Fredonia Walking Club
A group of Fredonia men was inspired by press reports in 1909 about Edward Payson Weston, an elderly man who walked from New York City to San Francisco at the age of 70 in 104 days. Weston was disappointed with his time, falling short of his 100-day goal. The following year he made a return trip from Santa Monica, California, to New York City in 76 days. Weston had first become known for his walking ambition in 1861, when he lost a bet on the presidential race and in defeat, walked from Boston to Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. He went on to do many pedestrian feats in the U. S. and Europe over the next few decades. During his 1910 trek across the country, he escaped a tornado in northern Kansas by taking refuge under a railroad bridge. Newspapers across the country carried updates of his adventures.
In Fredonia, the walking club was formed in 1910 after a discussion of Mr. Weston’s trips across the country. The club walked once a week for health and pleasure. They were often unofficially referred to in the local press as the Weston Wobblers. Dr. Duncan, Dr. Flack, Dr. Wiley, Dr. Cady, Solon Wiley, Byron Hess, John Hubbell, P. C. Young, Max Kennedy, and Rev. Estill were among the charter members.
The group of men would take a walk of 8 to 10 miles early each Sunday morning, arriving at a farmhouse to enjoy a large breakfast, and then return back to Fredonia in time for church. They walked in all kinds of weather, including snow and sub-zero temperatures. One member each week chose where they would go and made arrangements with the farmer’s wife for the meal, not disclosing any details to the other members until the group reached the destination.
In the early years, the club walked every week. It began with just 10 members and grew to 13 by the1914, when it became less of a weekly routine, often traveling on a weeknight, and only on occasion. While the early years were almost entirely on foot, the group eventually used automobiles or trains to travel to or from a destination. If they were running late, sometimes a farmer would load them up in the back of a wagon to get them back to town in time for church. Most towns in the county were on their list of destinations as well as dozens of remote farms in between. The group traveled on country roads, through pastures, fields, down frozen rivers, and on railroad tracks. Among their many adventures, they had to swim across Fall River on more than one occasion. They narrowly escaped a train with an inoperable headlight traveling at 40 mph, from Neodesha near Cedar Hollow, southeast of the cement plant, causing the walkers to dive off the tracks in the early darkness.
An early morning hike in 1912 included a trip to the top of the South Mound, which resulted in many comments about the wonderful views and public hopes that a road could someday be built to the summit, which happened the following year when B. E. LaDow constructed the Skyline Drive. Another trip by train took them to Neodesha, where they hiked to the top of Little Bear Mound and then back to Fredonia on foot.
Two members of the group, Dr. Wiley and his son, Solon, made a fishing trip to the Ozarks and spent a week on a 150-mile hike, ending at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where they returned to Kansas by train. Two other members of the club had planned to go with them but changed their minds before they departed.
One of the later trips was in 1915 when the group went to the Mill Dam to view the new Fredonia waterworks. They returned to a feast at the Fredonia High School prepared by the domestic science class.
The last reported Fredonia Walking Club had their last walk in March of 1916. An earlier article had jokingly surmised that many of the members seemed more likely to walk ten miles on a waxed dance floor than on a dusty road.
FREDONIA’S WALKING CLUB
Arthur Duncan, a brother of Dr. E. C. Duncan, who is city editor of the Chanute Tribune, was in Fredonia a few Sundays ago and took a trip with the Fredonia Walking club. He thus writes of it in the Tribune:
If you should chance to be anywhere within a radius of twelve or fifteen miles of Fredonia any Sunday morning between the hours of 5 and 10, there are nineteen probabilities to one that you would encounter along the road a nondescript bunch of khaki-clad men.
This crowd–do not become alarmed–will not be a scouting band from the regular army nor yet a bunch of Mexican revolutionists. They are just lawyers, doctors, dentists, and businessmen of Fredonia. In short, they are the Weston Wobblers, or the Princely Peripatetics (they never could agree on the name.)
The Peripatetics hike every Sunday morning, starting at 5 o’clock sharp from some rendezvous already agreed upon. They walk into the country five, six, or eight miles and stop at a farmhouse for a big breakfast. Each member of the club takes his turn at leading. He secretly plans the route and engages the breakfast.
Recently a visitor accompanied the club on one of its hikes. He was called at 4:30 by the leader of the day, whose duty it is to see that all are in line at the appointed hour of starting. They stole out into the early morning stillness and on the way to the meeting place, stopped several times to route out a few of the sleepy ones. And, by the way, a member of the club never pikes and fails to go unless he has previously made arrangements to absent himself and has presented good and sufficient excuses for the same. A man tried it once and no one ventured it again.
The moon was still shining undimmed by the approaching dawn when the little troop gathered in the shadow of the Catholic church steps on the morning in question. One Wobbler was late, so the remainder of the crowd, after leaving a crudely scrawled note pinned to a board on the steps of the church advising the tardy one of the general direction of the trip, departed in double file, open ranks, up the middle of the dusty street. (Later the tardy one after catching up with the others, declared he neglected to remove the note and no doubt the priest, coming to early mass, stumbled over it.)
No bunch of college boys off on a celebration could cut more capers and put more over on their fellows than this crowd of staid, respectable business and professional men. In fact, they have become for a few hours, boys again. Farmers they meet on the road hail them with “Howdy, boys,” although there is only a single member under 30 years of age and the average is a little above 40. The oldest is near 60.
Then there are the breakfasts. Take a long breath. Consider a six or eight-mile tramp along country roads, across dewy meadows, and through cornfields, while the day is still young, the air fresh and cool. Until you do that you cannot appreciate fully sitting down in a breakfast of fried chicken, fried ham (country cured), gravy, sweet corn boiled on the cob, fresh milk and thick cream–and a great long table loaded with a hundred other delicacies fit for the gods–and all prepared in faultless style by that goddess of the cuisine, the farmer’s wife. Eat? Rather! All this without mentioning the topping off on dishes of ice cream frozen at home from thick yellow cream.
The club has been organized for nearly a year. The trip last Sunday was the forty-ninth. Since the organization, only one Sunday has passed that the hikers did not hike. That was Christmas when rules were suspended by mutual consent. They estimate they have walked more than 500 miles and paid out in the neighborhood of $250 to farmer’s wives for breakfasts.
The club membership includes three businessmen, two newspapermen, three physicians, one dentist, two attorneys, and one contractor.
1910 – 1916 – Credit Bryan Schroeder – Fredonia Walking Club
Credit Wilson County Citizen, Sept. 21, 1911 – The subject of an article in The Chanute Tribune
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