Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Naperville Parks - The Pioneers

Some of Naperville’s parks are named in honor of our city’s earliest history.

Pioneer Park, which is a popular stretch of woods along the DuPage River near 75th Street, is “dedicated with grateful reverence to the pioneer men and women of DuPage County.” The monument, which includes two millstones, is erected on land that belonged to the Hobson family, but on the other side of the river is Bailey Hobson Woods Park, named specifically for them.

The Hobsons arrived in the area just months before the Napers. Bailey and wife Clarissa ran a grist mill along the river. Since mills were few and far between in the early years, farmers might hang around for days waiting for their turn to have their corn ground. The Hobson home then served as a tavern and hotel as well. The Hobson homestead was eventually annexed into the city, retroactively making them the earliest inhabitants of Naperville.

Farther south past 104th Street is a park called the Clow Creek Greenway, named for another early family.

Robert Clow emigrated with his children from Scotland to New York and eventually to Illinois. Between Robert, his six sons and his two daughters, the Clow land once encompassed a full square mile.

Located in Will County, most of the Clow dairy farm has over the years become homes. Fortunately, some of the old farmstead has been preserved. The mid-1800 Limestone House was moved to McDonald Farm and is now part of the Riverview Farmstead Preserve. Also on-site are two old barns as well as the Conservation Foundation and The Green Earth Institute.

Just last month, the City Council approved a plan that will build houses on one of the last tracts of the Clow farm. Ninety-six-year-old Betty Clow sold thirty-some acres to a local builder that included a couple of 150-year-old limestone houses. It’s been determined that the structures are not sound enough to be saved, but the builder plans to reuse the stone in a monument commemorating the Clow family. 

Perhaps the monument will be in a new neighborhood park.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Naperville Parks -- Named for Community Women

As March is Women’s History Month, let’s look at the women for whom these three Naperville parks are named.

A neighborhood park near North Central College is named for Sally Benton. Benton and husband Lou were very involved in community pursuits such as the Heritage Society. In the early years, the Bentons chaired an annual Antiques  Show that raised funds for what would become the Naper Settlement.

Benton’s sudden passing while helping to develop this park prompted the dedication in her name.

Dorthea Weigand swears in Commissioner Ward Shiffler
Dorothea Weigand was another local who devoted herself to community service.  She served as secretary to the Mayor, to the City Clerk, to the Plan Commission and to the Police and Fire board. She was herself named Naperville City Clerk from 1959-1963 and was the only woman on the first Board of Park Commissioners when the Park District was formed in 1966.

A lovely swath of park on south Washington Street along the DuPage River is named for Weigand.

May Watts Park adjoins May Watts School and both are named for the woman who started the “rails to trails” movement that includes our local Prairie Path.

Watts was an educator, scientist and author who collaborated with famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, spent years working at the Morton Arboretum and published botany books with husband Raymond.

It was after her retirement from the Arboretum that she inspired the movement to retain old, unused railroad tracks as green spaces for hiking and biking.

Watts was 70 years old in 1963 when she wrote a letter to the editor at the Chicago Tribune laying out her plan for the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin railroad right of way, launching a movement that continues to spread across the nation and the world.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Naperville Parks - Recent Names

We are lucky to have a number of neighborhood parks and fields to enjoy. Park names refer to many aspects of the our city’s history. These four parks honor four figures from recent times.

A. George Pradel park was dedicated in 1999 on the south side of town. (The “A” stands for “Arthur,” as  he was named for his father.) Pradel served five terms as mayor, from 1995 until 2015, the longest service in our history.

In addition to mayor, Pradel also served as a Naperville police officer starting in 1966 and was Officer Friendly to many local kids when he became the first Safety Town teacher in 1977. Known now as “Mayor Emeritus,” Pradel is still active in our community.

Harris Fawell park is located near 75th Street and Route 59. It was also dedicated in 1999 to honor Fawell who served in the Illinois Senate from 1963 to 1977 and then in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1984 until 1999.

Fawell graduated from North Central College before pursuing his law degree and today his Congressional papers are held on campus. Now retired, Fawell still calls Naperville home.

