The Springfield Park Board bought the property that became Douglas Park in September 1920, but there was a problem with developing the new land: the neighborhood stank.*
The park district paid $20,000 to buy the 26-acre “Enos pasture” from descendants of Pascal P. Enos,* who settled the land in 1823. “The entire 26 acres is covered with trees and makes an ideal picnic grounds,” the Illinois State Register reported.
Unfortunately, the Town Branch – the creek that was Springfield’s original defining feature – ran along the north edge of the new park. By the 1920s, what had been an unspoiled country stream had been converted to the city’s primary sewer. The Register described the results in July 1921:
Turn a searchlight on the slums of London or the “back-alley” district of New York, where living conditions are made practically unbearable by the filth of a big city, and the expose would show but little worse conditions than that which exists in the Capital City of Illinois today.
The outlet for the waste of more than 12,000 families of Springfield – and within the shadow of the state capitol – the open sewer which runs parallel with Salome avenue, west of Walnut street, is a veritable eyesore of the city. …
To the south is Springfield’s new Douglas park, recently acquired. …
This beautiful wooded spot with its rolling hills and shallow valleys presents an ideal center for recreation in the west part of Springfield. Under present conditions it is worthless.
At the time, the Register was campaigning in support of a bond issue to pay for rerouting and covering the Town Branch. Voters approved the bond plan in August 1921, by a margin of almost five to one, and the sewer work began almost immediately.
The park board named the new property after Stephen A. Douglas on May 11, 1921. The Illinois State Journal gave the full text of the naming resolution.
Whereas the Honorable Stephen A. Douglas was one of the most distinguished citizens of the state of Illinois, and his public career is closely connected with the early history of this city and state, and its people are indebted to him for the patriotic services given by him with great ability at a critical time in our history, and he is therefore deemed worth of our sincere appreciation and honor.
The now sweet-smelling park became Springfield’s official tourist camp in May 1924, catering to the new craze for people to see the U.S. via automobile, camping along the way. For 50 cents a night (three-night limit) campers were entitled to, according to the Journal:
- Free lights for tourists.
- Free wood.
- Four large double ovens.
- Hot and cold water, both for shower baths and for laundry purposes.
- Twenty-four-hour police protection. Two attendants will work twelve-hour shifts.
- Comfortable tourist house, including showers for men and women.
- Wash porch on north side of tourist house, where campers may do the family washing. Washboards will be provided, with hot and cold water.
Journal columnist John Vaughn took note of the new travel phenomenon, with a certain amount of awe, a month later:
They are there, in numbers – the patrons of the tourist camps. They have been coming for weeks, from every state in the Union. They represent every walk and condition in life. They are detachments of a gigantic army, annually growing greater, and representing a development in the national life for which provision must be made.
Controversy: Stephen A. Douglas’ record on racial issues – at best ambiguous, at worst pro-slavery – led the Springfield Park Board in 2020 to question whether it was appropriate to have a park named after him. The board voted in September to rename Douglas Park. When this entry was first written, the board was seeking suggestions about a new name from the public; the entry will be updated when a new name is chosen.
*The name of the land’s original owner has been corrected. SangamonLink thanks Curtis Mann of the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library. (Also corrected: “stank” vs. “stunk.” Thanks in that case to Facebook reader Steve Etter.)
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