As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and more like August or September 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].
Chief Shemauger Park
1001 E Kerr Ave., Urbana, IL
HISTORY AND FEATURES
So, I could spend some of my time rewriting Dana Mancuso’s historical overview of Chief Shemauger Park in Urbana, but quite frankly, I am not going to do it any justice. I have more to unload below, and it’s an interesting bit of history for a park that I’d wager only like… 7% of the community knows about. Here you are:
Chief Shemauger Park is named for a Patowatomi Indian Chief who signed a treaty with white settlers who moved to Urbana. The park district’s Planning and Operations facility is located on the east half of the park.
The park’s 13.5 acres were acquired in 1971, but not without difficulty. A federal grant had been approved to buy park land near Urbana’s Carroll Addition, but a Chicago-area firm that owned the land did not want to sell it. The park district had to convince other land owners in the area to annex to the park district until the proposed park was surrounded so that the park board could acquire it by eminent domain. A jury decided the park district should pay $50,000 for the land, rather than the $90,000 the owner sought.
In 1974, a park district bond issue provided funds for a water fountain, parking and other improvements.
Chief Shemauger was said to have been friends with the white settlers, telling them he was born by the Boneyard Creek near where Main Street now runs. A major Potawatomi council was held before that treaty between Indians and settlers was signed under a great elm tree east of Urbana, the quarterly reported. As of 1987, the tree was still standing, but no one knew where the treaty was.
The chief lived near Urbana until he died at an advanced age and was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery, which was where Leal Park is now located. Many of his tribe would come back during the winter and build their campfire on his grave to light his spirit.
So there you have it. This park carries some pretty unique history here in Urbana.
It’s fairly hidden honestly, next to two cemeteries, and not surrounded by a large population base at all, although Town and Country Apartments is across the street. I once heard it was the largest apartment complex in the city, but I doubt that is true any longer. It was the 90s when I heard this. It was Hammer Time. Anything was possible!
Anyhow, my big attachment to the spot is due to the fact that my Pony League team in 1993 practiced here at this park. Our coach, Connie, was just awesome, and really helped guide me as a pitcher that year. In roughly six years of organized ball, I hadn’t ever pitched until the previous year, in my last year of Little League, when our Number 2 Ace left before the city wide tournament to visit family in Amman, Jordan. I could throw strikes, so I won the job, leaving second base to my dear friend Scotty Davies. He handled it really well.
Anyhow, I threw a no hitter for this Pony League team! Granted, I walked four and hit two batsmen and there were two errors in the field and we gave up three runs, but hey, a no-no is a no-no, and since I never went yard in a game, I count this amongst my greatest achievements in my time playing baseball. Here we are, at Chief Shemauger Park, wearing Marlins jerseys, and we were soooooooo stoked about it because they were a brand new franchise around that time:
Which one am I? You will have to guess, but youth baseball is something that I still feel enthusiastic about. This year, I am coaching my oldest son’s Peanut League team, and that spirit has returned to my soul. Is there a better sports game than baseball? I do not believe there is, honestly, but we can have that argument some other time.
Anyhow, there’s a little baseball field here still, and it hosts Pee Wee ball from what I can gather, and there is a basketball court, too. There are Urbana Park District facilities on site, and a nice amount of wooded area to explore here.
I really enjoy this park when I think about going there. Part of that is my personal history, but the other part is that it is truly a park that very few people spend time in, at least, to my knowledge. That is OK for some parks. Not every park can be a Carle or a Hessel. Sometimes, it is great to just have land preserved for an occasion.
But I don’t go often, admittedly, what with no playground for the kiddos, but still, it’s the feeling of being in the woods next to not one, but two cemeteries, that makes this place unique. This park has feels.
Thinking about cemeteries gets me to thinking about death, naturally. Things die, and it isn’t always about human life, or living beings. Ideas die, too, and new ones earn life over time.
I heard someone who I deeply respect tell me that the name Chief Shemauger Park should be changed. I wasn’t sold on it, but of course, he was an aging white dude, too. When the Park District named it, it certainly wasn’t intended to be offensive, or dismissive, that much is for sure, as you read above. But should there be a push to change it, for reasons that could be very valid, reasons I am unaware of, where would I stand? How well would I be able to process something like that, an argument being made, about an idea that I’d never considered before?
Sorry for waxing philosophical here, but that word “CHIEF” is just so tainted around these parts that alarms go off any time I hear it. I think the context is different here, but these days, I always think it is worth it to consider that you might not be considering everything.