Lambert: The Plainfield Park District - Part 2
A look back at the history of Plainfield parks.
Recently, a Plainfield Patch reader noted that, in 2012, the Plainfield Township Park District marked its 45th anniversary. On Oct. 22, 1966, voters approved the establishment of the Plainfield Township Park District. The public elected five local men as the first commissioners of the newly-formed organization.
The organizational meeting of the Plainfield Township Park District was held on Nov. 1, 1966. The five commissioners met in the law offices of Sam Saxon (present-day 15028 S. Des Plaines St.).
Subsequent meetings were held at the village hall on Lockport Street (now demolished), Plainfield Savings & Loan (present-day J. P. Morgan Chase Bank at Illinois and Chicago Streets) and the personal residences of those first commissioners.
The First Year
From the beginning, efforts to establish a cooperative association with the township, village and school district were high priorities.
However, initial efforts to secure a 74 acre parcel along Lockport Street from Plainfield Township were not successful. By mid-spring 1967, discussions for the future park parcel began to head in a positive direction.
In early 1967, the Plainfield Athletic Association was concerned about who would pay for the lighting and maintenance of baseball fields at both the Village Green and Boy Scout Park on Ottawa Street, owned and maintained—to a degree—by the Village. Although the newly-formed park district was unable to address the concerns of the athletic association, the village provided funds for lumber and paint because the Association agreed to build the bleachers and paint the existing restrooms.
Throughout 1967, the park district proceeded with their efforts to establish a viable organization that could provide recreational services for township residents. The new organization was approached with many suggestions from township residents as well as community leaders.
First, the Plainfield Township Park District established a tax levy of $37,800 for operating expenses. In April, a summer recreation program was established for township residents. The budgeted cost for the entire program was approximately $2,300.
In September, a mixed adult winter program of volleyball, non-skilled games and physical fitness was planned from November 1967 through March 1968 if the school board would allow access to a school gymnasium. The school board agreed to the use of the high school gym (at that time, Plainfield was served with a single high school). Mr. LaFave was appointed the director in charge of winter programs and was assisted by the young minister, Richard Liles, of the newly-gathered Plymouth Congregational Church. Thirty men and women participated in that first season of programming.
In October 1967, the American Legion approached the young park district seeking cooperative operation of swimming and skating activities at Legion Lake. Located south of the Marne Post at Renwick and River roads, Legion Lake was a popular recreational spot for Plainfield families. The lake was so popular that the Legion had installed lights for nighttime activities. The park district took the offer under advisement.
Finally, in November, the park district entered into an agreement to purchase a portion of Section 11 in Plainfield Township for a public park facility. Purchased from the Plainfield Township government for $20,000, the site purchased in 1967 is today’s Four Seasons Park at Lockport Street and Interstate 55.
In December as the commissioners’ first year drew to a close, the park district heard several additional requests from members of the Plainfield community.
Plainfield school band director Edward Jones asked for the construction of a band shell for outdoor concerts at the Village Green.
The new park board also considered a suggestion to manage the historic Halfway House that had been built along Main Street. Constructed in 1833 and expanded in 1836, the revered house was considered to be one of the village’s oldest homes and was envisioned as a community historical museum.
The Acquisition of Park Land
In February 1968, Al Sather of the Plainfield Athletic Association appeared before the Plainfield Township Park District. Sather pledged that the Association would continue to organize Little League baseball and farm system activities for 1968, but requested specific improvements be made at local ball fields by the park district to fencing and backstops. Specifically, the Association requested new fencing and backstops for the Crystal Lawns, Marybrook and Ottawa Street parks. Additionally, the association requested improvements to the existing lighting system along Ottawa Street as well as in the Ottawa Street parks as well.
However, the park district did not control the parks where improvements were needed.
So, in March 1968, the park board began discussions about taking over the village’s parks. Within a single month, the park board and village had reached an agreement for the park district to assume management of the Village Green, Boy Scout/Ottawa Street, Marybrook/Kelly, the Ottawa Street baseball diamond, Memorial Triangle (along Division Street / Illinois Route 59) and the McLaughlin Trust property. In May 1968, the park district set out to begin improvements at the newly-acquired parks. The district purchased playground equipment for both the Marybrook and Village Green parks.
Within a short period of two years, the Plainfield Township Park District had grown from an idea to an organization managing seven park properties. The Park District considered a $10,000 consultant’s proposal for the development of the 74 acre Lockport Street property as well as improvements at other community parks.
The Second Year
Aside from managing parkland, the fledgling park district sought to expand recreational activities for residents of all ages during its second year of operation.
An April 1968 kite flying contest drew only six contestants to the Indian Trail school grounds on a very windy day. The first tours for young adults were organized in July 1968. The organized tours included United Airlines at O’Hare Airport; Brookfield Zoo; Munroe Hatchery (Plainfield) and Phillips Park (Aurora). More than 475 children participated in the summer youth program which was provided under budget.
Plans for a pet parade and community carnival were discussed at length. The park district explored improvements to Boy Scout Park that would have included picnic tables and walking paths as well as lake improvements. The park district authorized the implementation of a two week summer tennis clinic under the direction of Park Director Norman and assisted by local physical education teacher, Georgia Scoggins. During the winter months, a tumbling program was initiated and Crafts Director, Pat Norcross, planned a course in advanced basket weaving.
Throughout 1968, the need for a public swimming pool was discussed repeatedly. A consultant provided the costs for the construction of an Olympic-sized pool. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Huling presented a request for a public pool, but the park district said it was not financially feasible. Again, in September 1968, a petition with 50 signatures requesting year round swimming facilities was presented to the park district. After discussion, the park board agreed to meet with the Plainfield school board to discuss the possibility of a joint venture to establish and operate a public swimming pool.
Local resident John Peterson (later village president) requested the use of Plainfield parks for the northeast region Jaycees softball tournament. His request raised the issue of selling and consuming alcoholic beverages on public park property. In contrast, Rev. Stephens of the First Southern Baptist Church (now Friendship Baptist Church) was granted a request to host revival meetings at the Village Green on four consecutive Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the autumn of 1968.
The Necessity of Staff and Taxation
With all of its activity, the Plainfield Township Park District found it necessary to hire operational staff in May 1968. Helen Leidig was hired as the first Administrative Assistant at an annual salary of $1,000; Max Norman was hired as the first, part-time park director at an annual salary of $1,200.
Within a short time, Dale LaGow was approved as assistant director. But, when LaGow moved from the area, Eugene Barnewolt, a Plainfield high school physical education teacher and athletic coach was suggested to be LaGow’s replacement.
The total operating expense for 1968-1969 was $41,300 of which $40,000 was raised by taxation.
Next Column: Plainfield Township Park District – Part Three
Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.
© 2013 Michael A. Lambert. All Rights Reserved