Friday, August 02, 2002

Reports from the Road
Last Friday, I flew to Madison, Wisconsin, where I met up with my parents and sister. I had some trouble with my American connection in Chicago, but even though they'd canceled my original flight, I was able to get a standby seat on an earlier flight (imagine that!). My bag was not so lucky, but it eventually followed. The drive to Green Lake, Wisconsin, took about two hours. We were heading there to meet up with relatives from my father's side of the family for a mini family reunion and golf outing. Most everyone else took the whole week, but we were only able to spend the weekend in Green Lake. Despite not being able to see and catch up with most of the family, we did have some quality time with cousins from Iowa -- and we were able to see quite of a bit in the area.

Oakwood Lodge has been in business since 1867.

We stayed at Oakwood Lodge, a B&B that's been hosting travelers and vacationers since 1867, when it was built as a guest house for the Oakwood Resort, the first resort opened west of Niagara Falls. Because the original resort has been subdivided over the years, most of the buildings have been razed, and several other guest houses have been relocated, you can't really get a good sense of what the original property was like. But checking out a plat map from 1901, you can see that it was huge, stretching from where Oakwood is now toward downtown and the marina.

"Republican" meant something very different back then.

One of the days, we drove to Ripon, home of Ripon College and Ripon Foods Inc., maker of Rippin' Good Cookies. Ripon is also the birthplace of the Republican Party -- one of six or so cities that claim the title, including Jackson, Michigan -- and the little white schoolhouse that housed the first mass meeting in the country March 20, 1854, to organize the Republican Party still stands. When it was founded, the Republican Party was dedicated to fight the spread of slavery. About 55 people gathered to dissolve the local Whig and Free Soiler political parties -- and to protest the extension of slavery into the Kansas and Nebraska territories.

Surprising diversity in the Republican Party!

Today, the birthplace of the Republican Party neighbors the Republican House, a Chinese restaurant. We didn't eat there, but I was amused by the juxtaposition -- and the fact that an Asian eatery was trying to capitalize on the Republicans. Wonder how many conservatives take part of the chop suey.

We also spent some time driving around the Green Lake Conference Center, a Baptist retreat. The center abuts the Golf Courses of Lawsonia, named after Victor Lawson, publisher of the once-defunct Chicago Daily News. The center covers more than 1,000 acres, most of them heavily wooded, and features many interesting concrete-constructed "prayer towers."

Where the chapel car is parked.

Green Lake is also home of a chapel car -- one of two still in existence. "Chapel Car Grace" was used as part of the chapel car ministry of the American Baptist Publication Society and the American Baptist Home Mission Society. Starting in 1891, Baptist evangelists would ride the rails in the American West to spread the Gospel, distribute Bibles, and establish Sunday schools and churches.

By the God of Grace.

Grace, the car resting in Green Lake, was the last Baptist chapel car -- the seventh -- to be constructed. Built in 1915, the car cost only $21,000 to build. It was used primarily in California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah and ceased service in 1946. Over the course of its history, three missionary couples served on the car, with Rev. A.C. Blinzinger riding the rails with the God of Grace for almost 20 of those years.

Make your ministry mobile!

Inside, there are enough seats for about 65 people to worship. Just behind the lectern is an additional room that served as the minister's bedroom. And on the far end of the chapel car was a small kitchen and rest room. I know I said the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers was so large you almost didn't need to leave to live, but can you imagine living on a train car for 20 years?

Looking back in time.

In the beginning, railways would waive trackage fees so the chapel cars could ride their rails for free. That changed in 1914, when the Publication Society began to pay for the railways' transport of the chapel cars. Despite this cost -- and the declining need for cars as churches were founded throughout the West -- the chapel cars remained in service for another 32 years.

All in all, an extremely fun and comfortable vacation with the family -- and a lot of lost local history.

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