Kane County History: Batavia's Turn-of-The-Century Amusement Park

Kane County History: Batavia’s Turn-of-The-Century Amusement Park

View looking SE at West Wilson St. Bridge. City of Batavia boat in the Fox River. This part of the River was filled in and is now where McDonalds is built.

Panoramic photo of Laurelwood park c. 1897

  • Editor’s Note: This article, part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history, was contributed by Batavia Depot Museum Interim Director/Curator Amber Foster.

At the turn of the twentieth century, amusement parks sprang up all across the country. Electric rail-lines or steam railroads owned many of these recreation grounds.

“City of Batavia” — a pleasure boat moored in the Fox River. The U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. is visible in the background.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Co. decided to openits own park on the 2.2 mile Geneva line that ran along the east side of the Fox river into Batavia. The railroad company leased the property of L.P. Barker, who owned the stone quarries in Batavia.

The recreation area comprised of 50 acres and was located on North River Street, north of Logan Street and Washington Avenue by the Fox River. The property was named Laurelwood park.

Trains were transferred at Geneva to the east side freight track which ran directly to the park grounds. There were about five trips every week to Laurelwood for patrons looking for a place to relax and escape during the season.

A Batavia Herald article from June 3, 1897 reads:

“The place is now being fitted up with all modern improvements, including a large dancing pavilion, with band stand and Georgia pine floor 80 x 40 feet, also a large dining hall, kitchen, ice cream parlor and restaurant, photograph gallery, shooting gallery, merry-go-round, swings, tables, benches, toilet rooms, check room and other accessories and amusements to be found in a first class picnic ground.”

Visitor’s came from all over Kane County and beyond for an outing and used many transportation mediums to get there. The Aurora and Geneva railway utilized a flat boat ferry to carry guests to the park.

A large tunnel under the Northwestern track afforded access to the west bank of the river where a wharf had been made.

Another notable mode of transportation was the Batavia excursion steam boat “City of Batavia.”

According to the June 6, 1897, Batavia Herald, the boat made frequent trips from Laurelwood park to the center of the city for guest pick up and drop off. The steamer had a canopy top and was able to carry 150 passengers.

The propelling wheel of the steamer provided the capability to run in 2 feet of water, and the engine was 10 horse power. This steam boat made its inaugural trip on May 30, 1897, and was well patronized for its convenience.

The park hosted many gathering and events including the Swedish Mid-Summer Festival. In 1897, Laurelwood park also became the chosen location for the Kane County Fair.

On July 29, 1897, the Batavia Herald reported: “Kane County Fair Assured.”

Citizens were able to provide the backing and support for the venture. Extensively advertised, the fair ran from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 and was considered a great success.

The Fair Association offered many promotions opening day including a cash prize of $3 for “the best and largest kite that will fly to the highest altitude.” The prize for the second best kite was $2. Admission to the fair was 25 cents for adults, 15 cents for children under 10, and free admission in the evening.

From 1897 to 1901, Laurelwood was the premiere place to go for a seasonal outing. While the official cause of closure is unknown, a July 1901 fire burned down the grand stand and stock stall stable putting a halt to the Kane County Fair.

The fire marked the beginning of the end as the park closed not too long after that incident. Attendance may have also suffered due to the competition of the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin’s Mill Creek and Riverview amusement park ventures nearby.

In 1996, based on the research of Batavia Historical Society’s Steve Lusted, the Batavia Park District named the area from Madison to Logan Street and River Street to the Fox River Laurelwood Park in remembrance of the park from yesteryear.

Article Sources

  • “Batavia Excursion Steam Boat. “City of Batavia”.” Batavia Herald (Batavia), June 3, 1897.
  • Batavia Herald (Batavia), July 17, 1901.
  • “Fair A Great Success.” Batavia Herald (Batavia). Accessed September 2, 1897.
  • “Research Leads to Park Name Change.” Kane County Chronicle (Aurora), November 9, 1996.
  • “Kane County Fair Assured.” Batavia Herald (Batavia), July 29, 1897.
  • “Laurelwood Park- Northwestern Railways New Pleasure Resort at Batavia.” Batavia Herald (Batavia), June 10, 1897.
  • Lusted, Steve, “Laurelwood Park, Batavia, Illinois, 1897-1901,” Presentation, April 24, 1994
  • “Street Car Co. Owns a Ferry.” Batavia Herald (Batavia), July 29, 1897.

About the Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a joint effort between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854 and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place. Suggested donation: $5. Your donation will benefit the development of museum exhibits and educational programs.

Depot museum is now closed for the season. Visit our online gift shop at bataviaparks.org/shop

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