The land that is now West Side Park was originally set aside as a public square and possible site for the courthouse. It became the first official park in Champaign in 1859. It was originally named White Park after the man who first made the land available in 1854, and was informally known as the "Commons" when it was used as a cow pasture in 1861. For $0.35 per month, farmers were permitted to graze calves at the park (1).
In the 1890s, Benjamin F. Johnson, an Illinois Central Railroad executive, donated $10,000 for the beautification of the park. This included construction of a sidewalks, a bandstand, and a fountain (2). "Prayer for Rain," by artist Edward Kemeys, and Johnson Fountain were dedicated in 1899. Other notable features include the Lincoln Monolith, several statues and plaques commemorating the Indian War, and the sculpture "Double Dutch - a Jump For Joy" by artist Gary Bibbs.
The park today has a playground, a gazebo, and plenty of wide open space. The walking path around the entire park is 1/2 mile long. It is a popular site for summertime festivals such as the Taste of Champaign.
Replacing the 1913 fountain in memorial to Thomas Dodsworth, the first police officer to die in the line of duty in Champaign, is a police and firefighters memorial located in the northeast corner of the park. The memorial will include two bronze statues, one of a police officer and the other of a firefighter (3).
|President Theodore Roosevelt speaking at West Side Park||tiff / 361.92 kB||Download|