VRAIL Stage 22

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.

VRAIL Stage 21

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.

Image from IronBrigader.com of the store where Lincoln worked.

VRAIL Stage 18

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.

VRAIL Stage 13

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.

Freighthouse 704, which appears to have closed last fall.
Now that’s a post office!

VRAIL stage 12

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.

From a flat plateau, down the hill, to a flaaaaaat floodplain.

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.

Wheeeeee…