Red Chair Travels IV – The Rest of our Story

Red and the Underground Railroad

Did you know that in the mid-1800’s Jacksonville served as a haven for those wishing to escape the horror of slavery? When our 14-year-old Assistant Innkeeper was much younger, she read a children’s book introducing the Underground Railroad (UGRR). Those of you who’ve gotten to know her won’t be surprised to hear that when a guest asked about our local Underground Railroad sites, Valerie quickly replied, “Just so you know, it was neither underground, nor was it a railroad!” Truth in advertising, I guess. We adults had a good laugh. I never figured out if she’d read that line somewhere, or if it was just something her very logical mind put together. She didn’t want them to be disappointed!

Red chair on wood blocks next to vintage style Woodlawn Farm Est 1824 sign

We have nine Underground Railroad sites in the Jacksonville area, more than most other towns in Illinois. According to the Jacksonville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau site, Benjamin Henderson, a former slave, came to Jacksonville in 1841 and immediately began working with the Underground Railroad. Edward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother and the first president of Illinois College, was a strong, well-educated Abolitionist. “These men and countless others kept the spirited torch of freedom burning bright.”                                   Red chair in front of front porch at historic Woodlawn Farm, a two story brick structure with a wreath on the white front door

Red visited the historic Woodlawn Farm, an early agricultural center and the “showcase homestead” on Jacksonville’s Underground Railroad tour. Woodlawn is open for seasonal tours and by appointment. Additional local homes with significance in the Underground Railroad include The Benjamin Grierson Mansion, The Asa Talcott Home, The Gillett House, The Clay House, the Congregational Church and Illinois College. Join one of the organized Underground Railroad Bus Tours or spend part of your day following the path between these UGRR sites. We can give you a great brochure to guide your way.

Jacksonville is also well known for something else… something manufactured by a local company.

Red chair positioned on the right of a red white and blue Ferris Wheel bench transformed into a park bench

Can you identify the item next to Red in this picture? It’s also a seat of sorts. It’s manufactured in Jacksonville, by the Eli Bridge Company. Here’s another clue: you can find several more of these in our Community Park. Have you figured it out, yet?

Red chair in front of the the brick Jacksonville sign, three flags flying in front of the Big Eli Ferris wheel in Community Park

Now, do you know what it is? It’s an amusement ride seat! The first photo shows one of the seats converted into one of the benches you may find downtown in Central Park. Community Park, at the corner of Main and Morton, offers a full Big Eli wheel, similar to a Ferris wheel, operated by the Rotary Club on sunny summer afternoons. Red didn’t get a chance to take a ride, but we did make a visit. The family-owned Eli Bridge Company has a wonderful history and is still in operation in Jacksonville, today. In addition to the big wheels, they also make the Scrambler and other amusement rides. I’m not a big spinner, but I do enjoy a ride on a good wheel… as long as it’s not stopping and starting every minute and a half!

Red casts a long shadow.

Long shadow of the Red Chair in front of the Illinois College sidewalk medallion

This final photo was taken at Illinois College. Thanks to Tiffany / Warmowski Photography Red visited a variety of sites throughout the Jacksonville area, some old and some new. Check in next week to learn more about our Red Chair photographer, Tiffany Warmowski.


For a compilation of Red Chair Travels blogs, visit For a complete view of Red Chair photos, visit and get ready to be inspired. To learn more about Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast visit or call 217.245.1013.

Photos: Tiffany/Warmowski Photography

About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville area lodging.

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