“Went to the excursion to the Dells. Splendid scenery.”

Lavinia Goodell, October 11, 1879

In October 1879, less than six months before her death, Lavinia Goodell attended the American Women’s Association Congress in Madison. Read more about it here and here.  While Lavinia reported that the convention included “no end of unsatisfactory Board meetings,” on Saturday, October 11, she joined one hundred other women – and less than a dozen men – on a train trip to the scenic Dells of the Wisconsin River. Her diary entry for the day read, “Splendid scenery and a pleasant but fatiguing time.”

Lavinia Goodell diary entry, October 11, 1879

The October 13 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal devoted a good deal of ink to the excursion.

October 13, 1879 Wisconsin State Journal

At 10:30 A.M. the train arrived at Kilbourn City (the city’s name was changed to Wisconsin Dells in 1931) and the group boarded the steamer Dell Queen. H.H. Bennett, “the skilled and gentlemanly photographer of Kilbourn,” who was already well known for his photographs of the rugged Dells landscape, took a photo of the boat with the Congress on board. While we have not been able to locate Bennett’s photo of Lavinia’s group, here is one of his many photos of the rock formations on the Wisconsin River which Lavinia would have likely seen that day.

H.H. Bennett photograph of Wisconsin Dells

The State Journal reported that the boat’s captain and conductor “were indefatigable in their efforts to acquaint the ladies with the points of interest at the Dells, and succeeded admirably.” The paper went on to say:

Most of the party – even a majority of the Madisonians – were total strangers to the entrancing beauties of the Dells, and the trip was a revelation to them that Wisconsin has within her borders attractions superior to many they have often traveled vast distances to see.

Sights of interest included Cold Water Canon, where  the group left the boat and “lunch baskets were brought out, tea and coffee pots were set to boiling over rude camp fires, and a season of jollity prevailed for over an hour.” From there excursions were made to Devil’s Jug, and the Devil’s Staircase was climbed by the adventurous ladies. Then it was back on board the vessel and on to Witches’ Gulch where the group again debarked “and walked for over a mile along a devious, cow path over the hill to the Gulch.” Some women “plunged down into the ravine, at risk of fine dresses and thin shoes.”

The steamer started back toward Kilbourn at 4:00 p.m. but it was discovered that  a Madison lady had been left behind. She was spotted on the summit of a high cliff. A small boat “was sent ashore to a sand crevice in the cliff, and, after great trouble, the lady was helped down the rocks, into the big boat, and then aboard the steamer, where she was received with cheers and handkerchief wavings. She had missed her way, on the return from the Gulch, and became separated from the main party.

Then it was back to the train, which reached the East Madison depot soon after 7:00 p.m. The newspaper deemed the excursion “a glorious success” and “a fit ending for the delightful sessions of the Woman’s Congress.”  

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s diary (October 11, 1879); Wisconsin State Journal (October 13, 1879); https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM12421; https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS3954

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