Alden, Illinois, may be a small village with a population of just over 1,000, but its proximity to Lake Geneva and other hub cities in the region have made it a noteworthy location throughout history. From important events during the Civil War to inspiring stories of preservation and social justice, here are seven historical events that have taken place near Alden, IL.
1. The Underground Railroad
Alden’s close proximity to the Wisconsin border made it a hub for Underground Railroad activity. The Lake Geneva area was legendary in the antebellum period for its escape networks and hidden safe houses. While it’s difficult to pinpoint exact locations due to the covert nature of the system, evidence suggests that Alden was a stop on the Underground Railroad—a place where enslaved individuals could find temporary refuge, food, and shelter en-route to freedom.
2. The Battle of Richmond
On August 29th and 30th, 1862, the Battle of Richmond took place near Alden, IL. This was one of the most significant Civil War engagements in the state of Kentucky, as Confederate defenders under General Edmund Kirby Smith heavily outnumbered Union troops led by General William "Bull" Nelson. In this fight, Confederate forces dealt a devastating blow to Union troops--killing Nelson and capturing nearly 4,000 men.
3. Summer White House
During the late 19th century, Alden, IL became a summer destination for wealthy industrialists from Chicago, who were drawn to Lake Geneva’s picturesque beauty. The lakeshore quickly became a playground of the rich, and some even constructed extravagant “summer homes” nearby. Amongst these residences was "Black Point Estate and Gardens," a sprawling 20-room mansion that was once a summer retreat where wealthy families like the Wrigley’s would escape the heat of the city.
4. Black Hawk War
The Black Hawk War (1832) was a pivotal moment in Midwestern history. The previously friendly relationship between indigenous populations and the settlers was ruptured with the arrival of new American settlers to the region. The resulting conflict lasted just 14 weeks and involved an alliance between multiple Native American nations. The war ended with the surrender of the Sauk chief Black Hawk, who had led his people in a desperate attempt to push back against the tide of American expansion. Today, you can visit nearby forts and participate in reenactments of the conflict, which took place just a few miles from Alden.
5. Women’s Suffrage
In the early 1900s, women’s suffrage was a major political issue, particularly as the National Woman’s Party became increasingly dedicated to trying to pass the 19th Amendment. To advance their cause, many activists took to the roads, traveling around the country by car to stage rallies and events in support of women’s right to vote. Many of these suffragette groups visited Lake Geneva (a short drive from Alden), which became one of the main sites of suffrage activism in the region.
6. Kenneth-Godwin Farm
The Kenneth-Godwin Farm, located in Alden, has a particularly interesting story. The brick farmhouse and surrounding property was built in 1861, but it wasn’t until 1928 that it achieved its current level of notoriety. That year, a group of 15 farmers created a cooperative on the farm to help support one another in agricultural endeavors. This cooperative continued to operate for over 50 years, making the Kenneth-Godwin Farm a lasting monument to the spirit of collective effort and mutual aid.
7. Lake Geneva Canopy Tours
In 2011, Lake Geneva Canopy Tours opened, which allows visitors to the area to experience sweeping views of the lake and forest canopies via exhilarating zip line rides. While not as historically significant as some of the other entries on this list, it’s a singular experience that has brought joy and excitement to countless visitors who have made their way to the region.
Alden, IL might be a small town, but its location has been significant for many centuries, playing a key role in the Underground Railroad, Civil War battles, and much more. So, if you want to explore the rich history of the Midwest a little bit more, make sure you put Alden on your list of places to visit.
- Tags: IL