Sunday, December 10, 2017

Electric (Amusement) Park, Kankakee, Illinois. (1894-1934)

Electric Park opened at the end of Kankakee's streetcar line on Osborn Avenue in 1894. The park was considered the "Coney Island" of Kankakee. It was located on what was then the eastern limits of Kankakee, on the edge of the city. The name "Electric Park" was itself a draw. For these were the times before modern street lights. Most streets in the city were unlit. A place with lighting after dark was enchanting.
The amusement park was an Emory Cobb[1] promotion. Cobb was an early Kankakee entrepreneur responsible for several municipal improvements, including the town waterworks and Hotel Riverview, which opened in 1887 at a cost of $80,000 ($2,128,481 today). The hotel consisted of 80 guest rooms, an immense covered veranda, tennis courts and croquet grounds, and beach access to the river complete with rowboats.

The idea behind the amusement park was, in part, to sell more streetcar tickets. Admission to the amusement park was a nickel, but it was free if you used the trolley. Use of the bath house, to change into your swimming suit, was an extra one and a half cents[2]. In the winter the park offered ice skating. The theater on the site could hold 700. The dance pavilion was named the "Green Lantern."

Over the years Electric Park held boxing matches and dance-a-thons. Special events at the theater, like a play or an orchestra performance, would command an extra dime for admission.

Electric Park was part of a time when Kankakee served as a Northern Illinois tourist mecca, drawing customers out of Chicago. The Hotel Riverview, the Great Interstate Fair (located where Old Fair Park is today), steamboats and amusement parks were all part of that time. From 1897-1899, the YMCA operated an Athletic Park, which included bicycle racing, adjacent to Electric Park.

Electric Park was designed to be family-friendly. No alcohol was sold. It was a competitor to the rougher Gougar's Grove further up the river. Gougar's Grove began to decline when the Sunday laws against beer sales and gambling were enforced.

The advent of the automobile helped lead to the demise of Electric Park. The park became part of the Kankakee Parks system in September, 1928. The coaster and buildings were dismantled by 1934.

[1] Emory Cobb was the first settler to what would become the Riverview Historic District in Kankakee. Cobb was instrumental in the founding of Western Union, but retired in 1866 at age 34. He moved to Kankakee at this time and built his house at the southwest corner of what is now River Street and South Chicago Avenue. Cobb owned much of the land that would become the district, which he initially used as pasture. Heavily involved in Kankakee's early commercial development, Cobb decided to build a resort hotel on his property. The Riverview Hotel, located in what is now the triangle formed by Park Place, South Chicago Avenue, and South Greenwood Avenue, opened in 1887 and operated for ten years before it was destroyed in a fire. After the fire, Cobb subdivided most of his property for residential use.

[2] The half-cent is the smallest denomination of United States coin ever minted.
First authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792 on April 2, 1792, the coin was produced in the United States from 1793 to 1857. The half-cent piece was made of 100% copper and was valued at one two-hundredth of a dollar. It was slightly smaller than a modern U.S. quarter with diameters 22 mm (1793), 23.5 mm (1794–1836) and 23 mm (1840–1857). The half-cent coin was discontinued by the Coinage Act of February 21, 1857. They were all produced at the Philadelphia Mint.

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