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A Brief History of Clokey Park

Clokey Park (officially J.M. Clokey Park), was first platted in April 1888 with its western half as part of the East Park Boulevards development. The Decatur Daily Review described the East Park Boulevards as “an elegant residence addition”:

“The grounds are already inviting and attractive, but will become more so as spring advances and the shade and blooming trees extend their branches. The boulevards on First (now 16th Street) and Fourth (now 19th) and on Prairie and Main are lined with blooming trees in great variety; catalpa and linden are on the grounds for the boulevards on William and for the centre of the avenue.[1]”

The park itself was not described, and was merely labeled as “park” on the East Park Boulevard plat. The eastern section of the nearly 2 acre park was developed as part of Urban Place Addition in 1893. All small park boulevards within the two subdivisions were to be used for “ornamental and decorative purposes.” The park itself apparently became pasture for the next 20 years, its primary public use being “for staking out their cows in summer[2].”

It was while the city was in the midst of negotiating for a donation of land for a park on the east end that the sleepy cow pasture on East Main received renewed attention. Josiah Clokey wrote to the Mayor and city commissioners:

Hon. Mayor and City Commission,

City.

Gentlemen:

In matter of parks indicated on plats of E. Park Boulevards and Urban place and in furtherance of my assurances, allow me to submit for your consideration:

I understand that you have under advisement a proposition in reference to what is known as the Springer Tract. As suggested to you, you can doubtless secure from The Decatur Brick Company and Mattes. Bros. a strip 100 feet wide extending from Springer Tract north to E. Wood St., and also a like strip from the Powers heirs paralleling the former, thus giving an approach to the park, 200 feet in width and allowing of main entrance on E. Wood St. Sidewalks are already within a few blocks of the proposed entrance and can be readily extended to same.

Now let me say that if within reasonable time you secure the above tract and approaches, I will convey to the city or Park commissioners the “Park” on East Main Street with plots in center of E. Main and E. Prairie Streets, the city or park to maintain the same in proper order.

On E. Prairie Street, I graded and sodded the 20 foot strip in center and set same in trees but when the sewer on that street was laid, the plot was entirely removed and street left in bad condition. This strip I want placed in shape as prior to laying the sewer.

Whenever you are ready to meet the requirements I will be pleased to execute such conveyances as may be necessary.

Respectfully submitted,

J. M. Clokey.

Upon the condition of repair to Prairie Street’s boulevards, the park land on East Main would officially be conveyed to the city’s park commission was presented to the City council on January 15, 1912. With conditions met, the official conveyance of the park to the city was finalized on May 13, 1912.

Yet there remained the question of an official name for the park. Decatur mayor Dan Dinneen officially authorized the Decatur Daily Review to solicit and hold an official ballot of names on February 4, 1914[3]. The Review received many name suggestions over the following week. Among the entries received included the suggestion by B. G. Segried that it be named “Douglas Park,” since Decatur already had a park named for Lincoln, so that “these two monuments will stand forever and recall the statue-like positions of both as they debated the great questions of their time.[4]”

Other suggested names were less stature-seeking. C.C. Albright suggested the name “East Park Beautiful,” for the simple reason that “Beautiful it will be if the members of the council fix it up as the paper says they will.[5]” Additional names suggested included Fairy Lawn Park, Tinydale park, Magnolia Park, Pleasant View Park, Garfield Park, Dinneen Park, Loring Park, Fairy Queen Park, and Rosedale Park.

There were several suggestions to name the park after members of the Clokey family, whether after Susan Elson Clokey’s father, Michael Elson, as Elson Park, or as Clokey Park. Such suggestions solicited a direct response from Josiah Clokey to the Editor of the Decatur Daily Review:

“It is gratifying to know that “East Park” is commanding public attention and appreciation, especially by the citizens of the east end. While the park was named “East park” at the time it was laid out, I fully approve of the wishes of the people being consulted in selecting another name. My pleasure was in the giving not in the naming of the park. All I ask is that it be not named “Clokey Park” much as I appreciate the suggestion. While it would be pleasing to name it “Elson Park” in honor of Mrs. Clokey’s father, yet we can see that it would be confused with “Nelson park” and not properly locate the park as intended.”

