Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Olson Memorial Park and Waterfall, Chicago, Illinois. 1935-1978

Olson Rug Company was established in 1874. The manufacturing mill was located in Chicago at Diversey and Crawford Avenues (now Pulaski Road). During the war era, when raw material was scarce, people would send in their old wool rugs, rags, clothing etc. and Olson Rug would turn them into a beautiful area rug. The family owned business was "the place" to buy rugs for many years.
       
Alongside the factory was the renowned Olson Memorial Park. Walter E. Olson built the 22 acre park in 1935. The project took nearly six months to complete. About 800 tons of stone and 800 yards of soil were used for it's construction. Approximately 3,500 perennials, along with numerous species of pines, junipers, spruces, arbor-vitaes and annuals served as a stark contrast to the area’s industrial surroundings. Olson Park’s stunning rock garden, duck pond, and 35-foot waterfall which replicated a waterfall on the Ontonagon River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The park was intended for his employees and to bring some nature to the grounds of the factory. Olson's idea for the park came from his summer home in Little St. Germaine, Wisconsin, where nature in the north woods created a peaceful setting and he thought would do the same for employees and for the crowded Avondale community as well.






The opening of the park took place on September 27, 1935, what was then American Indian Day in Illinois (fourth Saturday of September) as well as the 100th anniversary of a treaty resulted in the final expulsion of the Pottawatomies, Chippewas, and Ottawas across the Mississippi, and included a symbolic gesture deeding back the area of the park to the Indians.



During the first Sunday after its dedication Olson Park attracted as many as 600 visitors per hour. This theme was kept up with visiting Native American chiefs performing war dances, in authentic time period clothing, periodically at the park.


As Olson Rug Park became more elaborate, it was opened to the public free of charge. A trailer was set up to serve hot dogs, lemonade and other staples. The word spread. By 1955 over 200,000 people a year were visiting the park.


OLSON PARK AND WATERFALL

The parks decor changed with the season. At Christmas there was the obligatory Santa, at Easter the obligatory Easter Bunny. Halloween saw a floodlit moon hung over the waterfall, complete with a witch on a broomstick.

In some years, the great lawn featured a re-creation on McCutcheon's famed cartoon "Injun Summer." [1]

Marshall Field & Company bought the Olson Rug plant and turned it into a Field's warehouse in 1965. Field's kept the park operating until 1978, then bulldozed it in favor of more parking.




[1] "Injun Summer" was first published in the Chicago Tribune, written by, John T. McCutcheon, and printed in the September 30, 1907 newspaper. McCutcheon won a Pultizer Prize in 1932, the first Tribune staff member to receive journalism's coveted award.

Thoughts About "Injun Summer."
One day in the early fall of 1907, cartoonist John T. McCutcheon found himself groping for inspiration for a drawing to fill his accustomed spot on the front page of the Tribune. He thought back to his boyhood in the 1870s on the lonely cornfields of Indiana. "There was, in fact, little on my young horizon in the middle 1870s beyond corn and Indian traditions,McCutcheon recalled later, "It required only a small effort of the imagination to see spears and tossing feathers in the tasseled stalks, tepees through the smoky haze..."

That "small effort of imagination" became McCutcheon's classic drawing "Injun Summer." It was accompanied by a lengthy discourse with the plain-spoken charm of Mark Twain.

McCutcheon's astute folk poetry captured the sere, prickly, enigmatic mood of nature's most puzzling season. The cartoon proved so popular that it made an annual appearance in the Tribune beginning in 1912, and over the years ran in hundreds of other newspapers. 

4 comments:

  1. I remember this well as a kid and teen. My family would go and spend time with each other as we listened to the water fall and shared food and the younger ones played around. A real treat for a family that had virtually no resources for vacations or other ventures.

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  2. Lovely and we'll researched. I dont recall my family going there but I wish we had. Ironic Fields bulldozed it then went out of business.

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  3. Why was the park bulldozed?

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    Replies
    1. As stated in the article, it was bulldozed it in favor of more parking.

      Delete

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