Kankakee has many beautiful parks, especially along the river. I remember going to Bird Park and feeding the ducks when I was younger. We probably weren’t supposed to feed them, but they sure enjoyed it! There are quite a few parks here, and I was interested to see what history they entailed. I did not include every park in the district, but these histories stuck out to me.
In 1912, Kankakee acquired the land at Sixth Avenue and Court Street. In 1927, the land became Alpiner Park in memory of Solomon Alpiner, the father of Mayor Ben Alpiner. In 1927, a $100,000 bond was issued to finance the development of the park.
In July 1894, Emory Cobb opened Electric Park at the end of the Kankakee Electric Street Railway line. The park included a theater, a roller coaster, a dancing pavilion, and other amusement park attractions. In 1897-1899, the YMCA operated an Athletic Park in the same area. In 1931, Electric Park was acquired by condemnation for $56,625 and renamed Waterman Park for Frank Waterman, a fountain pen manufacturer from the community. The park held the Kankakee County Fair in 1938. In 1956, Waterman Park became Beckman Park, probably for Mayor Louis E. Beckman.
In 1903, the location on the north end of Bird Park used to be the Kankakee Packing Company. The site burned down, but the plant was rebuilt with a 3-story building with 30,000 square feet. The south part of the park was the Home Provision Company. In 1907, Bird Park Quarry was sold to T. F. B. Sotham and renamed American Packing and Provision Company. The quarry closed and filled with water in 1911.
By the 1920’s, Bird Park Quarry had a bath house and an artificial beach. Part of the $100,000 bond used to develop Alpiner Park also went to Bird Park. In 1928, Worth W. Bird, the owner of the quarry, offered the site of Bird Park to the district as long as he, his brother, and his wife were all given $500 a year for life. The district agreed to the terms and started to develop the park. The same year, Bird Park opened for swimming. However, by 1931, the State Board of Health advised the park district that the Bird Park quarry water was unsafe to swim for fear of a polio outbreak, leading to the beach being closed. However, the spot was still popular for fisherman. The quarry is restocked with bass and trout every spring by the Illinois Department of Conservation.
The Hotel Riverview was located on what is now known as Cobb Park. Emory Cobb, also known for building the Electric Park, built the hotel in 1887. However, the hotel burned down in 1897 and was not financially able to be rebuilt. In 1900, Cobb sold the land to the city of Kankakee and it became “City Park”, Kankakee’s first official park. Later, it was renamed Riverview Park, and in 1956, the name changed again to Cobb Park.
Governor Small Memorial Park
In 1976, the Kankakee County Museum moved here! In addition to the museum, the one-room Taylor Schoolhouse and the Dr. A.L. Small House is open as well. If you haven’t visited, it is well worth the stop!
This park was the site of the old Kankakee City Quarry. It was a crushed limestone source for many years and opened between 1883 and 1895.
Old Fair Park
This park was the original home of the Kankakee Fair. However, the fair was moved and the park took its place.
In 1926, the Kankakee Stone and Lime Company quarry located north of Chestnut Street and east of Entrance Avenue is filled in and becomes Washington Park. The park was officially added to the park district in 1931.
You Learn Something Every Day:
There is a time capsule buried in the Governor Small Memorial Park. It was put there in 1953 and not to be opened until 2053!