It is the mission of the Dixon Park District to maintain a high standard of leadership and competency in the promotion of sound environmental practices and lifestyles, and to maintain a creative and efficient park and recreation system.
It shall be the policy of the Dixon Park District to provide opportunities for all youth, regardless of race, sex, handicap, or abilities, to experience positive sports and recreation activities through programs of the Dixon Park District.
Brief History of the Dixon Park District in Dixon, Illinois
The natural beauty of the Dixon area was evident to its original inhabitants as they lived along the beautiful and generous Rock River. Fox, Sac, Winnebago and Pottawatomie families no doubt enjoyed the sweeping panorama of towering oaks blended with prairie grasses and flowers as they canoed the clear and swift-flowing Rock River prior to European settlement.
From 1829 to 1335 all the emigration from Chicago, Peoria, LaSalle, and Peru to Galena and her lead mines crossed the Rock River at Dixon’s Ferry. John Dixon established a store and ferry house here in 1830. Here, also, was General Henry Atkinson’s headquarters and base of operation during the Black Hawk War. The men who served here and subsequently achieved renown included General Winfield Scott, Colonel, Zachary Taylor, Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, and Private Abraham Lincoln.
After the war, the eastern newspapers began to sing the praises of the Rock River valley. Early settlers came to Dixon because of the much-heralded beauty of the area. One who came as much for the scenery as for business opportunities was wealthy New York businessman, Alexander Charters. Charters purchased a large wooded estate, Hazelwood, and built a home on a high bluff overlooking the river north of Dixon. There he entertained many persons of national prominence in politics and the arts. One of Mr. Charters’ guests was Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., of Boston. Mr. Lowell, also, was impressed by the beauty of the area; he purchased the adjacent 200-acre tract of land that would become Lowell Park after his death in the Civil War.
The year 1842 saw the platting of the new city of Dixon. Two parcels were set aside for community use and enjoyment; first, shady Oak Park, a full square city block now known as John Dixon Park; secondly, Haymarket Square, which was designated as a market area. A system of neighborhood parks scattered throughout the city followed.
In response to management needs, the City of Dixon appointed the first Park Board Commissioners in 1907. In 1916 the City of Dixon passed an ordinance creating the City Park Board, formally charged with maintaining all park properties. In 1934 the Dixon Park District, officially created through the successful passage of a public referendum, became a municipality apart from the city government.
The greatest influences on the development of public parks in Dixon were the 1) natural beauty of the area and, therefore, attraction of the area to tourists and businesses, 2) the nationwide City Beautiful movement, 3) the American Romantic Style of landscape design in general and the related Prairie Spirit of O. C. Simonds in particular, 4) the nationwide Recreation and Playground Movement, and 5) the Civil Works Administration (CWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs of the 1930s.
The public parks of Dixon, Illinois are among the community’s greatest assets. These historic, cultural, and designed landscapes were created as part of a comprehensive effort to beautify the city, preserve and enhance its scenic beauty, and provide healthful and attractive playgrounds and recreation for the community. Virtually from the beginning, the parks were a source of great pride to the community and aided in the evolution of Dixon during the early decades of the 20th century into a desirable place to visit, and in which to live and work.
For over 20 years, beginning in 1912, the landscape architect firm of (O.C.) Simonds, West and Blair, of Chicago, directed the park beautification programming. Simonds, who designed the grounds of Frank Lowden’s Sinnissippi Farm, was well known for his landscaping of Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. Simonds’ ultimate goal was to teach people to take pride in their surroundings and was influential in his use of the “Prairie Style.” Simonds’ influence over, and supervision of, Dixon’s parks further supports the significance of these historic parks.
Lowell Park was one of several Dixon attractions featured in a film about the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast road. The Lincoln Highway Association commissioned the film to promote the highway, which was completed in Dixon in 1915. The opening of the Lincoln Highway placed Dixon more than ever in the public eye. When automobile touring became more common, efforts to beautify the river banks and commemorate Lincoln’s service in Dixon took highest priority on the agenda of Dixon Beautiful in 1915.
During the same period, Dixon and the Rock River valley played a seminal role in the organization of the Arts Extension Committee of Better Community Movement of the University of Illinois. The committee’s purpose was to make the community a more beautiful place in which to live by developing appreciation of art and natural beauty. Its chairman was famous sculptor Lorado Taft. One achievement of the committee during the early 1920’s was the naming of “Beauty Spots of Illinois,” 100 sites selected by Taft and Simonds from submitted photographs, which were developed into a permanent exhibit that traveled about the state. Six of those 100 sites were in the Dixon area.
From 1900, when he began the laying-out of the grounds, roads, and plantings of Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden’s Sinnissippi farm on Rock River below Oregon, Simonds was becoming familiar with the region. Already famous for the work he had done at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, he is considered to be the first designer of importance to appreciate and understand the unique beauty of native mid western plant material, especially the hawthorns, crab apples, and other species with “stratified” or horizontal branching patterns that harmonized with the broad prairie landscape. His extensive and skillful use of plants in the picturesque style to create varied scenery, led to his commission to draw plans for cemeteries, parks, and private residences not only in Chicago, but eventually in all 48 states.
O. C. Simonds and his contemporary, Jens Jensen, are considered to be the most influential practitioners of the prairie style. Simonds’ work featured paths and roads laid out by eye to exploit and reveal the natural or man made scenery and landforms. His work employed combining the spatial and compositional qualities of the picturesque English landscape garden with native plants and massing of shrubs and flowering trees, creating a sculptural landscape with curvilinear surfaces of pavement, grass, or water. Simonds said, “Nature teaches what to plant.” “The main purpose of a park is to preserve, restore, develop, and make accessible natural scenery. A park is not primarily a place for play, but rather to feed one’s soul.” He often included the use of horizontally layered native stone, common throughout Lowell Park.
The Recreation and Playground Movement crystallized in the early 1900s in Chicago as an outgrowth of the playground activities offered by the settlement houses in heavily populated immigrant worker neighborhoods. Drawing inspiration from their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s premier landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and his brother John Olmsted, designed ten neighborhood parks that addressed the social requirement of reform. The main feature of the new park form was provision for intense active recreation, zoned or segregated according to age, but each park also retained areas of plantings for quieter, more passive recreation. The Playground Movement was growing under the philanthropic efforts of service organizations with a trend toward the provision of tennis courts and play fields for adults. In 1921 there was public agitation for playgrounds in Dixon. The offer of the local Red Cross Chapter to buy playground equipment to be placed in the parks was a direct response.
The purpose of federal programs CWA and WPA was to put people to work during the Great Depression. Without CWA and WPA funding, many important elements of the parks in Dixon may never have been built. The stone work in Lowell Park and along the riverfront properties is the best example. All landscape plans for CWA / WPA park projects in Dixon were prepared by O. C. Simonds or his associate and successor, C. Roy West.
Dixon Park District’s historic, designed landscapes are part of an impressive system of parks, a source of great pride to the community.
The Dixon Park District was officially created through the successful passage of a public referendum in April of 1934. The newly formed District assume the management, control, care, improvement, necessary repairs, maintenance, and government of the parks. Dixon Park District receives its operating authority from the Illinois Park District Code (Illinois Revised Statutes, Chapter 105).
Currently Dixon Park District is comprised of over 1100 acres of property in 27 diverse sites including active recreational facilities blended with natural areas. In 2006 Lowell Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places , and in 2008 Lowell Forest, an area of close to 50 acres in Lowell Park, was designated an Illinois Nature Preserve.
Click below to download the first report of Lowell Park Commission in 1909.