Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Helms Park, Champaign

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 July 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].


Helms Park


475 S. Second St., Champaign 


Helms Park is the second smallest park in the city, if you can believe that there is technically a park even smaller than this one. Don’t worry, we are gonna get to it! Stampofski Park, which you didn’t even know was a park, am I right? What? Oh come on… don’t lie like that. That isn’t going to improve anything between us.  What? I am calling you a liar, because you are lying. You didn’t know what Stampofski Park was until I just mentioned it just now! Ok, ok, fine, where is it? Uhhhhhh…. right, see? No, you can’t phone a friend, this isn’t Millionaire and I am not Regis Philbin. That dude is dead now, OK? Dead. 

At less than a tenth of an acre, it is truly nothing more than a tiny little patch of land, but inside that small slice, there is a super old, very well built stone arch bridge, with a rich history that recalls the time when Champaign and Urbana were breaking apart politically, but coming together economically via rail car. ExploreCU did a nice article on its history, so I will link that here if you want to read more about it. Seems like this James O’Malley fella acquired and donated the bridge in 1984. This is the same O’Malley who donated land to Powell Park as well, it appears. I asked around to see if this was the same dude who ran O’Malley’s pub, but seems like it wasn’t, but rather, another O’Malley who was probably much more drunk.

Helms Park sign embedded into a limestone rock

Photo by Seth Fein. 

Nevertheless, here is the sign that is discreetly embedded into a rock at the corner of 2nd St and Springfield Ave. According to Champaign Park District planner Andrew Weiss, the reason there isn’t a traditional CPD sign here is a result of an agreement between the Park District and the City of Champaign. Since the 2nd St. Basin was such a massive project, they both felt erecting a sign would overshadow the majesty of the newer basin project. Yes, they worked in tandem on that, and on many other things! Say what you will about city leadership and this decision or that, but in the end, we have a functional and relatively self sufficient government here in Champaign-Urbana, and we should be able to celebrate that idea, any ol’ time! 


This stone arch bridge (pictured above, from the CPD website, because right now, there’s a bunch of nasty orange ass fencing around it for some reason) has been my friend for years, and hopefully, your friend too. In a city that doesn’t offer a ton of historical landmarks, and that has trouble with preservation, this small but strong piece of our past has always been something I’ve enjoyed. Here’s more on it! Zoom in and read that, or better yet, go to this park and read it while breathing in some fresh air between sips of coffee or psilocybin tea. 

a bronze sign about the stone arch bridge at Helms Park

Photo by Seth Fein. 

Indeed, as mentioned above, Helms Park is seamless to the 2nd Street Basin project, which was done by the City of Champaign. Next year I will speak at length about the 2nd Street Basin but for now, at the end of 2020, and with not much else to say about this park, I will simply write that I am happy it exists, and there have been times where I have stood on it and looked out at the skyline of Campustown, and been amazed that I live here, and happy to be alive. 

Top Image courtesy of Champaign Park District website. 

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