cross at this site’s Welcome Center, where an 8-minute documentary on the 2001 construction of the Cross is shown in a small screening room. I was interested to see how this structure’s 180 tons of steel were assembled like giant puzzle pieces. The Cross was first lighted Sept. 16, 2001.
The Welcome Center also houses a chapel with a large, segmented panel of windows that looks out toward the Cross.
The nonprofit, ecumenical Cross Foundation in Effingham constructed this site as a way to mission to those who pass by on the interstates and to area residents. Gospel music concerts and other special events are periodically held there.
From the Welcome Center, we walked down a long concrete sidewalk lined by bricks inscribed with memorials. This path took us to the Cross, which is encircled by stone markers inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
Our daughter and our nearly 2-year-old son happily jogged around the circular concrete base of the Cross while my wife and I marveled at the scale of this structure, which has an arm span of 113 feet.
Noticing that we were the only visitors there at the time, we all stretched out on the concrete base and looked straight up the side of the Cross toward the blue sky above. Watching white clouds drift over the pinnacle was a little disorienting, but also breathtaking. We have found this to be a great vantage point over the years at tall monuments in wide open spaces, including the Sun Singer statue at Allerton Park in Monticello.
After saying farewell to the Cross, we drove just south of downtown Effingham for an early supper at the Homewood Grill. This seasonal roadside grill, which will be open through Oct. 14 this year, has been an Effingham tradition since circa 1952 time along Illinois Route 33/South Willow Street. We ordered our food at the grill’s window and sat down alongside many other customers at the picnic tables out front.
Our meal at the Homewood Grill included a cheeseburger, mini corndogs, chicken tenders, crispy french fries, a strawberry smoothie, a frozen chocolate custard cone, and a Boston milkshake. The Boston is a shake topped by a sundae. I opted for a marshmallow shake with a hot fudge sundae on top, which was a tasty combination.
We burned off some of our calories and our children’s energy after supper by letting them play at Bliss Park, a block-sized neighborhood park along South Fifth Street that is lined by some beautiful older homes. Taking the time to finally see the Cross at the Crossroads up close, as well as to try the Homewood Grill, provided a fun and relaxing little road trip for wrapping up my family’s summer.
This column and previous entries in the series can be found online at www.facebook.com/RobStroud.DayTripper.
Rob Stroud is a staff writer for the JG-TC. Contact him at email@example.com or 238-6861.