Kane County History: St. Charles History Hustle 5K Pays Homage to Long Lost Sport of Competitive Walking

Kane County History: St. Charles History Hustle 5K Pays Homage to Long Lost Sport of Competitive Walking

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by St. Charles History Museum Executive Director Lindsay Judd.

Just like many organizations in town, the St. Charles History Museum is doing things a little different this year due to the pandemic.

Instead of doing a traditional in-person, one-day 5K, we are doing a two-week long virtual 5K. Participants can register through the museum’s website (before May 7, and they get a special event T-shirt and medal) and walk or run any course they want, any time between May 10 and May 24.

It may seem out of the ordinary for a 5K to span the course of two weeks, but if this were St. Charles in the 1880s, it would seem not only normal, but fashionable.

During the 1870s and 1880s, competitive walking, or as it was known as “pedestrianism,” was all the rage. Before television, radio and baseball entertained America, folks would gather in public spaces to watch people compete against each other in walking matches.

This was not long after the end of the Civil War, so men were not off fighting, and aside from work, there was not always much to do. So thus, pedestrianism became a popular source of entertainment.

The admired individuals who made pedestrianism their careers were walking literally almost every waking moment. During a competition, walkers were on the track continuously from midnight on Sunday night/Monday morning until midnight the following Saturday. That’s six days straight of walking!

They would compete in an arena and map out their route on the dirt floor. Most of these competitions took place in New York, but many were held locally. Each lap was typically 1/7th or 1/8th of a mile.

Not only were people enamored with the sport itself, but race weeks also became somewhat of an event as there would be people selling food and brass bands playing songs. Even celebrities were said to have attended the races. It became a place to be seen.

Of course, St. Charles has a story in its history books relating to pedestrianism. Our very own Charles Caustin (who lived from Jan. 29, 1852, to Dec. 3, 1911) was one of these revered athletes. His brother, Will and daughter, Esther were also “pedestrians.”

Charles and his brother competed inside Irwin Hall located here in St. Charles. They also competed in other cities and competed against other famous pedestrians like Edward Payson Weston and Dan O’Leary.

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, 1884, Charles Caustin hosted competitor Henry Schmehl of Chicago at St. Charles’s Irwin Hall. According to an article written in the Valley Chronicle (Feb. 8, 1884,) the arena did not have sawdust, making it more difficult on the competitors.

The race was 10 miles long and required the pedestrians to walk heel-to-toe. The grand prize was $100, which is roughly $2,684 today!

At this point in time, Dan O’Leary was considered one of the world’s top pedestrians and he was the referee for the race between Caustin and Schmehl. It must have been a big deal for St. Charles to host such a prestigious athlete, because the article mentioned above made sure to note that that was the first time Dan O’Leary had ever visited St. Charles.

Charles Caustin died on Dec. 3, 1911, and is buried at North Cemetery on IL Route 25 in St. Charles.

If Charles Caustin were alive today, he would most certainly participate in our upcoming History Hustle Virtual 5K! After all, it is the same streets and sidewalks that Charles, his brother Will and daughter Esther power walked up and down to practice for all their competitions.

Every participant who registers for the 5K will receive a suggested historic route map for their walk/run! To register for the History Hustle Virtual 5K visit this link visit our website stcmuseum.org or call us at

Thanks for exploring history with us!

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