GODFREY — Dedication ceremonies are planned at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, for the Benjamin Godfrey Legacy Trail.
The ceremony will be held at the Benjamin Godfrey Memorial Chapel at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
Godfrey, who lived 1794-1862, was an American merchant and philanthropist who overcame great adversities. Born in Massachusetts, he began his career at sea at 9. He was in naval service during the War of 1812 and worked on several ships before commanding his own — which wrecked off the coast of Mexico around 1820. Godfrey then rose through the ranks of a trading house in Mexico, only to be robbed of his fortune and return to the U.S. penniless.
In 1832, he moved to Alton and co-founded Godfrey, Gilman & Co.; five years later, Elijah Lovejoy was killed at one of the company’s warehouses trying to protect his printing press.
In 1834, Godfrey and his family settled north of Alton in what became Godfrey Township. He became involved with the Presbyterian church and in 1838 established the Monticello Female Seminary on the site now known as Lewis and Clark Community College, later writing he was inspired by “the powerful effect of a mother’s example.”
The seminary closed in 1971; the buildings are part of the community college campus.
Godfrey is the namesake of both the village and the chapel, built in 1832. At one point, he owned more than 10,000 acres in Madison County. He is credited with planting the first orchard in the county and manufacturing one of the first stationary threshing machines.
He and his first wife, Harriet Cooper, had 12 children. When she died he married R. E. Petit and they had three children. His daughter, Catherine, married state representative John Mills Pearson, a local leader in the Republican Party upon its founding in the 1850s. Godfrey died Aug. 13, 1862, and is buried in Godfrey Cemetery.
On Sept. 21, the Benjamin Godfrey Legacy Trail Committee will formerly dedicate a seven-site historic trail to the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau during a ceremony at chapel. The event will include remarks by Benjamin Godfrey, portrayed by John Meehan, as well as Drs. Linda and Dale Chapman, Bonnie Norman of the Monticello Foundation board and Ann Badasch, former president and emeritus board member of the Tourism Bureau.
The dedication culminates the efforts of a 21-member committee comprised of local historians, educators, authors and municipal officials. Each site on the trail will use word and audio presentations to reflect the insights of Benjamin Godfrey.
The trail is designed to inspire local entrepreneurial efforts, com. Starting next year, the Benjamin Godfrey Entrepreneurial Speakers Series is planned at the Benjamin Godfrey Entrepreneurial Auditorium at the Asbury Village in Godfrey, formerly United Methodist Village.
Nearly four years ago, the North Alton Godfrey Business Council spearheaded the Benjamin Godfrey Legacy Trail Project. The trail is designed to enhance awareness of the importance and contributions of Godfrey, as well as preserve his scholarship and vision for future generations while adding a significant tourism piece to the region’s historical mix.
Stretching across Alton and Godfrey, the trail includes a descriptive brochure, an audio presentation and a curriculum developed for third and fourth grade students supplemented by a children’s book illustrating and telling the story of Godfrey.
The trail also includes permanent marking at the college campus, the chapel, the Godfrey & Gilman Warehouse, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Alton and Southern Freight Station, the Godfrey Mansion, the Godfrey Cemetery and Plank Road which runs between the mansion and 4th and Belle streets in Alton.
For more details, contact Zeke Jabusch at 618-466-8353.
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