Before it was a park
|Before Kewanee Park District developed Northeast
Park in the early 1920’s the property was the site of the
coal-mining and brick-making operations of Kewanee Mining and
Manufacturing Company. Founded in 1893 by Chester Turner, the
company closed several years after a fire destroyed its brick
factory in 1905. The coal mine was located near Main and 11th
north of today’s main ball field. The brick yard was north of the
Elm Street entrance to the park.
The pictures below show the coal-mining (left) and brick-making (right) operations that occupied the grounds before 1905. During the 1910’s the vacated property became an unkempt eyesore in north Kewanee.
With a vision of what is shown in the picture below, A. J. Anderson (real estate broker) suggested the development of a park on the old mining property. In 1919 E. E. Baker started that vision into reality when he offered a donation of $50,000 if the citizens of Kewanee would authorize the formation of Kewanee Park District that would match his donation through a bond issue and levy a sufficient tax to retire the bonds and maintain the parks of the district. Such a referendum was passed on September 6, 1919 by a vote of 349 to 153.
is a view from the Elm Street
entrance to the park showing the 1920’s pool that was replaced by a
new pool in 1931. Photo above to the right, of the brick yard shows in
background the clay pit that became the 1920’s pool.
Click on images below to see larger images.
In the 1920's after it became a park
“Probably the most popular spot in all the Kewanee parks is the swimming pool located in Northeast Park”—that is the way a 1928 Kewanee Park District publication described the massive pool that occupied much of the east side of the park.
Northeast Park was the first park developed by the newly-formed park district, according to the publication, with preparations for laying out the park beginning as soon as the district was formed in 1919. Besides the lake-sized pool, the park by 1928 would include “four tennis courts, a baseball diamond, athletic fields and children’s playground.”
Located where Kewanee Mining and Manufacturing previously had a water-filled clay pit used for brick-making, the pool after enlargements measured 310 by 144 feet. The unfiltered pool had concrete walls and walkway surrounding it, but the bottom was gravel over the clay.
The 1928 publication reported that the original contract for the pool and bath house was for $17,000 and that both were “entirely free to all.” The director reported 37,200 “bathers” in 1927.
Click on images below to see larger images.
The New Filtered Pool in the 1930's
|The year 1931 was a special one in the
history of Kewanee Park District, especially for Northeast Park.
Besides the construction of a magnificent, “modern” swimming
pool and bathhouse, the park board voted to light the main
baseball diamond—making it the first public recreational,
non-commercial ball field to have lights for night games.
An estimated 5,000 fans attended the historic beginning of night baseball on June 2 to watch the Elks defeat the Odd Fellows 6 to 4. The American Legion and Pinkie’s Service Inn made up the other two teams in the newly-formed Kewanee City League.
The popularity of baseball and the novelty of night games made Northeast Park an entertainment mecca the summer of ’31 and several subsequent summers. An average of 4,000 to 5,000 fans, young and old, surrounded the ball diamond for each session. Total attendance for 1932 was reported at 111,500.
The City League was strictly amateur baseball and would continue into the 1940’s. It was part of a rich baseball tradition in Kewanee, beginning with semi-pro ball around 1900 and including a minor league team (Kewanee Boilermakers) from 1908 to 1911. Semi-pro ball returned in the late 1930’s when the Kewanee Parkers played at Northeast managed by legendary Russell “Butter” Peden. Kewanee’s last fling with play-for-pay came in the 1948-49 seasons when the Philadelphia Athletics brought their minor league Kewanee A’s to Northeast.
In the early 1950’s men’s baseball leagues faded away in favor of organized youth baseball. The popularity of youth programs has resulted in the development of several ball diamonds at Northeast Park.
Additional information and photographs are available when you visit the Kewanee Historical Museum
As always, if you have old photographs, stories or documents
you wish to share
with the Historical Society we would be greatly appreciated.
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