About this Itinerary
In northern Illinois, the scenic and rural Jane Addams Trail runs nearly 15 miles between Freeport and the Illinois/Wisconsin border. This multi-use rail-trail, following the rail bed of the former Illinois Central, is named for the renowned humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner who grew up in Cedarville, less than 2 miles from the Jane Addams Trail (JAT). The crushed-limestone path, popular with hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, features 22 bridges and a diverse habitat of wetlands, creeks, farm fields, prairies and forests that support a wide variety of animal and bird life.
Riding the JAT is a perfect day-long adventure. We suggest traveling the Jane Addams Trail with plenty of time on your hands to stop and read the lettered posts that dot the route and provide information on the stories, history and ecology relevant to the trail and its surrounds. The JAT is a well-maintained, primarily tree-lined pathway which does pass by swamplands, so be prepared for the possibility of mosquitoes during the summer time. Also, if on the trail in the fall or winter, be sure to wear blaze orange apparel as the area is heavily used by hunters during the deer hunting season.
While planning your trip, check-out the excellent Jane Addams Trail’s website, hosted by the Freeport/Stephenson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, for trail news and special events as well as interesting tidbits about Jane Addams and her life. Stop in at Freeport Bicycle Company, located in downtown Freeport, for cycling paraphernalia or bike repair services. Freeport also offers lodging that is convenient to the JAT: Hampton Inn is a few blocks from Tutty’s Crossing trailhead (the southern trail terminus) and Baymont Inn & Suites is closer to the Wes Block trailhead, just north of town. Pack enough water and food to get you fourteen miles to Orangeville where you can restock your supplies. Before hitting the trail, fuel up with coffee and morning treats at 9 East Coffee House, just minutes down the street from Tutty’s Crossing on E. Stephenson Street.
The Jane Addams Trail begins at Tutty’s Crossing on the banks of the Pecantonica River in downtown Freeport (250 E. Stephenson Street). There is a large parking area here as well as restrooms, a shelter and boat access. Some credit the Pecantonica River with the existence of Freeport as it stands today. By the mid-1830s, scores of settlers and farmers were arriving to the region to take advantage of the rich soils, navigable waterway and thick woodlands of the fertile river valley. Freeport quickly became an important transportation hub on the stagecoach and rail lines. In fact, the town’s founder, William “Tutty” Baker, was a ferry operator who is believed to have offered free transport across the river, as well as a meal and lodging in his home, to many a traveler. It is said that his wife‘s questioning whether his river port was a "Free Port” inspired the naming of the town. The site of Tutty’s original cabin is a short walk upriver from the trailhead.
The first 4 miles of the JAT lie between the Tutty’s Crossing and Wes Block trailheads; they are asphalted and consist of both trail and two on-road bike lane segments. Begin by riding northwest through the Old River School Historic District, a residential neighborhood containing many old and architecturally significant structures from the early days of Freeport’s founding. As you are riding through this district, look for Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square (114 E. Douglas Street), a memorial to the famous debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas and the proclamation of the 1858 Freeport Doctrine, a statement arguing that slavery could be excluded from territories by local legislation. Another highlight of this stretch is crossing the river on the old, 1885 wrought-iron Van Buren Street Bridge.
Following Van Buren Road, the JAT meanders through wetlands and farm fields, eventually crossing Illinois State Route 26 (mile 1.9) and paralleling Illinois Highway 20 to the Wes Block trailhead (mile 4.1). From here, the trail surface changes to crushed stone, crosses under the highway and shoots northerly toward Scioto Mills. While you will still encounter an occasional road crossing, you are now smack dab in the middle of the Illinois countryside. Enjoy the serenity, beauty and opportunity to spot wildlife. You might see deer, raccoons, muskrats, raptors and waterfowl; also look for gopher holes that can suddenly appear on the path before you. The flora along the trail changes with the seasons and creates a diverse landscape of more than two hundred identified species of trees, woody shrubs and herbaceous plants. Most certainly the JAT is never too far from agricultural land and it is easy to imagine that this region’s earliest industries involved the manufacturing of hay presses and plows and the invention of the Manny reaper.
