Jim, a Plainfield Patch reader, asked: “When was the Village Green park donated to the village? What, if any, restrictions have been placed on buildings in the public park? What is the history of the Village Green?”
This is the third part in a three-part series on the Village Green. focused on its earliest history and on its development in the early- and mid-20th century.
Conceived as a gift to the citizens of in 1835, Plainfield’s Village Green -- located a block south of downtown -- has evolved with each successive generation.
By the mid-1970s, the Village Green was a hub of community activities that ranged from athletics to cultural events. For two decades, a heavily utilized ball diamond occupied its northeast corner. The large, flat tract had been the site of the annual American Legion Summer Carnival for years. The picnic shelter had hosted countless picnics for family reunions, church groups, social organizations and business gatherings.
In spite of its community-wide appeal and year-round popularity, new ideas were formulating that would change the park as a generation had come to know it.
Despite objections to the removal of the ball diamond by avid baseball fans, the Plainfield Township Park District pursued plans for the renovation of the Village Green in the mid-1970s. At times, the controversial plan to eliminate baseball at “the Green” resulted in heated accusations that the public park would become little more than “a flower garden.”
The park district’s 1975 renovation added a new paved path throughout the park as well as additional landscaping, chess and checker tables, drinking fountains, and a concessions stand connected to the 1960s-era restroom building. Tennis courts moved from the southwest corner of the park to the southeast corner. The playground was moved from the northwest corner to the southwest corner.
Upon the completion of the renovations, the Village Green was poised to host community celebrations once again. Although many of the popular activities continued, the beautifully landscaped grounds seemed strangely silent in the absence of the American Legion carnival and the Little League games.
One of the most frequent and largest groups to use the refurbished Village Green in the late 1970s was high school students.
After a brief, experimental period that allowed smoking on the high school grounds was discontinued, many high school students would gather before school at “The Corner,” one block south of the Village Green at Fox River and Commercial streets. There, the students would meet — in any kind of weather — to talk, smoke cigarettes and “hang out” until the first school bell rang, marking the beginning of the school day.
As the crowds grew significantly larger and more popular, the band of students eventually migrated to the Village Green. The increased distance either made the students shorten their morning ritual in order to get to class on time or, in many cases, led to increased tardiness during the first class period of the school day. Eventually, the tradition of “hanging out at the Green” before school faded away.
Although the Village Green had been renovated, most of the old playground equipment simply had been relocated.
The old equipment had served several generations of young kids. For many, it had become a ritual to bring wax paper to hasten the speed of descent down the oven-hot metal slide during the summer. Others remember the ritual of removing splinters that were a memento of the old, wooden seats of the drab metal swing set. Still others recall pushing the manually powered merry-go-round until it was spinning at near vomit-inducing speed … but still slow enough for the most agile — if breathless — “pusher” to hop upon.
The pre-renovation playground at the Village Green sat on a bed of crushed limestone that was akin to stone shards. After even the gentlest rain, the ride down the metal slide deposited many into the muddy-gray soup that filled the depression at the end of the run.
Similarly, the well-worn trench surrounding the merry-go-round was a circular moat of the muddy-gray soup that would spray on pusher and rider alike. To the chagrin of many mothers, the gray-stained playclothes were worn as badges of honor, symbols of a good day’s fun at the park.
In the early 1980s, local grade school student Julie Rife wrote a letter asking the park board to provide better playground equipment at the Village Green. Her request for a spiral slide resulted in the first major playground improvements within the park in four decades. Colorful, new, interactive playground equipment on a bed of mulch replaced the worn-out, but beloved, equipment from the early 1950s.
About that time, a Joliet-based organization (which had been the recipient of Ingersoll descendant bequests) challenged whether or not the park shelter and restrooms constituted “buildings” in violation of ’s 1835 deed restrictions.
The courts deemed the group was not an Ingersoll heir but, simply, a beneficiary with no rights to the park parcel. Furthermore, the case concluded the structures erected on the park site were not permanently habitable and, therefore, not “buildings.” Fears that the public park could be seized for private development soon subsided.
One of the memorable Village Green events was the two-day American Bicentennial gala held by Plainfield Township. Like its predecessor 100 years earlier, the celebration included entertainment, food and historical re-enactments. It culminated in an ecumenical community church service on Sunday, July 4, 1976.
For several years, the Plainfield Historical Society hosted a community ice cream social that featured delicious, homemade pies, ice cream and bluegrass music.
After a successful first year, the Plainfield Commerce Association’s annual Plainfield Fest was moved to the Village Green in 1983. The popular event continued the century-old tradition of family-oriented entertainment along with historical demonstrations and tours, a large craft show and plenty of food.
The first year PlainfieldFest (now Plainfield Fest) was hosted on “the Green,” most of the vendors and activities relied on electricity borrowed via extension cords from neighboring homes and businesses. To correct that situation and provide for expanded festivals, the Plainfield Commerce Association partially funded and provided volunteers to upgrade the electrical service at the Village Green. Now in its 31st year, PlainfieldFest is held in downtown Plainfield.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the Plainfield Park District sponsored a series of “Concerts in the Park” each summer. The concerts were eventually moved to Settlers’ Park, a larger public venue with more parking.
Preparing for the Future
With the opening of larger Settlers’ Park adjacent to the new Plainfield Village Hall, the focus of activities changed at the Village Green once again.
As its 175th anniversary approached, many of the park’s facilities — especially the 1960s-era restrooms — were woefully inadequate. In 2010, numerous renovations were completed, including the addition of a splash pad, a rain garden, refurbished tennis courts and a renovated basketball court.
Complementing the improvements and the park’s legacy, new public restrooms were designed in the architectural spirit of the first buildings erected within Chester Ingersoll’s village of 1834.
Next Week: The John A. Burrell GAR Post
Did this column spark a memory or two? Feel free to record your own memories in the Comments section.
Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.