GODFREY — How far we’ve come.
It might be hard to believe that, less than three decades ago, Godfrey was still an unincorporated community. This year is the community’s silver jubilee, marking 25 years since its incorporation as a village in 1991.
Community leaders are planning to celebrate with unique and fun-filled events courtesy of Mayor Mike McCormick, the Great Godfrey Maze and many unsung heroes who helped make the milestone a possibility.
From the Mayor’s Office
Mayor Mike McCormick says, with enthusiasm, that September’s birthday celebration is not the only way Godfrey will recognize its 25 years of incorporation.
“We’re going to pick 25 locations around the entire village of Godfrey and have people take selfies to turn in to the village’s Facebook page or the website,” McCormick said. “The winners will be announced on the maze’s opening night, and we’ve had plenty of donations of prizes from local businesses.”
Some of the defining locations will include the Godfrey Mansion, Josephine’s Restaurant and Lewis and Clark Community College.
Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly Caughran elaborated on Godfrey’s grand ambitions to mark a quarter-century of incorporation.
“For the 25th celebration, the village plans on at least two social media campaigns,” Caughran said. “We would love to highlight how far we have come and the differences in styles that 25 years makes (by having people post photos from 1991 to the Facebook page).
“The second campaign has the village highlighting 25 significant spots in Godfrey. We will encourage residents to visit these 25 places, take a selfie and upload it on social media with the hashtag #hbdgodfrey25. Winners will be selected to win prizes from local businesses. These two campaigns are, of course, in conjunction with the banners in the community and the Happy Birthday maze.”
McCormick is serving as the third mayor in Godfrey’s history, following the terms of Lars Hoffman and Michael Campion. He recalled the debate over Godfrey’s incorporation from days which predate his political activity.
“There were two schools of thought on the subject, but I think it’s worked out terrific for Godfrey’s residents,” he said. “Godfrey is a crowning (achievement) and a wonderful community.”
Eldon “Twirp” Williams, a village trustee, recalled the decades of tension that preceded Godfrey’s incorporation.
“I moved here as a justice of the peace in the early 1940s, and Alton was eating us up,” Williams said. “There was even a lot of division among different parts of Godfrey that lived in different ways. I think that Godfrey’s done really well and grown a lot since incorporation.”
Pam Whisler, village clerk since 1991 who also served as township clerk, said four elections were held over five decades to incorporate, until the measure was finally passed in 1991.
“It was important that Godfrey was able to keep its own identity in contrast to Alton’s identity,” she said. “It is one of more open space, a bedroom community, the ability to control one’s destiny, a lot of farmland and green space. When I think of Godfrey, I think of a wealthy religious community.”
“We used to have to go through the county for permits before the incorporation,” Director of Maintenance Jim Lewis said, adding that Godfrey now “carries weight in Springfield” as a result of its incorporation.
McCormick said his ambitions for Godfrey include a “good continued economic growth” and to maintain the village’s unique reputation of rural quaintness and urban sensibility, being the second-largest of the municipalities in the state when measured in square miles.
“In my mind, it’s a lovely place to live, with a beautiful park system and a tax levy low or lower than other municipalities in the county,” he said.
McCormick said he believes Godfrey will see financial growth along Illinois 255 without sacrificing any of the qualities that paint the picturesque image of a quaint village in the minds of many.
Establishing a village
The humble village traces its history back to 1817, when the Rev. Jacob Lurton and wife, Sarah Tuley, of Louisville, Ky., served as the first recorded settlers. Following a conflict of values with neighboring Yankees, the Lurtons left the area, followed by New Englanders Nathan and Latty Scarritt shortly thereafter. Former New England sea captain and successful freight-forwarding firm partner Benjamin Godfrey (of Godfrey, Gilman and Co.) arrived in the area with $50,000 in 1832 and soon found immense — albeit short-lived — business success in the region.
