The Travel Channel's Jordan Hembrough brought the crew from his new cable series, "Toy Hunter," to Pope County earlier this month, but for what, folks will just have to wait and see later this fall.
"It's was on Straight Street," in Eddyville, said Carrie DeVore, owner of Willowbrook Cabins south of the village where the crew stayed the night before.
"They were filming in Eddyville for obviously a rare toy," she said. "I've even asked around, but nobody seem to know. People were even asking us at the Shrimp Festival.”
As to when viewers might find out, she didn't know.
"Three weeks ago they didn't have a date set, but (they said) it would probably be in October or November," DeVore said.
The show’s associate producer, Natalya Kelly, booked Willowbrook — site unseen — on the recommendations of the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau.
Located in the heart of a sprawling national forest, the cabins have been a popular draw for hikers, hunters and families simply looking to explore the local beauty. Nearby wine tours have also been a big draw in recent years. But it’s the first time Carrie and her husband Doug DeVore have hosted a film crew.
"At first we were nervous, very nervous," said Doug. "After all, it is the Travel Channel. But once we got over the initial butterflies, we got back to what we do best and focused on our guests."
DeVore says that he and his wife both worked hard to make the visit as memorable for their guests as it was for them.
“We’re big believers in providing some little touch that makes the guests’ stay special.” For the Toy Hunter crew, it was chocolate toys delivered fresh from another Shawnee area treasure, The Chocolate Factory down the road at Dixon Springs, Illinois.
"The whole crew loved it!" Kelly told the DeVores. "The chocolates were also such a cute touch!" Hembrough also seemed to enjoy the digs, tweeting two pictures of himself posing with Zeus, the ornamental buck that keeps watch over all of the cabins' guests.
The DeVores bought Willowbrook Cabins in October 2012. The business had opened in 2005 and had two cabins. They've turned the former owner's home into a third rental and have since built a fourth cabin on the property.
"I'm a geologist and my husband is a computer IT guy," Carrie DeVore said. "We're from central Illinois originally, but we moved down here 16 years ago."
"We came down here for college. I came down here on an assistantship for grad school. We love the outdoors and the hikes," she added.
They've also added a second tourist business with a log cabin rental on property they own south of Anna called Big Creek Cabins.
Page 2 of 2 - "We just kind of stumbled into it," she said, but running their own business has become a family affair. "(We use it to) teach the kids a work ethic, (and) we get to tie in the love of Southern Illinois and the things to do down here."
The "Toy Hunter" show debuted on the Travel Chennel in January focusing on host Hembrough's journeys scouring the country for one-of-a-kind toy finds that make kids smile and collectors shell out the big bucks. A recent find of a rocket-firing Boba Fett action figures from the Star Wars movies sold at Comic Con for $17,000.
Now in his second season producers want to make sure the show's stakes are even higher.
"The haggles are tougher and the payoffs are much greater than before, because he's hunting for more than just himself — this time, people's livelihoods are on the line if he doesn't deliver!" hypes the channel's website.
The show aires on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m.
The DeVore's businesses are online at www.willowbrookcabins.com and www.bigcreekcabins.com. For more on Hembrough's show click on TV shows at www.travelchannel.com.