Hedges Station, the oldest building in Winfield, Illinois was built in 1849 by Jim Hodges. It served as a train depot up until 1854, when Galena and Chicago Union Railroad built another depot on the south side of the tracks going through town. After the building completed its service as a train depot it went through several phases depending on who owned it. The building served as a Post Office, and Inn and Tavern for railroad travelers and lastly as the residence of the Besch family.
It also is the oldest remaining train depot in the state of Illinois. From 1849 to 1854, it was used as a rail passenger depot along a strap-rail track segment laid when the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad came through the area. The depot was previously located on village-owned property adjacent to the Winfield Village Hall.
A “strap-rail track” was used because iron was hard to obtain in sufficient quantities for new railroads. A strap-rail track consisted of rails made of lumber with a strap or narrow length of iron on top of it. This type of railway track was not used for long because the strap had a tendency to “snakehead,” or pop up into the train cars after some use. The same rail line was gradually replaced with solid iron rails as traffic increased.
This is the only example of strap-rail track in the Midwest. We are aware of only one other exhibit of strap-rail track in the United States, located in Pennsylvania.
In 1978, village leadership became interested in expanding Village Hall and its parking. The plan was to demolish the 1849 depot. That same year, the Winfield Historical Society was formed to save Hedges Station. The Society plan would be to restore a portion of the building as a period depot museum to be called "Hedges Station" in honor of John Hedges, its first stationmaster. Other portions would be developed as a museum focusing on the Winfield area, while the basement, which would be new construction, would serve as a meeting space.
The move of the depot took place August, 1981. The Winfield Historical Society has a current agreement with the Winfield Park District that states the district owns the building, the society is responsible for its restoration, while the district takes care of utilities and grounds maintenance.
The society approach to restoration and development has been to undertake the project in stages as funding becomes available. In 2004 society workmen built a platform and strap-rail track segment on the south side of the building to replicate the track adjacent to the building’s original location.
Because actual strap-rail track could not be found for this exhibit, the society relied on a very detailed drawing found in a book published in 1910 by the Northwestern Historical Society entitled “Yesterday and Today, A History of the Chicago & North Western Railway System”, which was used in the re-creation of the museum’s length of track. This “strap rail track” is an authentic replication of the type used at the time this building was used as a depot, so it is appropriate to the restoration.
To date, the project has been underway for over 30 years and has raised over $250,000 to further the restoration.
The fourth phase is underway at this time and the museum is now open for tours. Visit our contact page for more information
The Society is very grateful for the research assistance received from the Northwestern Historical Society, the Union Railroad Museum, the West Chicago Historical Society, and the Smithsonian Institute Transportation Museum of Washington, D.C.
INTERESTING TIDBITS ABOUT THE RESTORATION:
After the building was moved to its current site, the interior walls needed to change to restore them to an original material. To accomplish that, it was necessary to salvage old lumber from mid-1800 barns and homes that were being torn down. That lumber had to be cleaned so that it could be used. The new museum walls were constructed from salvaged tongue and groove flooring. When salvaged lumber was depleted, old lumber from a mill in Pennsylvania was purchased and re-milled to the proper size.
Under the lath and plaster interior walls of the building which were added in the 1870's or 1880's, a poster was found written in German, advertising train trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin to buy farm land. It was framed and hung in the depot along with an English translation.
Restoration plans have evolved as the work has taken place. We look at the evidence and try to determine what the building actually looked like. As one of our advisors told us, "There is no taste involved!"