Meyer's Pond drew excursion trains to Arlington Hts.
When I see Recreation Park transformed into the frenzy of Frontier Days every July, I think how lucky the sponsors are that Arlington Heights has got its water problem under control.
Catherine Coy, who moved into the Rec Park neighborhood sometime after World War I, told me that after every big rain there was a huge pool of water in the park. She also said there was a bridge across Northwest Highway near her house. People stood on it to fish for their dinner in the creek below.
Ida Harth, whose son taught at Arlington High School, described a novel fishing expedition she made often as a kid.
"I would take a pail and a broom over to the marshes west of the high school and simply sweep enough small fish into the pail (which was on its side) to fill our plates for dinner."
In season, asparagus grew wild there and was Ida's for the picking.
Arlington Heights, in its beginnings, was a very watery place, "a wet prairie," as one-time town historian Margot Stimely described it. Streams ran through the entire area, with no respect for the grid planned by William Dunton.
Generally, the creeks ran through town in a southerly or southeasterly direction. Three entrepreneurs took advantage of this and dammed the water coming from the Memorial Park area through what is now the Vail Jewel parking lot and on south to Sigwalt and along Sigwalt to Arlington Heights Road (then called State Road). On the east side of "State Road" just south of he railroad tracks they enlarged a natural pond which became the entertainment center of the village.
Unlike Frontier Days, which come and go in a week, Meyer's Pond and its adjoining park provided seasonal fun year round for 45 years. Henry Meyer, one of the three entrepreneurs, bought out his two partners and built a dance pavilion for the public on the side of the pond and a handsome house for himself and his family facing "State Road."
Gerry Souter wrote that the pavilion was the "perfect setting" for political rallies and Chautauqua lectures. Schools planned events there. Families picnicked. "Medicine men" danced for the crowds and hawked their wares. But it was plain old-fashioned dancing that drew people in summer and ice skating that drew them in winter.
By 1901, the pavilion had to be enlarged to twice its size to accommodate the crowds. Stimely tells how excursion trains came out regularly from Chicago, bringing large groups of people for a day's outing, to enjoy boating, picnicking and dancing in the beer garden, lighted by kerosene lamps.
Like Frontier Days, the Fourth of July holiday was the main feature of the Meyer's Pond eventful year. There were races and competitions of all kinds. Music and dancing. Games for the little kids and Henry Meyer's Blatz Beer (he was the local distributor) for the adults.
In 1924, the village and Meyer's Park won a flag award from the Chicago Daily News for having the best Fourth of July celebration in Cook County.
There was no Millennium Park then.