North of Wes Block trailhead, the JAT begins to parallel Richland Creek as it flows into the Pecatonica River. Scioto Mills(mile 6) is a small unincorporated community originally built up around a saw and grist mill powered by Richland Creek (as is the case of most of the communities along the JAT).When the Illinois Central Railroad came to town in 1887— a stop on the Madison line which ran north from Freeport to Madison, Wisconsin—Sciotto Mills was the largest community in its township. The economy here boomed with stock, lumber and coal yards though little evidence of this bustling time remains today. A trail bridge, road crossing and a couple homes alongside the pathway will let you know that you are passing through the neighborhood.
In just over a mile from Sciotto Mills, the JAT crosses Cedar Creek and N. Cedarville Road. From here you can opt to take a detour off-trail and ride 1.5 miles east to Cedarville, birthplace of the famous social work pioneer and first female Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jane Addams (1860-1935). The Cedarville Historical Museum, open weekend afternoons May – October, displays local history collections documenting Ms. Addams’ life. The Jane Addams Festival is hosted here each September as well, generally including a 5K run/walk on the JAT.
Back on the Jane Addams Trail, you continue through the rural landscape, passing by Red Oak (mile 8.5), established as a junction station for the Illinois Central Railroad as it transported both passengers and freight northward to Orangeville,and now a sleepy residential community. The bridge cut in BuenaVista (mile 11) exposes some of the interesting rock layers and geologic features surrounding the trail. Here you can see sedimentary layers of Galena dolomite. After you cross Bush Creek Road (past Buena Vista) and before coming to IL Route 26, you may notice four access points to the Butterfly Farm. This farm is actually 82 acres of tall grass prairie, woodlands and wetlands owned by the Jane Addams Parkland Foundation. You are free to explore the farm but please respect the private residence on the property.
The JAT enters Orangeville via three bridges, including a covered bridge, and runs adjacent to a small strip of wetlands; keep an eye out for Canada geese, herons, Sandhill cranes, egrets and other birds that make their home here. The Richland Creek Trailhead (mile 14.5) is the main trailhead for the northern end of the JAT and has parking, a shelter house, picnic tables, a restroom, water and a primitive campground area. If you arrive to the trailhead on a Saturday morning July – October, you can enjoy fresh produce, baked goods and locally-made crafts at Orangeville’s Farmers Market.
From the trailhead, take Orangeville Road/High Street west to a convenience store or east toward Orangeville’s town center. Heading east you will pass by Richland Creek Foods, a meat and deli shop, a bar or two and Podunk, a breakfast and lunch diner open daily for breakfast and lunch and Thursday-Saturday for dinners (including their special Friday Fish Fry). Orangeville has maintained many of its historical properties, some dating back to the late 19th century and the era of the Illinois Central Railroad’s arrival to town. On High Street, there are four buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places; look for the Union House, Masonic Lodge, Central House and People’s State Bank. The first floor of the Masonic Lodge serves today as the venue for the Mighty Richland Players Dessert Theatre and its line-up of various theatrical shows throughout the year.
After a chance to rest, wander and eat, many JAT users turn around at this point and head back to Freeport, though the trail officially continues another three miles to the state border. Once back in Freeport(aka “Pretzel City,” in honor of its Germanic heritage), look for Union Dairy next to the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Site. This historic ice cream parlor can link its beginnings to 1914 when Stephenson County held the largest number of creameries in the state.They have been perfecting their ice cream for many a year and you will definitely want to stop in for a treat (they also offer burgers and sandwiches). Not far from the Union Dairy are several other dining options, including Main Street Bistro, with a locally-based, farm-to-plate menu, and This is It Eatery, featuring pretzel burgers and—believe it or not—deep-fried Oreos. Though located south of town, railroad enthusiasts may want to know about Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad, a non-profit educational organization which has a museum and offers railroad excursions including.
Want more riding? You can easily connect to the 40-mile Badger State Trail at the Illinois/Wisconsin state border to continue toward Madison. (Note that cyclists age 16 or older need a Wisconsin state trail pass to use the trail.) The trail offers a wide variety of scenery, including farmland, forest and rolling hills. It also connects to several others. In Monroe, the Cheese Country Recreation Trail passes close to the Badger State Trail, while in Monticello, the Sugar River State Trail intersects it on another former rail corridor. Farther north, the Badger State Trail connects to the Capital City State Trail, Cannonball Path and Military Ridge State Trail south of Madison. At the northern trailhead, the trail continues into Madison as the Southwest Commuter Path.