Outdoor Enthusiasts Follow in Jane Addams' Footsteps near Freeport

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Michaelson

World famous as a recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize (in 1931), Jane Addams is better known for her fight against social oppression and urban blight than for an appreciation of the great outdoors.

Yet, she came to love nature growing up in Cedarville, a tiny community (population 719) about 10 miles north of Freeport, Ill. Addams roamed the countryside around her home, exploring the cliffs and caves, woods and streams of Stephenson County and gaining an appreciation of the importance of nature to mental and physical well-being - particularly that of children.

Today, you can enjoy that same countryside on a recreation trail named for the pioneer social worker. Opened in 2002, the Jane Addams Trail is about 13 miles long and is part of the 500-plus- mile Grand Illinois Trail that traverses northern Illinois to connect Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. It is designed for use by hikers, bicyclists, snowmobilers (when there is a 4-inch bed of snow) and cross-country skiers. The trail has a crushed limestone surface and is highlighted by 21 bridges as it travels through natural wetlands, old oak woods, grassland prairies, exposed rock embankments, several small communities and active farms.

Born in Cedarville in 1860, Addams was the eighth of nine children. Her father, John Addams, a wealthy miller, was a multiple-term state senator, an officer in the Civil War and a friend of Abraham Lincoln (who delighted in addressing him as "Double D-'ed Addams").

In 1889, Jane Addams founded the famous Hull-House in Chicago. It was inspired by a visit to Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in London's slum-filled East End. Hull-House was designed to provide education, child-care services, job placement and civic and cultural outlets for the Italian, Irish, Bohemian and German immigrants, Russian and Polish Jews and other underprivileged newcomers to America who crowded into the tenements of Chicago's Near West Side.

Addams also was a fervent feminist, a prolific author and an active internationalist dedicated to forwarding the cause of world peace. In 1910, she became the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale University.

With her strong belief in the importance of nature, Addams worked with the city of Chicago to develop what would become one of the country's finest park systems and opened Chicago's first public playground and first public gymnasium and swimming pool. She also created a "Fresh-Air School"- a Hull-House summer club near Waukegan - where she would take children and their families for relief from the degrading squalor of city tenements.

Cedarville, site of Jane Addams' childhood home and grave, is a little more than one mile from the recreational trail and offers several Addams-related attractions, including at the Cedarville Historical Society Museum. It is housed in an old stone jail and features a permanent exhibit honoring the Nobel laureate.

Among personal items and memorabilia displayed are her baby cradle and crib, her father's desk, an embroidered handkerchief case made by Jane for her father and examples of baby clothing knitted by Addams and given as gifts at Hull-House. There are pebbles gathered by Jane and her brother from nearby Cedar Creek, her Bible, medicine kit and samples of her writing from girlhood to adulthood. A series of photographs shows Addams at various stages of her life and an oil painting depicts the famed social worker surrounded by the children of Hull-House. …