Hedges Station, the oldest building in Winfield, Illinois was built in 1849.
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.
Also found was a Joe DiMaggio baseball card in the walls. Joseph Paul "Joe" DiMaggio was born November 25, 1914 as Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, He was nicknamed "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper" and was an American Major League Baseball center fielder who played his entire 13-year career for the New York Yankees. He is perhaps best known for his 56-game hitting streak (May 15 – July 16, 1941), a record that still stands. He died March 8, 1999
DiMaggio was a three-time MVP winner and an All-Star in each of his 13 seasons. During his tenure with the Yankees, the club won ten American League pennants and nine World Series championships.
At the time of his retirement, he ranked fifth in career home-runs (361) and sixth in career slugging percentage (.579). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, and was voted the sport's greatest living player in a poll taken during the baseball centennial year of 1969. We have no idea how or when or who inserted this card into the wall, but are glad it can now be preserved and displayed.
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!"