Solomon Thatcher, Chicago business man and Methodist layman described Lake Bluff; "A paradise complete with its ravine and running brook; its bluff and beach; its wooded parks." In these words he described that part of Rockland which, in 1876, was to become the site of the Lake Bluff Camp Meetings. Paths were developed and benches installed along the bluff and in the ravine so that summer visitors could fully appreciate the beauty of this natural setting. The drilling of an artesian well in 1883 provided the water to create Artesian Lake, ten acres of water surrounding an island where Artesian Park is now located. Boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter were enjoyed on this man-made pond.
With the decline of the Lake Bluff Camp Meeting Association and the emergence of the Village of Lake Bluff, the land including the Lake Front Park (now Sunrise Park), Ravine Park and Artesian Park became the property of the newly formed village (1895). These parks were administered by the Village Board until 1928, three years after the Park District was created in 1925.
In 1904, the creation of the railroad underpass resulted in the draining of Artesian Lake and for the next thirty years the area became the village dump. Part of the area continued to be flooded for skating.
In 1911, Lake Bluff held its first Fourth of July parade, proceeding from the Village Hall to Lake Front Park for a patriotic program, games and evening fireworks at the beach. The parade committee later formed itself into the Lake Bluff Welfare Association, interested in various projects to improve the village, including the improvement of Ravine Park. As a result, the Village established the ravine as a botanical garden. A Park Commission was appointed and the first park bulletin was published: an inventory of 64 varieties of trees was found in the ravine! A nature path through the ravine was planned and a start was made on the rehabilitation of Artesian Park with the creation of three tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and a skating pond. Thus, the very first Fourth of July parade in Lake Bluff was closely tied in with the development and administration of Lake Bluff’s park system. From 1911 until 1929, the Fourth of July fireworks display was put on from the pier at the beach.
On May 9, 1925, A.W. Witt of 130 Center Avenue and 149 other residents presented to the Circuit Court of Lake County, a petition known as case #4021 to organize the Lake Bluff Park District. Illinois statutes under an Act of the General Assembly of Illinois entitles the "Act to provide for the organization of Park Districts and the transfer of submerged lands to those bordering on navigable waters, approved June 24, 1895, enforced July 1, 1895." At the special election held on June 2, 1925, 170 residents voted in favor of the organization of the Park District with 20 opposing the question.
The Lake Bluff Park District was therefore established in 1925 as a municipal corporation, empowered with a five member elected Board and given statuary authority to levy its own property taxes and generate user fees. The new Park District area consisted of approximately six square miles extending westward from the shore of Lake Michigan, comprising the Village, unincorporated Knollwood and small portions of North Chicago.
With the creation of the Lake Bluff Park District came expansion, the district was enlarged, new park areas were acquired and the Park District began to conduct recreational programs. In the early 1930's, dumping finally ceased at Artesian Park, the five clay tennis courts that are still in use were converted to asphalt courts and the entire area was improved for recreational use. In 1933 the beach was established as a public bathing beach.
In 1933 Tom Evert began his career of 40 years working for the Park District. In 1936 he was appointed as Superintendent, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. In those years he was responsible for the physical maintenance of the "whole show," the grass to be mowed, the beach to be cleaned, the baseball fields to be manicured, the tennis courts to be rolled and lined etc., etc. There was no General Manager, so each commissioner expected Tom to carry out his or her wishes.
With the establishment of the Park District in 1925 and prior to the hiring of Frank Strainis as manager in January 1968, the elected Park Commissioners had previously "micromanaged" the affairs of the park system. Betty Ferris, who served on the Board from 1957 to 1961, describes her duties:
- To hire the life guards for the beach, set up their schedules and duties, supervise their behavior with the public (and take any heat resulting). Tom Evert and his "crew" (two workmen) cleaned up the beach and restrooms.
- Betty also hired two recreation directors, a boy and a girl of college age, usually residents of Lake Bluff. The recreation program was free to all residents. Headquarters were the new field house at Artesian Park. She assisted them in setting up their programs for the various ages, games and crafts. At the end of the program several field trips were made.
- Frank was the first park and recreation professional director to guide the District from Commissioner to a staff managed agency. With his employment began the development of a recognized park district logo, park policies employee standards and procedures. He supervised the final construction and opening play of the golf course.
Coming from Wisconsin, Glenn Holzmer served from 1971 to 1974 and he also had previously directed a public park and recreation agency. He developed the final plans for the outdoor swimming pool and opened the facility for public use.
In 1972, resident Edward McCormick Blair Senior, owner of Crabtree Farms, committed $20,000 per year for five years; a donation that was to be used for the employment of an experienced Park District Manager. Glenn was the first manager to be paid from this donation.
Mr. Blair, with his $300,000 donation towards the planning of a community swimming pool, recommended the employment of an experienced park professional that would be knowledgeable in park and pool management to oversee the operation of the District.
In February 1975, coming from the Winnetka Park District, Walter Schamber managed the District until his retirement in May 2008. During his long tenure, tremendous growth and expansion were accomplished in both recreation programs and new facilities.
The Park Board, through its Personnel Committee, began an extensive search for an experienced director to manage the operation of the District and employed from Wheeling Park District, Ron Salski. Ron began in April 2008 and continues to direct the Park District.
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