On September 1, 1913, Chester Wells boarded a train in Freeport and headed to Madison for an appointment with his doctor. It was the last time anyone in Freeport saw him alive. That evening Chester Wells died on the operating table at a Madison hospital.
Chester Wells was a University of Wisconsin graduate who had been editor of the Daily Cardinal, the Badger Yearbook, and Wisconsin magazine in succeeding years, an incredible journalistic tour-de-force that I’m not sure was ever equalled. Before he graduated he was elected the second national president of Sigma Delta Chi (SDX), the recently formed journalism fraternity now known as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).
His untimely death resulted in the Wells Memorial Key, that has been bestowed for the past 100 years by SDX and SPJ. It is the highest award that SPJ can bestow on a member. Because of Wells’ connection to the UW I did quite a bit of research on his life and career, which I presented at a centennial observance a year ago last May, commemorating the second national convention of SDX held in Madison in May, 1913.
I also intended to commemorate the last ride of Chester Wells on the centennial of his death by biking the Badger Trail in Wisconsin and the Jane Addams trail in Illinois, which follows the path of the Illinois Central Railroad from Freeport to Madison. But due to an untimely accident I was unable to make the 66-mile ride when September 1st rolled around last year.
Finally, on August 2, 2014, I made the ride with my friend Cameron Mooney.
It took us about an hour to get to Belleville, our first rest stop. Last winter, when I bought my Wisconsin Bike Trail pass, I got my Badger State Trail water bottle which I intended to use for the first time on this ride. The reason it looks dusty is that I mistakenly put ice cubes in my water, which increases condensation, which attracts more dust. Remind me not to do that again.
Just past Belleville we arrived at the entrance to the Stewart Tunnel, the longest and darkest bike trail tunnel in Wisconsin.
We brought our own lights, and made it through the tunnel safely.
Yogi Berra said that when you come to a fork in the road you should take it. Fortunately, where the Sugar River trail and the Badger trail meet there are clear directions on how to proceed.
All along the trail we enjoyed one of the sweetest smells of summer, ripening fields of corn.
The newly constructed rest stop in Monroe was a welcome stop. Fortunately we didn’t need the services of the Bike Haus next door, but what a great location!
We visited the scenic Green County courthouse on the square in Monroe, where the Saturday farmers market was in session. Very nice, but not quite like the farmers market in Madison.
We stopped for lunch at the Garden Deli Delicatessen on the square. We didn’t have any Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream but our neighbors enjoyed a couple of delicious dishes.
Soon we were back on the road, enjoying more of the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. This is Stateline Road.
That’s right, we had arrived at the end of the Badger Trail, and the beginning of the Jane Addams Trail. We were in Illinois!
There was a variety of scenery to break up the trip, not just verdant farm fields.
As we neared Freeport we came across an authentic Illinois Central Railroad relic, with inside plumbing and electricity. Nice.
We entered Freeport across the Van Buren Avenue Bridge, built in 1885. Located just a few blocks from the home of Chester Wells, it was crossed many times by Chester Wells during his life.
The railroad depot where Chester Wells said goodbye to Freeport, on September 1, 1913.
We stopped at Lincoln Douglas Square, where one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in Freeport is commemorated. Not shown, the ice cream we enjoyed from the Union Dairy Farm Store next door.
Our final stop, paying my respects to Chester C. Wells at the family plot in Oakland Cemetery.