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Short Posts of Historic Facts and Events in Illinois

20

Jun

2018

Naperville Parks - The Wil-O-Ways

Two parks bear the name “Wil-O-Way,” with one distinguished as “Wil-O-Way Commons.” Both are also situated on Jefferson Avenue within the Wil-O-Way subdivision.

As you might imagine, the parks are named for the subdivision — and the subdivision is named for the dairy farm on which the subdivision was built.

George and Dorothy Polivka raised Guernsey cows, starting the Wil-O-Way Farm Dairy in the late 1930s. In 1945, the Polivkas purchased Oakhurst, a gracious home built in 1847 that adjoined their farm. They changed the name of the house to Wil-O-Way.

Naperville’s first big building boom arrived in the 1960s and the Polivka family rolled with the times. Their farmland became the Wil-O-Way subdivision and son James Polivka opened Wil-O-Way Manor restaurant in the family home. Today, the house is known as Meson Sabika.

The Wil-O-Way subdivision was built in several phases, starting in 1967, and is situated on either side of Jefferson Avenue and River Road, about a mile west of downtown Naperville.

Rumor has it that the land on which Wil-O-Way Park sits was reserved as a possible elementary school site, anticipating continued population growth.

Today, the park features a children’s playground, basketball nets and a baseball diamond.

Wil-O-Way Commons Park runs along the DuPage River. There is a children’s playground at this location as well.

In 2011, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the West Branch Riverway Trail that runs through Wil-O-Way Commons.

The Riverway Trail starts across Jefferson Avenue where the Riverwalk ends and continues under Ogden Avenue to connect up with McDowell Grove Forest Preserve. The
Riverway Trail is maintained as a cooperative effort between the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, the City of Naperville and the Naperville Park District.

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16

May

2018

Naperville Parks -- The Riverwalk

The DuPage isn't a super impressive river. When the Napers arrived, a dam and pond was required to mill lumber and grain. Today, of course, Naperville is well-known for its beautiful and bustling Riverwalk.

Eventually, the mill pond dam was removed and the city grew. Too shallow for commercial transportation, land near the river attracted businesses that didn’t mind the threat of floods
such as storage lots, junkyards and gas stations. Mayor Emeritus Pradel remembers guys from his youth driving their cars into the river to wash them, a story commemorated in one of the Century Walk murals.

As the Naperville’s 150th anniversary approached, civic leaders took a fresh look at the river running through downtown. Inspired by the riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, they wondered if building something like it here would bring shoppers back from the new mall that had opened on Route 59 in Aurora.

Fundraising started in 1980 and folks donated both money and in-kind materials. A timely slowdown in the economy prompted businesses to contribute skilled construction crews as well. Anniversary fervor provided even more hours of unskilled volunteer labor.

The banks of the river were cleaned of trash. The ground was cleared, graded and planted. Paths were marked out and bricks laid. Lighting, bridges and fountains were installed. The Free Speech Pavillion, right across from the library, was built on the foundation of an old gas station.

These first two blocks of the Riverwalk were officially presented to Naperville’s citizens during the 175th Anniversary celebrations in June of 1981. Since then, it has expanded west, east and south, giving folks 1.75 beautiful miles to stroll, run on and enjoy year round.

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18

Apr

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 Cl
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21

Mar

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.
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21

Feb

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.

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