Downtown Kankakee Farmers Market

History

The Saga of a City

Look down at the land of the Potawatomie and the Iroquois tribes. You will see a river with many tributaries branching out across the land. To the north and east lies a great marsh. It is a wild land, teaming with fauna and ripe with the wild rice, huckleberries and cranberries that they eat. A few sand dunes form islands on higher grounds. These are the winter settlements of the Indians that trap furs and trade them along the shores of Lake Michigan in summer.

Now follow the river southwest as it becomes more defined, gathers movement and flows widely into Illinois. The woods are dense here and steep limestone cliffs jut up above the faster moving water. The tribal settlements here include a few French encampments. Trade is brisk and muskrat is in such abundance that trappers can harvest 80 pelts a day from their trap lines.

See the city of Chicago to the north? This is where white men, seated around tables, are deliberating the future of this land. They know that in Washington, treaties are about to be signed that will force the tribes from the land, making way for something called progress. They see a future of grain and cattle for this land and they are planning a way to carry the commodities from Chicago to points south.

Let's move along, to a time 20 years later. We look down at the thriving French settlement of Bourbonnais, but look just a bit southeast to the small collection of homes being built in Kankakee. The railroad is there now, running straight north and south. See the depot sitting a few blocks north of the river? Settlement was spreading from east to west but officials of the Illinois Central Railroad are about to change the trajectory of that growth. This group of men has just struck an agreement with the newly formed government of Kankakee County. The County seat is to be Kankakee and the railroad officials have offered to pay for the new court house. They shake hands and a city is born.

Watch how the city grows! It is six years before the first shots are fired at Fort Sumter, igniting the Civil War, but growth is strong in the antebellum city as transportation is king. Many merchants have opened doors, among them is Joseph Lecour and his dry goods store. A newspaper, the Kankakee Gazette has been printing copies for three years. It's pages hold stories of the storm clouds that are gathering and dark days are ahead as the city, along with the rest of the Union, goes to war. Let's look away.

We see now that many merchants and enterprises, among them Joseph Lecour and his dry goods store, have survived the war and growth resumes. The land looks much different now. Along with the draining of large portions of the marsh, we see many farms and homesteads. See the pinpoints of yellow light as the sun goes down? REMC of Kankakee Valley has been stringing electric lines for decades now and people are embracing this quality of life revolution. 13,000 people will make this area their home in the next few years. Grand hotels, a State Hospital for the Insane, river steamers and tourist attractions like Electric Park are changing the landscape forever.

If you look today, you will see the river still flows and we who live along it's banks respect it. Restoration of the marsh, projects to mitigate the damage of draining them and miles of protected space are among the projects we have undertaken to show that respect. The trains still whistle in the night and county government still rules from our fair city. Remnants of the city's past still stand, shoulder to shoulder with the glossy buildings of the present The past, it's glory and it's errors, is proudly presented in both historical fashion and in day to day life. Commerce, ecology, education and culture are still strong in this city of survival and these elements may all be found within a few blocks of the little depot and the majestic Kankakee River.

Landmarks

  • Community Resource Center Community Resource Center/(former) Armory
    150 N. Indiana Ave., Kankakee

    The Kankakee Community Resource Center, located in the renovated Old National Guard Armory downtown landmark half a block south of the Kankakee City Hall, provides community services to all of Kankakee County through a small staff and numerous volunteers. The Center has a gymnasium and an auditorium. It offers many community programs, and it is home to the Kankakee County Soldiers of the International Basketball League.

  • Administration Building City Administration Building/(former) Kankakee Public Library
    304 S. Indiana Ave., Kankakee

    In March 1896, the first Kankakee Public Library opened in the Arcade Building, located at the northwest corner of Schuyler and Merchant Street. By the fall of 1897, a drive was underway to build a new building to house the Library's growing collection of 2,200 books. The building, constructed on the corner of Indiana Avenue and Station Street, opened in January of 1899 and remained the Library's home for nearly 105 years. In 2007, the building at 301 South Indiana Ave. was converted to the Kankakee Public Administration Building. The administration building opened in July 2008. It houses the offices of the mayor, the comptroller, city clerk, legal department, alderman, and various other city officials.

  • Arcade Building Clock Tower Centre/(former) Arcade Building

    The Arcade Building is an historic building that stands on the corner of Schuyler Avenue and Merchant St. The Arcade Building, which is now also known as Clock Tower Center, has been an important fixture in the city of Kankakee since its erection by designer James Lillie and city businessman Emory Cobb; it has held a variety of attractions, including an early form of the Kankakee Public Library, an Opera House, private offices and a learning annex

  • Court House Kankakee County Courthouse
    450 E. Court St., Kankakee

    This 1912 Courthouse features a dome mural depicting scenes of local history. An ancient Native American village once stood on the courthouse ridge overlooking the Kankakee River flood plains. This beautiful architecture is focal point that is positioned in the center of six Historical Churches that were built in the early and late 1800's.

