Captain Benjamin Godfrey (Photo courtesy of Monticello College Foundation.)
He was a ship captain, merchant, investor and philanthropist. And he fought hard for the causes he valued. Benjamin Godfrey, who helped plat present day Godfrey, IL in the early 1800’s and left his mark throughout the Alton and Godfrey communities, is now honored with the Benjamin Godfrey Legacy Trail.
About the Trail
Benjamin Godfrey came to Alton, IL in 1832 following a maritime career with the fledgling American Navy and later as a commander of a merchant vessel. During his pre-Alton adventures, he made and lost one fortune as a merchant commander when his ship went down in the Gulf of Mexico and left him stranded in Mexico. He built another fortune in Mexico and then moved to New Orleans where he formed a business partnership with Winthrop Gilman. It was his association with Gilman that enticed Godfrey north to the Mississippi River town of Alton.
During his life in Alton and then Monticello (later renamed in his honor to Godfrey, IL), he became known as a dedicated citizen and neighbor. He platted the village of Monticello, founded Monticello Female Seminary and helped charter the Alton & Sangamon Railroad. Despite his successes, Godfrey experienced great sorrow in Illinois. He struggled financially in the Panic of 1837. His wife Harriet and the mother of his eight living children, died in 1838. He later married Rebecca Pettit and had three children with her. Benjamin Godfrey died Aug. 13, 1862 in Monticello and is buried in the Godfrey Cemetery.
The Benjamin Godfrey Legacy trail highlights Godfrey’s impact on the two cities with seven different historical site markers. The trail shows Godfrey’s devotion to the area and the lasting impact of his influence.
Join us, and Benjamin Godfrey himself, as we journey through historic Alton and Godfrey on this historic trail. Please be sure to listen to the audio files located on this page as you visit each site.
The Benjamin Godfrey Legacy Trail
(Woodcut from The martyrdome of Lovejoy. An account of the life, trails, and perils of Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy by Henry Tanner, 1881)
William Street and West Broadway, Alton
Benjamin Godfrey and his business partner, Winthrop Gilman, formed Godfrey, Gilman & Company in 1832. Located on Alton’s riverfront, the business operated out of a newly constructed stone warehouse at the foot of William Street. The firm shipped furs, livestock and agricultural products directly to New Orleans, bypassing St. Louis. Godfrey and Gilman allowed the Reverend Elijah P. Lovejoy, a young Presbyterian minister and abolitionist newspaper editor, to house his (fourth) printing press there for safekeeping. Tragically, Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob while guarding his press in the warehouse on Nov. 7, 1837. News of his death stirred the abolitionist movement throughout the country.
(Although there are no photographs of this original church, it is depicted in the 1838 painting "View of Alton," attributed to Blair-Riley and on display at Hayner Genealogy & Local History Library.)
10 E. 3rd St., Alton (corner of 3rd and Market Streets)
Benjamin Godfrey built the first church in Alton in 1834 on the northeast corner of 3rd and Markets Streets. The building, a large limestone structure, cost over $5,000 to complete. Godfrey retained ownership of the building but offered it for use by both Baptist and Presbyterian congregations. The building also served as a public meeting hall. It was purchased by the congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 1846. Around 1850, the church was razed and rebuilt. A tornado badly damaged the building in 1860, but the church was soon repaired and is still used by that congregation to this day.
Benjamin Godfrey built his first Alton home across the street from the church. He and Winthrop Gilman built stately mansions next to one another on the present site of the Stratford Hotel. A description of the homes at the time of construction stated that they “would have been an ornament to any street in New York.”
Site 3: Hayner Genealogy & Local History Library
401 State St., Alton (4th and State Streets)
In addition to the genealogy collection and the Illinois Room, the Genealogy & Local History Library houses nine museum display cases highlighting the Alton area’s rich history. One of the largest of these cases contains artifacts related to Benjamin Godfrey and his various legacies.
(Alton Sangamon Railroad - Third and Piasa (present day Highway 67), circa 1880)
Began at the Alton Riverfront
The first railroad built in Madison County was the Alton & Sangamon which was chartered in 1847 under the leadership of Captain Benjamin Godfrey. The project received assistance from Abraham Lincoln who wrote letters in support of the initial stock subscription. Godfrey was so enthusiastic about the project that he advertised much of his property for sale to raise additional funding. The initial construction included building a 7-block long stone arch over Little Piasa Creek in Lower Alton and extensive grade work to reach the summit on the prairie. The first phase very nearly bankrupted the company. The railroad was completed to Springfield in September of 1852, the same year that Godfrey’s freight house opened in downtown Alton.
