Northeast Park

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.

Large photo above middle 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.

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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.


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The New Filtered Pool in the 1930's

 Images In the 1990's Below

 

“On the spot where a quarter of a century ago Kewanee’s principal bathing spot was the old brick yard clay pit, ten thousand or more persons assembled last night for the official dedication of the beautiful new $90,000 swimming pool and bath house in Northeast park, made possible through the benefactions of the late Emerit E. Baker.”

That is how the Star Courier began its story of opening night (July 30, 1931) for Kewanee’s new “swimming palace.” Even though 1931 was during the Great Depression, the costly improvement was achieved--but only through the gift of $90,000 from Emerit E. Baker, Inc., a trust funded by the wealth of Mr. Baker, founder and long-time president of Kewanee Boiler who had died Dec. 31, 1929.

The 1931 filtered pool replaced the 1920’s unfiltered pool that was closed by state order in 1930. The new pool was located west of the old pool, which was drained, filled and turned into a parking lot (today it is two softball diamonds).

The new pool proved immensely popular in the 1930’s and beyond. The best day in 1931 was 1,752; while a heat wave in 1932 produced a best day of 2,209 with a total for the year of 60,000 swimmers at what the Star Courier called the “peer of all swimming facilities in Central Illinois.”

Northeast Park was an especially busy place in the summer with its lighted baseball diamond (the lights installed in 1931 made it the first non-commercial lighted ball field), lighted tennis courts and new swimming pool.

The grand bathhouse overlooking the pool (both built by Kewanee contractor O. W. Schneider) added greatly to the beauty of Northeast Park, as did the sunken garden west of the bathhouse. The garden was the idea of Bennett Rose, nationally-acclaimed landscaper, who was lured from the Yonkers, N.Y. park system in 1931 to be superintendent of Kewanee Park District.

Dedication ceremony
for pool and bathhouse on July 30, 1931 was conducted by B.F. Baker, president of Kewanee Boiler and E.E. Baker, Inc and past mayor of Kewanee.  Besides speeches, it included a band concert by the American Legion band and a show of “bathing beauties” and suits, as seen in photo above.

 Nothing lasts forever and the “swimming palace” of 1931 was deemed too costly to repair and was closed in August, 1995.  Following passage of a $1 million bond referendum in April, 1997, a new pool was built and the bathhouse restored.  The Oasis (seen in photo to the left) opened in 1999.


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.
 


1931 Night Baseball


1949 A's

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