  • Depot Kankakee Railroad Museum
    199 S. East Ave., Kankakee, phone 815-929-9320

    See large operating, running model train displays and railroad memorabilia within Kankakee's restored train depot. The museum also features a scale model replicating the city of Kankakee during the 1950's. A restored 1947 Pullman Stainless Steel coach is displayed outside of the depot containing a small theatre that features railroad films during museum hours. The coach has been restored as a dining and meeting place and may also be rented for small events. A 1967 Union Pacific Caboose and an original Kankakee Street Car is under restoration.

  • Stone Barn Lemuel Milk Carriage House/Stone Barn
    165 N. Indiana Ave., Kankakee, phone 815-937-0877

    The Lemuel Milk Carriage House, known locally as the Stone Barn, is one of the oldest historical structures in Kankakee County. On June 4th 1979, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Built by pioneer farmer Lemuel Milk in 1860, the building has served as Headquarters for the Junior League of Kankakee County since 1976. The Barn was used to house the Kankakee Fire Department horses. In 1920, it was used as a car and sign painting garage. Next it was used as a hardware warehouse owned by Fred Swannell, Sr. In 1973, it was converted to a bakery and restaurant. In 1976, the Stone Barn was donated to the League by Mrs. Walter J. Charlton, one of the Kankakee County Junior League founders. By appointment only.

  • St. Paul's St. Paul's Lutheran Church
    348 E. Merchant St., Kankakee, phone 815-932-0312

    St Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1859 in downtown Kankakee. It was in the late 1850's when several Lutheran families, having left Germany, found homes in the little town of Kankakee, Illinois. The first church was built in 1864. After a serious of fires, the corner stone for the third church laid and completed in 1888. The three large bells in the bell tower were purchased in 1901. Electric lights were added in 1923. (Available Sq. Ft. 103,000)

  • First Presbyterian First Presbyterian Church
    371 E. Court St., Kankakee, phone 815-939-3546

    The First Presbyterian Church of Kankakee had its founding on September 28, 1854, when ten men and women met with two ministers from the Chicago New School Presbytery. During the 1930's and 40's 13 art-glass windows were put in place in the sanctuary. The large Last Supper window was installed on the south wall of the building in 1944.

  • Asbury Asbury United Methodist Church
    196 S. Harrison Ave., Kankakee, phone 815-933-4408

    Asbury Methodist Church began well before the Civil War. A Methodist circuit rider brought Methodism to the early settlers of Kankakee in 1836. In 1866 ground was broken for what is now the first third of Asbury Church. In 1922 the graceful and unique balcony was added to the beautiful sanctuary.

  • St. Patrick's St. Patrick's Catholic Church
    428 S. Indiana Ave., Kankakee, phone 815-932-6716

    In 1891, the St Patrick's parish started when the Catholic Columbian Association assembled and began construction in 1892 with the first service in the new building being held on March 11, 1894. The Romanesque style building is 135' by 60' designed to seat 600 worshipers for an original cost of $35,000. The beautiful stained glass windows depict the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, as well as the four evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

  • St. Paul's Episcopal Church
    298 S. Harrison Ave., Kankakee, phone 815-932-6886

    St Paul's Episcopal Church, famous for its welcoming red door, received its certificate to organize on July 14, 1863. The current building was dedicated on September 6, 1900. Built primarily of Bedford Stone, St Paul's Episcopal does not have a steeple; instead it has a Norman style tower, which reflects its English heritage. The rope rung bell is from the original 1863 church and was moved to the new church along with baptismal font, brass altar cross, the altar book, and vases.

    All the original stained glass work is in the new building.

  • Majestic Centre
    150 N. Schuyler Ave. Kankakee, IL, phone 815-935-5008

    The Majestic Centre dates back to 1912. The Majestic Theatre was the largest of at least five live theaters that featured drama, comedies, musicals etc. Vaudeville was the period and famous people "on the circuit" played in Kankakee. The most famous were the Marx Brothers, who played in the Majestic in April 1916. When vaudeville died, the theater was converted to a movie house. It closed in 1954, while the office complex remained open. It stayed closed until the Azzarelli's purchased the complex in 1970 and hugely remodeled the building to what you see today and changed the name to the Town Mall and Town Cinema. The Town Cinema Theater stayed open from 1970 until 1990. Magestic Centre is now privately owned and houses many offices and also the Lydia & Groucho's Coffee Shop & Deli.

Sources