Exposition (Amusement) Park, Aurora, Illinois (1922-1931)
In 1921, Frank Thielen sold much of his investment in Aurora theaters and formed the Northern Illinois Fair Association, later to be known as the Central States Fair and Exposition Park. Founded on February 17, 1922, the 121 acre facility was located north of Aurora on North Lake Street Road (old Lincoln Highway). The facility grew to be one of the largest outdoor recreation centers in the Midwest.
The park operated from Easter until late fall, with the summer months being the busiest period; particularly the months of August and September, when the Central States Fair was held. The fair brought in as many as 75,000 persons during its usual nine day run. Agricultural exhibits and competition were the focuses of the fair, but fireworks, special band concerts, horse racing, auto racing, drum corps, balloon ascensions, and other attractions were added to the already long list of entertainment options available regularly at the park.
Fireworks, auto and airplane stunt shows, daredevils, locomotive collisions, and countless other unique forms of entertainment brought visitors in droves. The park also hosted sporting events such as baseball, wrestling, football, horse racing, auto racing and rodeos. Picnicking was always popular at the park.
Permanent offerings at Exposition Park included a 130 room hotel; the “world’s largest swimming pool,” measuring 320 feet by 160 feet; a race track with grand stand; a golf course; a beautiful pergola filled with imported flowers, birds and exotic animals; and a restaurant that later became a ballroom, roller skating rink and exhibit hall, situated in what was said to be the “world’s largest log cabin.” A “Kiddie Amusement Park” contained a roller coaster (the Exposition Flyer); tilt-a-whirl; Ferris wheel (the “Swooper”); a pony track; the House of Fun; “Monkey Island” with live monkeys; the “Ol’ Mill” boat rides; a penny arcade; “Leapin’ Leana” children’s playground; a miniature railroad (the “Exposition Limited’) and other attractions.
The largest crowds lasted throughout the 1920s, but depression years saw declining attendances. The Fair was ended after 1931, but the park remained opened on a limited scale until World War II. During the war, many of the buildings were used to house military goods. The merry-go-round and miniature railroad were sold to Chicago’s Riverview Park, and in 1957, the park was demolished to make room for new development. The Exposition park race track was revived as Aurora Downs but was not long lived. Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.