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Trail Tales, Part Two

LongPrairie2

Photograph courtesy of David Johnsen at http://davidjohnsen.com/cycling/git/day2.html

This is the final installment of a two-part post on the history of Boone County’s Long Prairie Trail. See the first part here.

As you bike into Poplar Grove, a town platted in 1859, you will see one of the oldest buildings in the county still standing alongside the trail. Now a supermarket, this large columned building was once the Poplar Grove Hotel. Built in 1856, the hotel served the steady flow of railroad passengers and employees that came through every day, providing a place to rest and eat. At one time, it had 14 sleeping rooms, a billiard hall, a barroom, and a dining hall. It was also a popular place with locals for dances.

From Poplar Grove, the trail continues to snake through Poplar Grove township, which was created in 1922 from portions of western Boone township and eastern Caledonia township, and enters the village of Caledonia. Caledonia and its sister village, Argyle, were founded by Scottish settlers in the 1840s; familiar family names in this area included Ralston, Andrews, McEachran, Greenlee, and Ferguson. Railroad history abounds here as well, since Caledonia was a major railroad hub, with trains passing through on both the KD line and the Chicago-Northwestern line. As you bike through Caledonia, you will see two large silver grain elevators to the right of the trail. These stand on the former location of the popular Chamberlain Hotel. Well-known for its delicious food and hospitality, the hotel was owned and operated by Kate Chamberlain, who bought it in 1879. She and her two daughters, Maggie and Katie, served food and provided a place to stay for travelers, railroad crew members, and local residents. Maggie and Katie continued to operate the hotel after their mother’s death in 1929, until their deaths in the 1960s. It was demolished in the mid-1970s; only photographs and memories of the Chamberlain exist today (though you can visit a replica at Midway Village Museum in Rockford.)

From Caledonia, the Long Prairie Trail continues west into Winnebago County. Though your time biking through Boone County is over, you have traveled quite a distance through this lovely county’s history, as well as its landscape. It’s possible that the fields and trails may never look the same for you again.

For more information on the Long Prairie Trail, you can contact the Boone County Conservation District.

~ Jill Fuller, Ida Public Library, Belvidere

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