(Tollhouse at "Five Points". The toll road began at 4th and Belle in downtown Alton and led north to the tollhouse at "Five Points" near 16th and Belle.)
Began at 4th and Belle Streets, Alton
In 1836, as construction on Monticello Female Seminary began, Benjamin Godfrey saw a need to build a road connecting the school to the local quarry and Lower Alton. Using oak timbers from his own land, Godfrey’s “Plank Road” assisted in the transportation of materials to the building sites from the sawmill, brickyard and carpenters’ shops. The toll road began at 4th and Belle in downtown Alton and led north to the tollhouse at “Five Points” near 16th and Belle. The road continued northwest to what is now Highway 67/Godfrey Road and then north to Godfrey’s mansion. There was another tollhouse on the grounds of the Seminary. Plank Road quickly became one of the most popular routes from Alton to Jacksonville. This route still exists today.
(Monticello Female Seminary, undated.)
5800 Godfrey Rd., Godfrey
Welcome to Benjamin Godfrey’s greatest legacy! Inspired by his daughters and built on the belief that women should be entitled to a formal education, Godfrey opened Monticello Female Seminary in April 1838, with the Reverend Theron Baldwin as its first principal.
Godfrey’s vision for the school was for young ladies of the day to receive a comprehensive education. He is known to have made the statement, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, if you educate a woman, you educate a family.” The original building for the Seminary was modeled after Nassau Hall at Princeton.
The students took a rigorous course of study patterned after that of Yale University which included geometry, rhetoric, ancient and modern history, physiology, philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, geology and music.
On Nov. 4, 1888, the original structure burned down as the result of a laundry room fire. Construction began on the current limestone edifice the following spring. Designed by St. Louis Union Station architect Theodore Link, and thanks to beloved principal Harriet Haskell’s successful fundraising efforts, the new school was completed in the summer of 1890.
Other buildings would be added over the course of several years providing classrooms and housing for its residents. Declining enrollment in the 1960s led to the eventual closing of Monticello College (its last official name) in 1971. The state of Illinois purchased the property in 1970, and Lewis & Clark Community College was established the next year. Godfrey’s legacy lives on through the grants for female education made by the Monticello College Foundation, the money for which came from the sale of the campus to the state.
(Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of contress) Joseph T. Golabowski - Photographer - April 4, 1934. View from the Southwest -- Godfrey Congregational Church, State Route 111, Godfrey, Madison County, IL)
5800 Godfrey Rd., Godfrey
Completed in 1854, this structure served, at times, as a chapel for both Monticello Female Seminary and as the local congregational church. Benjamin Godfrey designed the building to resemble a church he recalled from his New England childhood. Built in the Greek-revival style, and seating 500, it originally sat across the street from the College until it was moved to its present on-campus location in 1991. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
732 Mulberry St., Godfrey
(Godfrey surname represented in lots 41, 50, 51 and 128)
The Godfrey Cemetery was originally known as the Monticello Cemetery. The Monticello Cemetery was part of the property donated by Benjamin Godfrey to Monticello Seminary in February of 1840. Four acres of the property were to be used for interments for the Seminary. Although the property was not officially deemed a cemetery until 1840, records indicate the first burial on the property was that of Abigail Turner who died May 17, 1817. The first Godfrey burial was Benjamin Godfrey’s young daughter, Caroline Godfrey, who died April 4, 1837 at the age of four, and was buried on the plot owned by Benjamin Godfrey.
(Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress) Joseph T. Golabowski - Photographer - April 5, 1934. View from Southeast -- Godfrey Homestead, Delhi Road, Godfrey, Madison, County, IL.)
6722 Godfrey Rd., Godfrey (Airport Road and Godfrey Road)
A little more than a mile north of Lewis & Clark Community College on Godfrey Road is the site of the home where Captain Godfrey and his family lived. The home, located on the west side of Scarritt’s Prairie, was originally owned and built by Captain Calvin Riley cica 1831 and purchased by Godfrey in 1834. Godfrey remodeled the two-room house into a two-story limestone mansion with 14 rooms, seven fireplaces, hand carved limestone sinks and spacious pillared porches. The style is Greek Revival with a southern influence. The house is on file at the Library of Congress.