Last photo post left you on the Road To No Where also known as the Amstutz Expressway or IL-137. We were on the odd road heading to Bowen Park in Waukegan. We’ve commented on the park for years as we’ve passed. It’s restored Victorian house up front, the rolling hills and gardens, the use of its other building and sporting facilities have always caught our eye. We’ve talked several times of going down there to see just what it offered and touring the house. That was our agenda this Saturday before the University of Tennessee versus Florida game.
We pulled in and weren’t sure where to begin. He headed down to the Jack Benny Arts center. There it appears they have a place for the performing arts. However we weren’t to learn much about the place. The lady behind the counter wasn’t very helpful and seemed put out that we didn’t know how the park operated. She kept her arms crossed over he chest the whole time, dismissed the idea there was more to tour than the house as if seeing well kept historical buildings and a museum sign didn’t suggest that maybe all were open. She didn’t offer to explain what the art center was or if there was something to see there. After struggling to get any useful information we learned the house was the historical societies and opened in twenty minutes. With that she turned her back to us to tend the stack of mail. Being so dismissed we wandered out into the sunny day and beautiful landscape.
What we learned wandering, reading plaques, and later from the helpful AND friendly historical society gentleman was that Bowen Park park has long been a park. Originally it was purchased by a family from New York City and was a farm for years. Then a Mr. Buck purchased the place, he was a forward thinker and wanted to designate the area as a park preserve for the town of Waukegan. Now the town thought this was strange because this was just a farm out in a large swath of farmland between Waukegan and Chicago. We’re talking pre-Civil War era. However Mr. Buck was convinced that an area needed to be preserved because the growth of both would one day meet and such areas would be needed. However, his idea didn’t fly.
It was then purchased by a Chicago Mayor and his wife. Well they used it as a summer home to get out of the heat of the city until the great fire. Then while Chicago was rebuilding they lived there full time. Along the way it was owned by Louise Decoven Bowen was a Decoven of the affluent Decoven of Racine, live here long enough you get to know the names. Upon her husband’s death she thought it’d be nice to bring underprivileged children from Chicago out to the country to get fresh air, do outdoor play, and learn things to help them get ahead in society. She’d spent years working with such families and saw the need for the children. The Bowen Country Club was born. Not a Country Club like we think of but club in the country for underprivileged children to get out of the sooty city and enjoy the countryside. The land was converted from farming to this park use. That’s really when the root of the park design started. The idea was Buck’s, the basis was Bowen.
This club officially ran from 1912 – 1963. That was when the dorms and cottages were finished and opened. Before them she hosted small groups in her home and out buildings. When the club closed the land was converted to a park for Waukegan. By then Mr. Buck’s idea didn’t seem so odd. The growth of Chicago and Waukegan proved to meet as he had predicted and this was a green gem in middle of them.
Today many of the buildings from the Country Club are still used for various activities. The Lilac Cottage houses a library and class rooms for the arts. Other buildings serve as offices for the park department or historical society. It’s still a place to get away from the city and enjoy the land. Judging from the children’s garden we found it’s still a refuge that caters to children. We eventually sat down on a bench and listened to the drumming circle. We watched children enjoy rolling down a little hill in front of us while a family set up a pavilion for their family reunion that day. All in all I think Mr. Buck and Mrs. Bowen would be pleased by the park’s usage today.