Railways Promote Recreation

Postcard of Dellwood Park, ca 1901, colorized. Presently this area is part of Lockport, not Joliet. Ruins of the stairs and dam remain. Photo courtesy of Lemont Area Historical Society.

Postcard of Dellwood Park, ca 1901, colorized. Presently this area is part of Lockport, not Joliet. Ruins of the stairs and dam remain. Photo courtesy of Lemont Area Historical Society.

When I walked through Dellwood Park in Lockport for the first time, I came across a crumbling staircase and the remnants of an old dam. Only after I checked on-line did I realize what I had stumbled across, a unique treasure from the early 1900s, related to my last blog post about the Chicago and Joliet Electric Train, also called street car or trolley.

When the railway owners realized the train routes were not operating at capacity on weekends, they got into the entertainment business to increase ridership. It wasn’t a new idea. During the construction of the sanitary canal in the mid 1890s, one of the steam railroads had organized tours of the canal construction sites, capitalizing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to offer riders sights of one of the man-made wonders of the world in progress.

The Chicago Joliet Line’s answer is pictured above—Dellwood Park. The train dropped riders off right at the entrance to the park. The park opened in 1905, and included picnic grounds, a carousel, a lake with boats for rent, a boathouse and dancing pavilion, dance bands, and a grandstand with sulky races. Up to 15,000 visitors came on weekends. The pavilion burned down in the 1930s, after operating for more than thirty years. Today the lake is gone too, but Dellwood Park remains as a picnic area, and visitors can still see the dam and the stairs that overlooked the lake, and walk along a limestone bluff.

In nearby Romeoville, about halfway between Lemont and Dellwood Park, the train stopped at another popular spot, this one privately owned. Around 1915, Ebenezer Bruce, the owner of Bruce Quarry, was struggling to keep the business going. Brick and concrete was becoming a more popular building material than the limestone the quarry had produced for many years. Ebenezer came up with the idea to let springs fill the quarry. He brought in sand for a beach, installed a parking lot, bathhouse and lunch counter, and people came by car and by train from up to forty miles away to the sixteen-acre lake and Romeo Beach. The shrewd businessman didn’t stop there. In the winter he cut blocks of ice off the lake which he stored in an adjacent icehouse for summer use. The clear spring water was an asset to both enterprises.

In 1973 the quarry was sold to Commonwealth Edison, who drained the lake, thinking it would be used as a cooling pond for their coal plant. It was ultimately resold, and today nothing remains.

I can’t conclude without mentioning one last place many south-siders will recognize, the Landmark Restaurant, also known as Marlene’s Catering—also no longer in business. The building on Archer Avenue in Bedford Park was originally constructed as a substation serving the Chicago Joliet line. After the line ceased operation, it was operated as a dime-a-dance hall, and then became a popular restaurant and catering establishment for the next forty-four years, until closing at the end of 2014.

It was also reputed to be haunted.

About Pat Camalliere

Pat is a writer of historical mysteries. She lives in Lemont, Illinois.
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