The Bill Young athletic fields are on West Street near Central High School and are used for Park District and school athletic programs.

Young is an appropriate namesake since he served both as a Park District Commissioner and as Park District Police Chief. In addition, Young was also a dean and wrestling coach at the nearby high school. Young passed away in 2014 and the park honoring him was dedicated in 2016.

In the same area are the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots, renamed in 2015. After 21 years in the Army, Ory retired and started working for the Park District’s golf courses where he learned about the garden plots and got interested in gardening.

His interest was serious enough to earn an associate degree from College of DuPage and then get certified by the University of Illinois Master Gardener program. In 2013, he was also certified as a Master Naturalist.

In addition to his own personal gardening, for several years Ory led the group who work the Master Gardener plots. The Master Gardners provide Loaves & Fishes with fresh produce every year for their clients. You might run into Ory if you stop by this park during the growing season!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Naperville Parks - The Burlingtons

Our community is blessed with a number of parks, forest preserves and other green spaces. The names of these parks reflect their attributes or their developers or our local history. Since the significance of a park’s name can be lost as our population grows and ages, over the coming months we’ll highlight a few parks as a reminder. 

There are two parks named for the Burlington Northern Railway Company. As you might imagine, both will be found along the tracks. 

Burlington Square is a small park right in front of the 5th Avenue station. It features a statue of an American “doughboy” from World War I. Through the years since the War to End All Wars, the doughboy got a little beat up and had his rifle stolen, but the Century Walk art group restored him 2003 and placed him in Burlington Square. 

There’s also a Burlington Park between the railway and the DuPage River. Currently, Burlington Park in under the care of the DuPage Forest District — again.

A referendum was passed in 1966 to create the Naperville Park District and in 1969, the Park District took over several Forest Preserve properties, including Burlington. The lease just lapsed in 2016, giving the park back to the Forest Preserve. 

Originally, Burlington Park was a holiday destination created by the railway late in the 19th century. Chicago city folk could take the train out into the country during hot summers to picnic and party. The DuPage River was dammed to make a lake for boating and dancing, concerts and ball games were also offered. Revelers often brought kegs of beer with them or visited the town saloons. By 1899, Naperville’s citizens had had enough of those shenanigans and the park was closed. 

In 1920, Naperville’s Association of Commerce, the forerunner of our current Chamber, worked with the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad to purchase the property for Naperville’s citizens as part of the DuPage Forest Preserve District.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - Clarissa Hobson

Clarissa Stewart Hobson was Naperville’s first female European settler. Joseph Naper’s wife, Almeda, long held that title, but as city borders extended to include the Hobson land, Clarissa now claims it. 

A Georgia girl, Clarissa and husband Bailey spent their early married life in Indiana not far from Louisville, Kentucky. She was already a 26 year old mother of five children when they decided that greener — and less rocky — pastures were to be had in Illinois. 

Leaving Clarissa behind with the farm work and the children, Bailey checked out some land in Illinois before returning to pack everything up for the move. They left on September 1, 1830 and were three weeks on the road, camping with their household goods, their kids and their cattle. 

After another three weeks bunking with a friendly family, Bailey had a cabin roughed out in Kendall County. The Hobsons were settled in their new home toward the end of November, but by December, Bailey was already thinking about moving closer to civilization. 

Leaving Clarissa in charge once again, he scoped out the DuPage River and chose a spot for their next cabin. 

1830 was the legendary Winter of Deep Snow which made traveling and cabin-building treacherous. Also, the brand-new farm had no harvest in storage. More than once over the winter, Bailey slogged out to buy provisions and was snowed in by fierce blizzards. Not knowing for weeks if he was alive or dead, Clarissa managed the hungry children, melted snow for drinking water, tore apart a shed for firewood and shoved aside a cow which died of cold on the doorstep.

They settled on the DuPage River in March of 1831, eventually building a saw mill and then a grist mill. They also opened their home as a tavern for the farmers waiting for their grain to be ground. You can still see their mill stones at Pioneer Park on south Washington Street.

Clarissa went on to birth seven more children and continued to run the mill after Bailey died in 1850. Despite her early hardships, Clarissa herself lived to be 84.