Trail Tales


Photograph courtesy of David Johnsen at www.bikingillinois.com/longprairie.html

It’s a lovely summer afternoon in northern Boone County. Red-winged blackbirds balance on waving stems of prairie grasses; pockets of trees stand like islands in the broad green farm fields stretching to the horizon. These are your surroundings from the seat of a bicycle on the Long Prairie Trail, a 14-mile walking and biking trail that connects Capron to Caledonia and wends through Boone County farmland, prairie, and woods. But there is more to the trail than what can be seen by the eye. The history of this region lies along the trail’s smooth asphalt, from early Scandinavian and Scottish settlements to the urgent movement of locomotives crisscrossing the county.

Starting near the Boone-McHenry line and heading west, the trail wends through woodland before reaching Capron, which started as the Scandinavian settlement of Helgesaw. Norwegian settlers first came to this area in 1843; in 1851, another contingent of settlers arrived from the old country. Families that settled here included the Stimes, Stadheim, Johnson, Nelson, and Peterson families. The settlement’s name was first changed to “Long Prairie,” a fitting title for its location in Illinois prairie country, and then again to “Capron” in 1873, after an influential settler and railroad man.

As you leave Capron and head toward Poplar Grove, it’s difficult to imagine that the quiet trail you’re following was once an active railroad line. In 1858, the Kenosha, Rockford, and Rock Island Railroad laid lines here, connecting Boone County with the eastern world. After the company merged with the Chicago-Northwestern Railroad, the lines became known as the Kenosha Division or the “KD” line. This stretch of trail functioned as a busy railway, carrying both passengers and freight, until the early 1940s.

This is the first of a two-part post on the history of the Long Prairie Trail. Stay tuned next Friday for part two. For more information on the Long Prairie Trail, you can contact the Boone County Conservation District.