Not much of the Des Plaines River actually runs through Des Plaines, although people who live anywhere near the river will tell you that far too much of it ends up in Des Plaines. The river is apt to overflow its banks during heavy rainfalls and the city has endured some serious flooding over the years.
Part of this overflow runs into Big Bend Lake, one of the few non-stocked or fishery managed lakes in the Cook County Forest Preserve System. The lake doesn’t provide an ideal habitat for fish but, despite this, people still go fishing at Big Bend Lake, an officially designated ice fishing area. If you’re lucky you might snag a northern pike or largemouth bass as well as bluegill, channel catfish and carp.
The village of Des Plaines, originally called Rand, grew up around a grist mill owned by Socrates Rand in the early 1850’s. Because of its potential for business, the railway soon became interested in the area and eventually the Chicago & Northwestern Railway purchased the line, naming the station Des Plaines. In 1925 the residents voted to adopt a city form of government and, after annexing the village of Riverview and some other small areas, the City of Des Plaines continued to thrive.
The Kinder House, built in 1907 for local hardware store owner Benjamin F. Kinder, was originally located on Lee Street but, after the family sold the property and the Des Plaines History Center later acquired the house for use as a museum in 1969, it was moved, lock, stock and barrel, to Pearson Street in 1978. Quite an undertaking when you consider the size of the house.
On the day that I visited the Kinder House I was given a tour of the building by the History Center’s Executive Director, Shari Caine, who guided two other ladies and myself through the rooms and painted a vivid picture of life in the early 1900’s in Des Plaines.
Although few, if any, of the original furnishings have survived, the History Center has done a marvelous job of giving an authentic look to the interior of the house with many items, appropriate for that time period, donated by residents of Des Plaines. And in restoring the decor of Kinder House they have even gone to the trouble of getting some of the original paintwork analyzed and tracking down the pattern for wallpaper used in the parlor.
Naturally, being in the business, Mr. Kinder was able to lay his hands on some very impressive hardware for his house as evidenced by these ornate door plates, handles and radiator as well as some fancy little corner pieces on the stairs to prevent dust from collecting. All mod cons!
Some years ago I was fortunate enough to go out with members of the Des Plaines Yacht Club to photograph the races at Lake Opeka. The resulting images were alright although not all that I could have wished for, but I hardly dared hope that I would be able to repeat the experience in order to come up with anything better. However, luck was with me for when I paid a return visit to Lake Park in Des Plaines a few weeks ago, I met up with ‘Commodore’ Diana Kremen who kindly agreed to my going out on the pontoon committee boat with skipper Craig Bezek in order to watch one of the last club races of the 2014 season.
The weather was ideal if a little chilly and, despite the fact that there were only two boats participating, there were plenty of photo opportunities. Craig explained the duties of the race committee which include setting out the marker buoys, deciding the duration of the races, running up the various flags that denote the length of time before the start of each race accompanied by the ringing of a bell, and watching to make sure the participants observe all the rules including those of right of way. There’s a lot more to this yacht racing business than I imagined!
Now those of you who have read previous posts on this blog will know that I am a non-swimmer and as a consequence get rather nervous when I go out on the water. But Craig made sure I was safely kitted out with a life jacket and off we went.
There was quite a brisk wind blowing and the participants, Diana Kremen with Bill Hanson and Tony Goetter accompanied by Radu Mihailescu, made their way around the course quite quickly, using some skillful maneuvering to avoid getting upset.
The Des Plaines Yacht Club has been based at Lake Opeka, which is part of the Des Plaines Park District, since 1962 and offers instruction while promoting the sport of sailing. The club holds many social functions throughout the season which lasts from early April to late October. So if you are in the area and are interested in doing a spot of sailing with friendly, fellow enthusiasts here is the link to their club website. http://www.desplainesyachtclub.com/
Could this be the world’s largest golf ball? Possibly. When I first saw it, many years ago while I was driving through Des Plaines, I thought it was advertising a place that manufactured golf balls and it wasn’t until recently, when I took the time to really explore the city, that I realized it was, in fact, part of another facility run by the Des Plaines Park District.
The Golf Center on North River Road is open 364 days a year and features a 3-tiered driving range with 80 lighted and heated hitting stations. There is also a par-3 nine-hole course, which is fully lighted, as well as a restaurant, bar and banquet facilities.
Heading back into the downtown area of Des Plaines you may possibly pass a McDonald’s restaurant. Not so unusual, you may think, but this one is just a little different from those that you see every day. The McDonald’s on Lee Street is actually a museum; a recreation of the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Des Plaines in 1955.
The restaurant was torn down in 1984 and another built to the original blueprint specifications with just a few modifications to accommodate museum visitors. The customer service and food preparation area contain original equipment and you can get a close-up view of the interior between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Unfortunately you can’t go inside to order a Big Mac and fries but never fear. There’s another McDonald’s open for business right across the street.
The fate of Rivers Casino on River Road in Des Plaines hung in the balance for quite some time, even before it was actually built. It had originally been planned as an addition to the many other tourist-related facilities such as the Convention Center, theater, and sports arena in neighboring Rosemont. So confident were they that the casino license would be awarded to Rosemont that, back in 2000, construction crews even began building a multi-story parking lot. But not so fast!
In 2008 the Illinois Gaming Board finally decided that because many of the bidders were considered ‘unacceptable’ they would award the 10th and final casino license to Midwest Gaming and Entertainment who proposed to build the casino just down the road from Rosemont, in Des Plaines.
Although I enjoy an occasional flutter on the gee-gees at Arlington Park, I’ve never really felt the urge to go to a casino so I can’t tell you what the inside of Rivers Casino is like, but from what I’ve read on the internet, the reviews are mixed. I could find absolutely nothing about the outside of the building to entice me but there’s nothing to say I might not give it a try in the future even if it’s only for the food.
Our final destination in Des Plaines is right on the border with Mount Prospect. Although officially in Des Plaines, the Friendship Park Conservatory is run by the Mount Prospect Park District. Even though it’s not a large facility, the conservatory and gardens are well worth a visit.