Lambert: Village Green's History from One-Time Dirt Tract to Public Park

The land bordered by Des Plaines, Ottawa, Fox River and Chicago streets was donated as a "public commons" by Chester Ingersoll.

The Inquiry

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 its history?”

The Facts

The Village Green is the oldest, dedicated public space in Plainfield. However, it was not originally envisioned in its present location.

In August 1834, when he proposed a formal public square that would be fronted by commercial and public buildings. Ingersoll’s original concept envisioned that present-day Lockport Street would have been interrupted one-half block east and west of Fox River Street. The orderly grid of streets he laid out south of “the Lockport Road” would have been mirrored to the north of the roadway.

However, Ingersoll’s vision was dashed by , who owned the land north of present-day Lockport Street. Arnold did not share the same vision of an orderly grid of streets or a desire to provide land for a public square. 

So, Ingersoll revised his plans and, in 1835, set aside a town block for the purposes of a public park, deeded to the citizens of Plainfield for their perpetual enjoyment. The park was bounded by Chicago, Fox River, Ottawa and Des Plaines streets. 

At that time, the deed specified the tract was given for the enjoyment of the citizens of Plainfield in perpetuity and, if any buildings were erected on the park parcel, the property would revert back to Ingersoll’s heirs. 

A Patch of Prairie

When Plainfield was first laid out, our was not the well-manicured park we know today. The park was not even known by that name, but was referred to as the “public commons” or the “open common.”

In the 1830s and 1840s, the “open common” was little more than a patch of barren, untamed prairie. The entire block was surrounded by narrow, dirt streets. Along those streets, about a dozen small homes were erected opposite the park by some of this community’s first pioneer families.

Besides residences, several businesses also located along the streets that encircled the “public commons.”

Established in 1835, John Bill’s Wagon Shop operated for nearly 15 years across from the northeast corner of the park. The wagon shop also provided space for Samuel Sargeant and Jonathon Hagar’s first store in 1835. One of Plainfield’s first schools was housed on the second floor of the wagon shop as well. 

Immediately north of the commons, Samuel S. Pratt manufactured chairs, beginning in 1838. William Keene and Jacob Hoffer established their blacksmith shops on the west and north sides of the commons in 1841 and 1848, respectively.

In spite of the homes and businesses, Jonathon Hagar recalled several decades afterward that he could “stand in the doorway” in the morning and “see the wolves scampering across the open common of the village” when he first established his store.

From Prairie to Park

Trees, planted either by Ingersoll or other Plainfield pioneers, had matured by the mid-1860s.

Around the Civil War, active and veteran soldiers gathered in the park for military drills and parades. Several soldiers and their comrades posed for photographs on the park grounds. By that time, the relatively new game of “base-ball” was being played “on the green.” 

The “open common” was first improved by the village, once an official local government had been established in 1861. By 1870, the park block was enclosed by a wooden fence. The fence kept roaming livestock as well as carriages and sleighs from entering the grounds. Apparently, crushed limestone paths crossed thru the park, from corner to corner.

At the time of the nation’s centennial in 1876, the park was the site of a town celebration that lasted for several days. Besides picnics and bands, the park hosted a substantial fireworks exhibition.

During the 1880s and 1890s, the Fourth of July celebrations with elaborate fireworks displays continued at the park. During those celebrations and in the decades when bicycles were becoming increasingly popular, bicycle racing on the dirt streets around the park was introduced. More often than not, riders from the farms of Wheatland Township took home the coveted prizes. 

The Plainfield Cornet Band presented concerts in the park after 1888.

In the closing decades of the 19th century, the Modern Woodmen entertained Plainfield residents with public demonstrations of their precision drilling skills at the park. A fraternal and social organization, the Modern Woodmen included a drill team that utilized wood axes in their precision maneuvers rather than rifles or batons. Plainfield’s Modern Woodmen Drill Team was awarded top honors at several exhibitions throughout the Midwest.

Throughout the 19th century, the public commons served the village just as Ingersoll had hoped some 65 years earlier. Through the years, Ingersoll’s gift to the citizens of Plainfield was continually improved and the land served as the center for community fairs and events during Plainfield summers. 

Still, over the course of six decades, no structures had been erected on the park land, honoring Ingersoll’s original request.

Next Week: The Village Green in the 20th Century

Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.


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