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Landmarks of the Barb City: Founders left a permanent park

The bandstand in Huntley Park looked like this around 1910.

The locally designated Huntley Park Historic District takes its name from the square block of land bounded by South Second, South Third, Prospect and Garden streets. That parcel was DeKalb's first park - Huntley Park. The name comes from town founders Russell and Lewis Huntley, original owners of most of the land that became DeKalb. According to the 1885 &#8220Portrait and Biographical Album of DeKalb County, Illinois,” county surveyor Daniel W. Lamb platted a portion of sections 22 and 23 of DeKalb Township as a new village in November 1853. The railroad had arrived that August, on its westward track from Chicago. Russell Huntley granted the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (later the Chicago and Northwestern, now the Union Pacific) the right-of-way across his land, along with a site for a depot (behind where the building currently housing O'Leary's Irish Pub & Grill is located). Three railroad investors by the names of Robinson, Van Nortwick and Holland also received land from Huntley for speculative purposes. This was a common practice for obtaining rail service in those days. Research that led to the approval of the Huntley Park Historic District in the spring of 1982 disclosed the fact that the Huntley brothers intended for the plot of land in Block 8 - Huntley Park - to function as &#8220open green space for public enjoyment” for all time to come. The parcel was set aside as the Public Square, to be the focus for educational, civic and religious life in the new community. Municipal improvements By the 1870s, the square had become the site of the city's first waterworks system. As it was the highest land in the original town area, a 2,400-foot well was dug there around 1874, at a cost of $20,000. A wooden water tank was added in 1886. A 40-horsepower steam engine was subsequently installed in a brick-and-stone pump house. The wooden storage tank was replaced in 1889 by a steel standpipe having a capacity of 250,000 gallons of water. The new tank was removed in the 1950s. The pump house and standpipe were pictured in the 1894 &#8220Daily Chronicle Illustrated Souvenir Edition.” The city of DeKalb retained ownership of the Public Square until after the DeKalb Park District was established in 1935. In the early 1900s, meanwhile, plans were apparently put in place to redesign or otherwise improve the property. According to materials in the possession of the park district, noted landscape architect Jens Jensen was consulted regarding what work should be done. The park's centerpiece for the next 50 years or so was a striking stone bandstand with an orange tile roof. The gazebo in DeKalb Square Park at North Fourth Street and East Lincoln Highway is based on the historic Huntley Park structure of the early 1900s. Old-timers have reminisced that the DeKalb Municipal Band concerts held at the bandstand (and alternatively at Liberty Park on the north side of town) would attract people who parked their cars on the surrounding streets, honking their horns to sound their approval of the music. The bandstand was removed in the 1950s. Stone benches remaining in Huntley Park today date from the first decade of the 1900s. The one opposite 407 S. Second St. bears the dedication &#8220Fortnight Club 1906.” Near the Garden Street end of the park is a long two-sided bench, unmarked by whoever placed it there. Just in off South Third Street, meanwhile, is a large stone structure that served as a drinking fountain originally. Forgotten history During the research leading to the designation of the Huntley Park neighborhood as a local historic district, one longtime resident even imparted forgotten information about the trees in the park. It was his contention that the trees we see there today were planted following the end of World War I in honor of those men from DeKalb who gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe. The trees were originally surrounded by metal guards with memorial plaques on them. None of the guards survive today, nor do any other records about the plantings. In September 2002, the newest addition to the park was installed. The brick labyrinth, entered from the southeast, is a spiraling walkway 57 feet in diameter. At its dedication, one of the speakers described the structure as &#8220a place to meditate and exercise ... a place for children to run and play” and said it was &#8220different things to different people.” The labyrinth sprang from an idea developed initially as a project for the Northern Illinois University Art Museum during the renovation of Altgeld Hall, when the museum was without a home. The Huntleys would no doubt be pleased with the ongoing uses to which the former Public Square has been adapted. --- Steve Bigolin is an expert in DeKalb County history.

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