Because I’m a bit behind, because my runs in the summer were short because of injury, and because there’s not much along the way, I’m combining three stages into one here. Leaving Middletown and approaching Lincoln:
I do like that just off the map in the northwest corner, Sugar Creek flows into Salt Creek. Note that there are multiple Sugar Creeks and Salt Creeks in Illinois, but I don’t know if there are any other salty-sweet confluences like this one. The only other thing to mention about this stage is that a few miles to the south of this map is a tiny town with the lovely name of Fancy Prairie. Other than that, this is the view!
This stage puts me at the halfway point! Halfway across Illinois!
This 10K stage was along the Greenview Middletown Black Top road, leaving the town of Greenview before heading to, you guessed it, Middletown. I’m not sure what Middletown is in the middle of, but it was a stagecoach stop between Springfield and Peoria, so maybe that’s it. The obligatory “Abraham Lincoln was here” for this central Illinois location is that he surveyed the town back in the 1830s.
Middletown has a nice little post office, pictured below with the bonus of the Google Car reflected in the front window.
Middletown is also known for being a stop on the first coast-to-coast flight in the U.S. in 1911. The whole story is incredible, so I’m just going to quote it from Wikipedia:
The publisher William Randolph Hearst had offered a US$50,000 prize to the first aviator to fly coast to coast, in either direction, in less than 30 days from start to finish. Calbraith Perry Rodgers, grandnephew of naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry, and an avid yachtsman and motorcycle racer, had taken about 90 minutes of instruction from Orville Wright in June 1911 before soloing, and…became the first private citizen to buy a Wright airplane, a Wright Model B modified and called the Model EX. The plane’s 35 horsepower (26 kilowatt) engine allowed a speed of 50 miles per hour (80 km/hr) at 1000 feet (305 meters).
Since the airplane would need a considerable support crew, Rodgers persuaded J. Ogden Armour, of meatpacking fame, to sponsor the attempt, and in return named the plane after Armour’s new grape soft drink Vin Fiz. The support team rode on a three-car train called the Vin Fiz Special…The flight began at 4:30 pm, September 17, 1911, when Rodgers took off from the Sheepshead Bay Race Track in Brooklyn, New York. Although the plan called for a large number of stops along the way, in the end there were 75, including 16 crashes, and Rodgers was injured several times. Taylor and the team of mechanics rebuilt the Vin Fiz Flyer when necessary, and only a few pieces of the original plane actually made the entire trip.
On November 5, having missed the prize deadline by 19 days, Rodgers landed in Pasadena, California, in front of a crowd of 20,000. On the 12th he took off for Long Beach, California, but crashed at Compton, with a brain concussion and a spinal twist. He was hospitalized for three weeks. Finally, on December 10 he landed on the beach, and taxied the Flyer into the Pacific Ocean, completing the unprecedented journey of over 4,000 statute miles (6,400 km). Actual flying time totalled under 84 hours.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vin_Fiz_Flyer (click for a map of the route, including Middletown)
I don’t know where to start. The 84 hours? The 16 crashes? The 90 minutes of instruction? The train support crew? The fact that the plane that arrived was not the same plane that took off? Sadly, Rodgers died shortly thereafter in a crash along the Pacific coast. But what a distinction for Middletown to be part of this trip!
Whee, I get to run down a (virtual) hill! This stage descends into the Sangamon River valley (the river is where the trees are in the distance) and just across the river. That’s a total of, um, 50 feet downhill. Based on news accounts, there seems to be a day or two every spring when this road is closed for flooding.
I found some references to this area and the last several stages as belonging to the “Pecan Bottoms” area of central Illinois. We usually associate pecans with the southern U.S., but they’re native in Illinois and Indiana in river bottoms. In fact, the botanical name of the pecan is Carya illinoinensis! The growing season is fairly short, so they don’t get very large in this part of North American, which is why commercial pecan production takes place farther south.
This was a short stage; it’s been hot and humid lately, and I’m really missing being able to run indoors at the campus rec center. But this stage heads towards a crossing of the Sangamon River, here heading northward and unchannelized.
Continuing south past this point, you’d end up in Petersburg, the county seat and a little bit farther south, Lincoln’s New Salem. I have very vague memories of going there as a kid with my grandparents, but it’s the kind of place that most Illinois schoolchildren ended up going to at one point or another. New Salem was founded in 1829 as a milltown on the Sangamon, but as a previous post noted, the Sangamon was really hard to navigate with its sand bars and frequent flooding.
Lincoln only lived here for a few years, and by 1840, the village was abandoned after Petersburg was chosen as the county seat. Time passed, and Lincoln became more and more important as a one-time resident of this short-lived town. In 1906, William Randolph Hearst (yes, that William Randolph Hearst) bought the land the former village sat on and gave it to a private association who later transferred it to the state of Illinois. The village was reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, and today it’s a big tourist attraction in central Illinois and a State Historic Site.
I’ve been running but not posting, so I have some catching up to do!
Stage 18 passed through Chandlerville and turned off the main road to take a more direct route east. I neglected to note in the last stage that I was passing north of a settlement called Jules, which is my aunt’s nickname for me, so shoutout to Jules. 🙂
I could not find much to say about Chandlerville, except that it has an annual Burgoo. To my mind, that’s a Kentucky thing, but I’ve seen it argued that this part of Illinois is in the Upland South, so it makes sense. Burgoo is an event as much as a food: a huge pot of stew made with a wide variety of meats and vegetables, intended to feed a crowd. Here’s one recipe from Gun & Garden magazine. No one quite knows where the name came from, though it’s a good guess that it’s the Americanization of an original French term. Anyway, Chandlerville recently decided to cancel this summer’s Burgoo for the same reason pretty much everything is canceled this summer.
Chandlerville does still have a post office, but when the Google StreetView car drove through in 2013, literally the only establishment that was open in the two-block downtown was the post office. Here’s hoping things have gotten better for them since then.
On this stage, my path crossed the Illinois River, putting me into my fourth county and into the largest settlement so far, and the oldest one I’ll encounter on the path: Beardstown.
Beardstown is old for an Illinois city, founded in 1826 by, you guessed it, Mr. Beard. Apparently this was a good place for a ferry crossing, though it’s hard to tell today with all of the modifications to the riverscape that have happened. The Illinois State Museum claims that Beardstown was known as Porkopolis because of its major industry, and it still has a pork processing plant on the outskirts of town. There was also the Beardstown Fish Company, and in the late 1800s, mussel and pearl fishing developed to feed nearby button factories.
Looking at Beardstown on a satellite image, the scar of the former railroad land is really remarkable. The topographic map up above shows multiple lines, but now there’s only the one. But the land is still vacant (probably still owned by the railroad), about a block wide running through town. Most notably, you can see the half-circle shape of a roundhouse still present, just about in the center of this image. If you look at the railroad crossing on 4th Street, there’s clearly the old train station that was recently a restaurant/bar.
This stage might have involved the greatest elevation change of any stage of my virtual run across Illinois: a plunge of 150 feet down into the Illinois River Valley. The Illinois River valley is really wide–because it used to be the valley of the Mississippi River, until glaciers blocked the path near what is today Rock Island. In later geologic time, the glacial lake that extended beyond present-day Lake Michigan burst through its moraines and flooded this area, carving out the channel that exists today.
The floodplain of the Illinois River Valley is super flat, and it does tend to flood quite frequently. (More on this in the next stage.) As you can see from the creek/drainage ditch running north-south in the eastern third of the map, it’s also quite low-lying and swampy. Just northeast of here are some state parks and other protected areas around land that was too wet to drain for agriculture.