I always assumed the first Kewanee outdoor pool was built in Northeast Park. Boy now I think I was wrong
I believe the first true Kewanee outdoor pool was part of an ambitious plan to build a recreation area that is where the National Guard Armory is now. It was called Leggett’s Field.
In early 1916, Mayor BF Baker and Civic Club President FM Lay suggested that the city, business and civic leaders, and Kewanee schools work together to build and maintain a sports field and playground. As a result, the school board bought Leggett’s three-acre property just north of the old Kewanee Cemetery in March, and the community began raising funds for the construction of a soccer field and running track, a playground that could be used as an ice skating pond in winter, and a fence around it.
Business tycoon and ombudsman EE Baker led the way and agreed to provide a clubhouse and bathhouse between the sports field and playground. As the contributions poured in, the plans expanded to include a baseball diamond, pile of sand, a wading pool, and tennis courts.
Then, at the end of June, the Kewanee Works donated money to the National Tube Company (Walworth’s predecessor) for a 12 by 30 meter outdoor concrete pool. (The company had similarly raised funds for a pool at its McKeesport, Pennsylvania facility.)
Construction of the three-tier park was underway in mid-1917. The sports fields would be on the higher ground in the east. To the west, the swimming and paddling pool and the clubhouse were one level below the fields. The playground and tennis courts would be another level lower.
By the end of autumn, the playground, tennis courts, swimming and paddling pools and the clubhouse had been completed. Work on the upper tier and minor work throughout the park continued over the next year. The track was open in the spring and Kewanee High School played soccer there in the fall. The sports field was closer to high school and better equipped than the fairgrounds they used to play on, and there would be no scheduling conflicts like the fairgrounds.
The leisure facility was very popular. Hundreds of children flocked to the playground and pools every day. The boys and girls had alternating, separate hours in the pool in the afternoons, while the pool was open to everyone aged 14 and over in the evening. The four tennis courts attracted many players at any time of the day or night.
A year after Leggett Field was fully exploited, the Kewanee Park District was created, and Northeast, Liberty, and Chautauqua parks soon opened. In 1925, the park system’s crown jewel, Baker Park, opened.
But in 1927, the end zones of the soccer field were deemed too short (by two feet at one end and three feet at the other) under new rules passed by the football authorities. The games could continue to be played at Leggett Field as long as the visiting teams were informed and approved. However, as the game grew out of its current location, discussions began about alternatives, including returning to the game at the fairgrounds.
Eventually, the school built a new football stadium on the grounds of the exhibition grounds, which began in 1937. The Northeast Park swimming pool became the city’s main swimming pool. But the playground continued to be used until the early 1940s.
In 1943, EE Baker, Inc., the trust founded by Baker to support Kewanee’s Children and Parks, purchased Leggett Field from the school district. It then donated the land to the state for a new National Guard armory.
Leggett Field was never part of the Kewanee Park District. But it’s fair to say that the collaboration of the schools, government, business, and citizenship of Kewanee, and the community at large, in creating Leggett Field inspired the creation of our hometown park district and system.
Well played, Kewanee.