The Schoen Family of Highland, Illinois photo by Dave Tobin

By Trish Muyco-Tobin

It should come as no surprise that the city of Highland, Illinois, one of the oldest Swiss settlements in America, was once home to a dairy company known for its innovation of making milk more available for the masses.

Just 35 miles east of St. Louis, the area now known as Highland was settled by a group of Swiss-German pioneers in 1831. In the years following, Helvetia and New Switzerland were among the names suggested for the new town, which was officially laid out in 1837. In the end, a more American-sounding name, Highland, was chosen.

One of Highland’s earliest civic and business leaders, Louis Latzer, was born on a farm just south of town in 1848. According to the Highland Historical Society, Latzer was always curious about chemistry and bacteriology, and why milk spoiled. He had studied at nearby McKendree University and Illinois Industrial University (now the University of Illinois), but had to cut short his college education to run the family farm after his father passed away.

Gazelle‘s Trish Muyco-Tobin with Luke Schoen on his family’s farm photo by Dave Tobin

In the mid-1880s, Latzer, along with a group of farmers and businessmen, founded the Helvetia Milk Condensing Company (later renamed Pet Milk when its headquarters moved to St. Louis). It was under Latzer’s leadership as Helvetia’s third president that it would perfect the process of condensing milk (Helvetia was already known for its canned evaporated milk), propelling the company to worldwide success and sealing Latzer’s status as the “Father of Pet Milk.”

More than 180 years later, Highland has forged ahead as a progressive small town of approximately 10,000 residents, without losing sight of its history and heritage. In fact, a number of Highland landmarks, annual events and small businesses proudly honor the town’s Swiss-German roots, including Red Barn Farm Meats, located on a 140-acre farm with—you guessed it—a red barn built in 1898 by John Schoen’s great-grandfather, and is now on its fifth generation.

In the fall, Highland’s artistic side kicks into high gear, with annual festivals unique to the town: Street Art Fest (Sept. 15) is a centuries-old tradition that literally transforms the streets into a canvas. Art in the Park (Oct. 13 and 14) is a juried event that showcases world-class, original art.

Highland Street Art Fest

11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, 2018

Downtown Square in Highland, Illinois

Street Art Fest photo courtesy Highland Chamber of Commerce

8 a.m.  Artist check-in
Noon   Bags Tournament
3 p.m.  Entertainment begins
4 p.m.  Judging
7 p.m.  Awards

photo courtesy Highland Chamber of Commerce

Throughout the day, visit the Makers Market,  where local artists display and sell their work: pottery, jewelry, photography, paintings and more!
Also, sign up to participate in the Bags Tournament; check out theKreative Kids Korner, where young artists have the opportunity to create their own works of art and enjoy some imaginative fun and games; and sign your talented artist up for the Children’s Avenue!

Adults 21 and older can take part in the Beer Tasting Festival,​hosted by the Highland Jaycees. Plus, food and beverages will be available for sale.

For more information, visit


Highland Art in the Park

Oct. 12 to 14, 2018​

Lindendale Park in Highland, Illinois

Art in the Park photo courtesy Highland Arts Council

Friday, October 12

6 to 9 p.m.       Preview Party for Artists, Sponsors and V.I.P. Guests

Saturday, October

10 a.m. to  5 p.m.  Exhibits open

10 a.m. to  5 p.m.  Art Gallery – Just for Kids

11 a.m. to 4 p.m.   Kids Kreation Area open

Sunday, October 14

11 a.m. to  4 p.m.   Exhibits open

11 a.m. to 3 p.m.    Art Gallery – Just for Kids

11 a.m.  to 3 p.m.   Kids Kreation Area open

For more information, visit



Lunch is served at the Blue Springs Café photo by Dave Tobin

Blue Springs Café

Right around this time of year is the busiest for Blue Springs Café and its famous “foot-high” pies. The piemakers can crank out up to 50 to 60 pies a day (all from-scratch and by hand) every morning—and what a variety, with coconut cream, lemon meringue, chocolate chip pecan, banana cream, apple, just to name a few. But that’s not all: Blue Springs’ lunch and dinner menu offerings are just what the doctor ordered if you’re homesick about home-cooking. Fried Chicken, Meat Loaf, Lasagna—you name it; plus dinner is family-style, so the more, the merrier! The staff, led by co-owners Cami Rakers and Brian Lammers, is super-friendly, and they just want to make sure everybody leaves happy. Cash or check only; 3505 George Street, (618) 654-5788

Trish Muyco-Tobin on the Schoen farm photo by Kiersten Schoen

Red Barn Farm Meats

When you pull up to the red barn at the end of Thole-Plocher Road, chances are, you’ll be welcomed by one of John and Kiersten Schoen’s children or their adorable pug, Chata. The Schoens put the “family” in family-friendly—they live right on the farm with their pigs, cows, chickens, goats and donkeys; and conduct business in a welcoming shed that’s stocked with bacon, bratwurst, chicken, chops, steaks, burger patties and all that you need for a good time on the grill. And when we say that the entire family is involved, we mean it: John grinds the feed, keeps the records and does maintenance; Kiersten runs the store and oversees daily feeding; and the little Schoens help with watering, gathering eggs, taking care of the animals, and are also de facto brand ambassadors. We can vouch for the breakfast sausage links (the best we’ve every eaten!), the bacon and pork burgers…and we’re still making our way through the rest of the farm-fresh offerings.

Nudge Coffee Roasters

Nudge’s enviable location right on the town square is only a small portion of its charm. Even bigger—and we mean it quite literally—is one-half of the ownership team: Joe Ephrem is a former football player, who, along with his fiancée, Maureen, are committed to serving organic, fair trade and micro-roasted coffee to the community. Other than his obvious devotion to all things coffee, Ephrem is a gregarious sort, as evidenced by the “chalk board Facebook” that lines the wall and the display of local art (available for purchase) throughout the shop. Another plus is Nudge’s in-store playlist, a mixture of grunge rock with some Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure.

With Nudge Coffee Roasters’ Joe Ephrem photo by Dave Tobin

Sammie’s Soft Serve

Sammie’s is just one of those go-to places for a mid-day pick-me-up, an after-dinner treat, or for a lazy Sunday afternoon. The ice cream is rich and velvety, and the plethora of choices—from sundaes to shakes and concretes—is almost enough to give you a brain freeze. You can’t go wrong with just an honest-to-goodness soft-serve cone, or get fancy with Sammie’s award-winning Old Fashioned Banana Split. And if you happen to stop by when James is doling out trivia questions, you might get your cone for free! 304 Poplar Street, (618) 882-4918