Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Elliott’s Amusement Park, Matteson, Illinois. (1890-1913)

Elliott's Amusement Park was on the corner of Lincoln Highway and Olympian Way. Four hundred acres were purchased by James Elliott. He was in the lumber business and this was public timber. Loads were taken by horses to the Illinois Central Railroad for shipping. The primary trees were not cut down, only the secondary ones.  He planted a row of evergreens along the highway (Route 30). These are all gone, but the Arbor Vitae trees are still there and are over 150 years old.
From 1890 to 1913, Moses and Freeman Elliott operated an amusement park, which included a merry-go-round with wooden horses, dance pavilion with a wooden floor (also used for roller skating), a polka band, miniature golf course, restaurant, ice cream tent, beer garden, horseshoes, a 30 count deer farm and a very large picnic grove. There were wagon races in the open areas. To attract children, Elliott’s Park had an animal enclosure with goats, chickens, etc..
Crowds of up to 30,000 people rode special Illinois Central trains from Chicago on the weekends to attend gatherings for various union organizations, including the Swedish-American union and the Chicago Scottish union. Kids got a free banana from the IC. There were four special picnic trains a day on the Illinois Central for special events and an open area for group meetings and forums.
There was a gateway entrance to the park with a bridge over the ravine to gain admission. There were little paths that were used by the railroad leading to the park. The park employed about 20 people, for Matteson that was a lot. Farmers came in to trade and barter. Grain was among the items traded.

Beer was bought in kegs. People would come over and buy a whole barrel of beer. The park served beer in violet glass mugs, which was evidently expensive for the area, so people would leave the park to go to the local tavern, Dettmering's, to get their tin containers (1 pt., with a handle) filled with beer and go back to Elliott’s Park. The violet beer mugs used at the park were molded with a raised bottom. The beer sold for 5¢ from 1890-1913. This was at a time when a man earned 10¢ an hour for a 10-hour workday.
A log cabin was built for ice fishing and ice skating in the winters.

Taxi service was operated from the park taking the park visitors by wagons into the Matteson business district patronizing local stores, adding to Matteson’s prosperity.  The park was a major source of employment for the local residents on Matteson at the time.

The Elliott’s raised horses. There was a considerable fire which destroyed the stables and killed many horses.
James Elliott had the Illinois State Legislature designate part of the Elliott property as a cemetery. The Lutheran Cemetery was also a part of the Elliott property. Six generations of Elliotts are buried in the cemetery. According to family member Dana Elliott, the only non-family person buried in the cemetery was a Negro Union soldier.  He happened upon the Elliott farm as he walked northward from the war looking for work. The Elliott’s hired him and he worked there for many years. He was treated as part of the family. When he died, Mrs. Elliott wanted him to be buried in the family cemetery, but all the other family members objected. He is buried there but does not have a headstone. A peony bush was planted to mark his gravesite.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
*A special thanks to the Matteson Historical Society.

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