Then Josiah Clokey made his own suggested name:

“While various appropriate names have been submitted, we are highly pleased with the suggest that it be named “Sargent Park” in honor of one of Decatur’s most noble women.

Clokey’s suggestion would have named the park after Miranda M. Sargent, a former high school teacher at Decatur from 1865-1876 and later the first woman physician in Decatur, who died in 1885.

The official vote tally for the naming of “East park” was published in the Decatur Daily Review on February 15, 1914, with the name “Garfield Park” emerging as the most popular. The Review described that in spite of a small turnout due to “disagreeable weather,” which “up until 10:15 Saturday evening it looked like Magnolia Park was the winner” until “an enthusiastic admirer of President Garfield came in with 51 votes." Magnolia had 36 votes, and Sargent, with 21 votes. The name Clokey Park received 13 votes.

Josiah Clokey died on April 20, 1923, at the age of seventy-seven years old.

During that same year, S. Walter Scott, a Millikin University student, wrote his thesis, History of the Decatur Park System. One chapter of his thesis highlighted Garfield Park, including its wading pool “30 by 50 feet and 18 inches deep” that was among Decatur’s earliest public pools, croquet court, and playground equipment of “swings and slides.” Scott described the park as “the only playground near this part of town and hundreds of children use it every day. It not only offers a place for the children but it also adds greatly to the beauty of the street.

The name of Garfield Park remained as the official name of the park even as it was officially conveyed to the Decatur Park District on November 10, 1924. Despite the “enthusiastic admirer” who had intervened in the name selection in 1914, by 1945 it was apparent that a name change might be needed. At the time the Decatur Park District wanted to address on-going confusion between the existing Garfield Park and the informally named Northwest park that was east of Garfield school that was already being identified by citizens informally as Garfield Park. Howard C. Schaub, the first president of Decatur Park District Board proposed new names for area parks, including renaming Southside park Adolph Mueller Park, Northwest Park as Garfield Park, and J.M. Clokey Park for the East main street park. Schaub cited that “few have known any name for the park,” despite the City Council formally naming it Garfield in 1914. Schaub suggested placing the Garfield name adjacent to a public school building with the same name would eliminate confusion. At its June, 1945 meeting, the Decatur Park Board approved Howard Schaub’s suggestions for renaming the parks, and ironically, the name that J.M. Clokey himself did not want for the park in 1914 was placed upon the park.

The park continued to be an east side children’s playground for many years. An article in the Decatur Herald-Review on August 11, 1969 described an invented game developed by neighborhood children especially made for the narrow park:

It’s a mixture of baseball, softball and volleyball adapted to the narrow J. M. Clokey park on East Main Street Boulevard. The oversized ball is easier to hit and less harsh on windows.”

In 1972, the Noon Lions Club donated $1,000 for the construction of a basketball court in Clokey Park. It would be the usage of this same basketball court that would begin the process of equipment removal from the historic park.

At its June 1986 meeting, the Decatur Park District board received and accepted a citizens’ petition from the residents surrounding Clokey Park. Citing “adults coming from other areas… running the younger neighborhood children off of the other playground equipment in the park,” as well as too many cars and excessive litter in the area, the citizens’ petition asked that all basketball equipment be removed. The last swing remaining in the park was removed when it appeared in a photograph of an article in the Herald & Review in 2002.

[1] Decatur Daily Review. “Great Auction Sale! East Park Boulevards”, April 25, 1888.

[2] Ibid., “Good Park in Middle of Street Site For An East Side Park,” August 7, 1910.

[3] Ibid. “Decatur Has A Park to Name”, February 4, 1914, pg 3.

[4] Ibid., “Many Suggest Suitable Names,” February 8, 1914, pg 23.

[5] Ibid.

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