Despite a stretch of great economic downturn and a major blow to the Alton area’s national reputation following the murder of Elijah Lovejoy, Godfrey — heavily inspired by his eight daughters — opened the Monticello Female Seminary on the campus of modern-day Lewis and Clark Community College in 1838. Over the next decade, he attempted to reform the village’s reputation and to maintain a “conservative New England community in both appearance and values,” as noted by the village’s website.
Godfrey began construction on the Alton and Sangamon Railroad in 1850, which was renamed the Chicago and Mississippi Railroad upon its completion in 1852. Entrenched once again in a series of personal setbacks, Godfrey’s efforts brought renewed hope and prosperity to the region on a number of industrial fronts.
Benjamin Godfrey died of a stroke on Aug. 13, 1862, and the community once referred to as Monticello was gradually referred to as Godfrey in his honor, according to late local historian Judy Hoffman’s book, “God’s Portion: Godfrey, Illinois, 1817-1865.”
In the abolitionist movement spawned from Lovejoy’s death, Godfrey’s political stance on slavery was divided by a line drawn across the state by Eastern missionaries. As a result, many Godfrey residents, such as Dr. Benjamin Franklin Long, were sympathetic to the progress of the Underground Railroad through local businesses and farms.
Long’s nephew and Godfrey resident Sgt. Carlos Colby was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1896 for his service in the Civil War. Following the war, Godfrey further established itself through the construction of homes, churches, schools and businesses. As noted by Hoffman, the village faced a decline around the turn of the century due to the lure of factory jobs, but saw another growth advance as a result of the success of the automobile industry and a strong cultural desire for suburban life that followed the end of World War II.
Following decades of economic tension between Godfrey and Alton, Godfrey voted to incorporate in 1991, making it one of the youngest municipalities in Madison County.
Great Godfrey Maze
The center of the silver celebration is one known beyond the scope of Godfrey, even referenced in indie-folk artist Sufjan Stevens’ renowned 2005 album, “Illinois” — the Great Godfrey Maze. To this day, the maze has remained one of Godfrey’s prime public attractions.
“The maze is a celebration of Godfrey’s rich agricultural history as a traditional farming community,” Caughran, a driving force behind the annual maze tradition, said. “This year has been a great corn year, weather-wise. Tony Joehl began planting in late spring, and the crop is healthy, green and hasn’t suffered any storm damage.”
According to Caughran, Ed Meyer originally brought the maze concept to Norma Glazebrook and previous Parks and Recreation Director George Bryant, in the belief that beyond its recognition of Godfrey’s farming culture, the maze was also incredibly unique to the area.
This year’s maze will feature a special design in commemoration of Godfrey’s anniversary.
“This year, we designed the maze as a birthday cake with a ‘25’ on top, and there’s even going to be a birthday party on opening night,” Caughran said.
The maze has served as a popular field trip destination because of what Caughran considers a “strong educational component.”
This year’s birthday celebration will take place from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, and will feature balloons, fun games, face-painting, a clown and live music as the kickoff to an autumn season that runs until Sunday, Oct. 30.
The maze at Glazebrook Park, 1401 Stamper Lane, typically operates from 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to dusk Sundays. Admission is $6 for ages 12 and older, $4 for ages 6 through 11 and free for ages 5 and under. For information, visit godfreyil.org or call (618) 466-1483.
A very big deed
“Josephine’s Tea Room and Gifts brings in a lot of tourism, Lewis and Clark Community College is an absolutely beautiful campus, Beverly Farm has served a very big deed for a lot of years, Rocky Fork Church has a strong history with the Underground Railroad, and I’m very proud of The Nature Institute,” McCormick said when asked what helps create Godfrey’s identity.
Referred to on its website as “a planned community that looks and feels like a neighborhood,” Beverly Farm serves nearly 400 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The community was founded in 1897 by Dr. William H.C. Smith and his wife, Elizabeth.
Smith received notoriety at the 1904 World’s Fair for his pioneering concepts in the care of people who live with disabilities. Over time, stigmas have given way to support and admiration.
