A couple of weeks ago, my husband and went back to our farm for a week. Our farm is in a rural area about an hour south of Chicago, IL. The nearest cities of any size are Kankakee, Bourbonnais, and Bradley. Those three communities are joined to form one urban area that lie just a short distance from south Chicago.
How we came to be connected to the area around Kankakee goes back several generations. My husband's maternal and paternal grandparents were among the Dutch immigrants that settled on farms just south of Kankakee. Even today, there are about 6 Dutch surnames that seem to appear around every corner...and in one way or another they are all my husband's cousins.
My family was more complicated. My maternal grandparents were born and raised Chicagoans. I had relatives all through the Kankakee and Chicago area as well. I was born in Chicago but my parents were more transient. I didn't always live in the area but we moved in and out of the area as if we were homing pigeons returning to our roost.
My grandfather managed the produce department of the Big Bear Grocery store for a number of years. As a little girl, he would let me go with him early in the morning before anything else was open to pick out the produce at farmer's markets around southern Chicago. I have dear memories of my maternal grandparents. They had a bit of land on the Kankakee River that they kept for the sole purpose of gathering all the family every Sunday afternoon. The men would play horseshoes and drink Schlitz beer, the kids would play while the women set up a picnic lunch. It was a family reunion every Sunday.
|On the bank of the Kankakee River|
Thought Number One - Perceptions
Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black menAnd the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.
The town also got some unflattering notoriety from The David Letterman Show. In November of 1999, Kankakee was ranked 354th in The Places Rated Almanac. David Letterman delivered an ongoing gag consisting of shows that seemed intent on making fun of Kankakee. He sent 2 small prefab gazebos and suggested that Kankakee should market itself as the Home of the Twin Gazebos. While Letterman's intent more in the vein of getting laughs, Kankakee played along. The gazebos still stand. One is located to the north of the Kankakee train station.
I don't believe for a second that Kankakee, Illinois was the worst town in America to live in 1999. In fact, just to make a point...a huge point actually...in 1999 there were 6 murders per 100,000 residents in Kankakee. Washington DC was named as the 2nd best place in the nation to live, right behind the winner Salt Lake City, according to The Places Rated Almanac. That year DC had 241 murders per 100,000. I guess it was a better place to live if you weren't murdered.
Thought Number Two - Kankakee has some interesting history and architecture.
|During the era of Firehouse #2 the one and only fire fighter ever|
to die on the scene of a fire in Kankakee died.
The Prairie style structure still stands at 687 South Harrison Avenue. The original owner was Warren R. Hickox, Jr., who ran his father's abstract, real estate and loan business. In the winter of 1900, Hickox went to Oak Park, Illinois to consult with Mr. Wright about designing homes for he and his sister, Anna Hickox Bradley and land inherited from their father Warren Hickox, Sr. Wright visited Kankakee to look over the ground. He not only designed the houses which became the first designed in the Prairie Style of architecture, but also the furnishings for the houses including tables, chairs, carpets and drapes. Today the Hickox House remains a private home.
Bradley HouseBradley House at 701 South Harrison Ave. is the other Riverview home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was built in 1901 for B. Harley Bradley. The Bradley House later became known as Yesteryear, a popular restaurant that did business there for over 30 years. It was
being renovated by Stephen B. Small in 1986. The house entered one of the darkest chapters of Kankakee’s history when kidnappers called Small at his home posing as Kankakee City Police. The criminals claimed the Bradley House had been vandalized, luring Small out into the open where he was kidnapped and subsequently murdered. The house remained a private residence until 2010 when it was acquired by a local not-for-profit with a mission to open it to the public as an arts/education center. The house opened in June of 2010 as a public museum.
llinois, is widely acknowledged as Frank Lloyd Wright's first Prairie design. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places individually and as part of the Riverview Historic District.
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