Mildred Park (Bunn Park)

Mildred Park in 1906 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Mildred Park in 1906 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Mildred Park had rides, a swimming, boating and fishing lagoon with a suspension bridge and other attractions. The area is now Bunn Park.

The suspension bridge was the site of a near-tragedy on Aug. 16,1905, when one of its cables snapped, tumbling 50 people — retail clerks and employees of the Inter-State Telephone Co., both holding outings in the park — into 12 feet of water.  People boating on the lake acted quickly to pull people from the water. Two young women who became tangled in the wires suffered minor injuries.

Mildred Park was founded as a privately owned amusement park. Even before the accident, however, the Springfield Improvement Association, a group of businessmen, initiated efforts to help the Springfield Park District buy the park. The association noted that Washington Park had no areas for baseball, tennis or swimming.

“Every now and then, we hear of some boy being fished out of the river dead,” the association’s Edward Payne told the board in September 1905. “The boys of Springfield need some place where they can learn to swim and where they can be watched. They want a place to play ball and have ten teams playing at once if they like.”

Payne, a banker and investor, bought Mildred Park himself in 1908 for $40,000. He sold it to the park district for the same price a year later. Mildred Park was renamed Bunn Park, recognizing businessman and park board secretary John Bunn, in May 1913.

At the same meeting, the board named a newly developed park on the city’s far east side in honor of pioneer Presbyterian minister Rev. John G. Bergen (1790-1872) who first purchased the park property from the federal government. The new facility had informally been called East End Park.

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10 Responses to Mildred Park (Bunn Park)

  1. Marie says:

    From stories around the neighborhood: Mildred was Elijah Iles’s wife. He bought the plot of land now known as Bunn Park with the intention of building lovely mansion there for his wife. But, when he brought his wife to show her the area, she was not interested in living there because it was too far out of town.

    • editor says:

      Marie: The neighborhood stories are wrong on at least one point. Elijah Iles’ wife was Malinda, not Mildred. Mildred Jeffress Bunn (1887-1958) was the wife of Jacob Bunn Jr., founder of Sangamo Electric. I believe the original amusement park was named after the adjoining town of Mildred (now part of the southeast side of Springfield), not directly after Mrs. Bunn herself; the town probably was named after Mildred Jeffress Bunn, but I haven’t researched that yet (it’s part of a long list of to-dos). The park was renamed Bunn Park, after Jacob Jr.’s uncle, John W. Bunn, in 1913.

      I have no idea if Mildred Bunn vetoed her husband’s mansion site or not; I’ve never seen anything to that effect, but I’ve never looked into it either.

      But the timing of your comment is amazing. I just spent all morning today looking up Bunn Park background for what I think will be SangamonLink’s next entry, a look at how all 40 city parks got their names. I saw your comment as I quit that to go fix lunch. Did the NSA give you access to my search history? This is eerie.

      Thanks for the note. I think.

  2. Marie says:

    Thanks for the info on Mildred Bunn. I’ll make a mental note to revise my future story-telling.

    • editor says:

      Marie: Well, I was wrong, at least in part. There WAS a Mildred Iles, and Mildred Park WAS named after her. But she was the wife of Elijah Foster Iles, the nephew of the famous Springfield pioneer Elijah Iles (who was married to Malinda). It doesn’t take much to confuse me, and this proves it. My apologies.

      Thanks to Springfield Entertainment: A Pictorial History, by Curtis Mann, Ed Russo and Melinda Garvert (1996) for correcting me on this.

  3. Clella Iles Jaffe says:

    Elijah Foster Iles and L. Mildred (Steele) Iles were my great grandparents, and they did own this amusement park, which was originally named after Elijah Foster’s wife, Mildred. They had eight boys, so perhaps he thought they needed a park to keep them busy. I don’t know if he bought the land for a mansion, but there are records showing that he had a good deal of property, especially in the Woodside area. I assume the town of Mildred was named after her. Because Elijah Iles, the founder who was married to Malinda Benjamin had no heirs, (their son and daughter predeceased them), the founder willed his estate to his brother’s, (Washington Iles and Ann Foster Iles) children — including Elijah Foster Iles. (There are four Elijah Ileses: (1) the founder, (1) my granddad with the middle name Foster, (3) one of his eight sons, Elijah Foster, Jr., and (4) one of his grandsons was also Elijah Foster Iles, who went by “E. F. Juniior,” although he was technically not a “junior.”

  4. Clella Iles Jaffe says:

    Further information from an article in the July 5, 1950, paper says, “The park was opened by the sons of Elijah Iles II, who named it after their mother, Mildred. About this time, this section of the city was the setting for a proposed realty and industrial development. The Mildred Park Amusement Co. operated at this site and featured the usual amusement attractions.
    As the city expanded, it fused with the area of Mildred park, and in 1913 the park was officially named Bunn park in honor of John W. Bunn.”
    So there you have it. :-) (Mildred Steele Iles died in 1903.)

  5. Clella Iles Jaffe says:

    I have family photos of the bridge collapse if you’d like them.

  6. Dave Kane says:

    I find all this Mildred/Bunn Park history very interesting. My parents moved into a small house at the end of South 13th — the north edge of the park — in the late 1940s. The house originally was lived in by my great-grandmother in the early 1900s. That neighborhood was called the “Mildred Park Addition” or something like that.

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