“People seek us throughout the country,” Beverly Farm Marketing Director Cody Hinkle said. “They’re able to see the beauty of Godfrey and experience the Godfrey area. Most people love it and think it’s beautiful.”
Hinkle also notes the Illinois 255 extension has brought extra accessibility to visiting families, and he recognizes great support provided by local individuals such as village clerk and board member Pam Whisler, among many others.
“There is a lot of camaraderie in this community,” Hinkle said, smiling proudly.
Beverly Farms is located at 6301 Humbert Road in Godfrey and can be contacted at (618) 466-0367.
The nature of Godfrey
Although this next location’s official history extends back to 1969 when John M. Olin deeded 293 acres to the state for the development of a nature study area, its connection to Godfrey is as old as the world itself. According to The Nature Institute’s website, the organization has maintained nonprofit status since 1980 and has hosted Discovery Day Camps at Talahi Lodge since 1982. In 1994, TNI gained ownership of the Olin tract from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with the passing of Senate Bill 458.
“The Nature Institute is proud to represent the natural, scenic land that the village of Godfrey has to offer,” said Amy Curry, director of outreach for The Nature Institute, further noting that the institute was voted Best Scenic View by St. Louis Magazine. “The village of Godfrey’s slogan says ‘you can see your future from here.’ TNI’s staff believes that our mission of preservation, restoration and education directly aligns with that slogan. The work we do today in preserving nature paves the way for generations to come.”
TNI and the village have worked together on numerous occasions since the incorporation.
“TNI’s land was used for Godfrey’s firefighter rescue training, and the village has even consulted with our stewardship staff on the planting of native grasses and forbs within Glazebrook Park,” Curry said. “One of the biggest transformations that our organization has seen with Godfrey’s incorporation is the increased flexibility and support that they have given us while we are implementing our mission. Without the partnership between TNI and the village of Godfrey, the reduction of invasive species through prescribed burning, the over 400 summer Discovery Day campers, and safe trails to travel on wouldn’t be attainable.
“TNI would like to offer the greatest appreciation and congratulations to our friends at the village of Godfrey,” she said.
The Nature Institute, 2213 S. Levis Lane, can be contacted at (618) 466-9930.
The past, present and future
Lewis and Clark Community College holds a direct connection to the vision and achievement of Capt. Benjamin Godfrey himself. It began its operations in the former Monticello Female Seminary in 1970 and has grown immensely since holding its first class.
“It’s hard to separate the fate of the regional economy from the college,” LCCC President Dale Chapman said. “We’ve had a $338 million annual impact on the region.”
Outside of the expanding 13,000-member student body, Chapman noted roughly 125,000 people visit the campus throughout the year.
“Shift workers might stop by to go fishing before or after their shifts, a number of school districts hold their annual proms on campus, Hatheway Cultural Center events, people hold wedding ceremonies and take family photos ... it’s really a cultural destination,” Chapman said.
Even with the future in mind, LCCC maintains respect for its regional heritage.
“We have a sculpture on campus called ‘Bloom,’ which honors Godfrey’s first mayor and former LCCC political science professor Lars Hoffman,” Chapman said.
Since Godfrey’s incorporation, student enrollment has increased by 45 percent, with major renovations completed and new facilities added.
“We work closely with the village, and I believe we’re moving in the direction that the village wants to go,” Chapman said. “We graduate 1,000 students a year now; many of those graduates are able to find work in the area and further impact the local economy in a positive way.”
In many ways, it’s only appropriate that the future of Godfrey expand within the academic halls of the man whose ambition to provide higher education for his daughters helped define an early, crowning and wonderful community. LCCC’s Benjamin Godfrey Campus, 5800 Godfrey Road, can be contacted at (618) 468-7000.
Godfrey’s Municipal Building, 6810 Godfrey Road, can be contacted at (618) 466-3324. For information on Godfrey’s history, village and township departments and more, visit godfreyil.org and the Facebook page, facebook.com/godfreyil.