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Thursday, March 30, 2023

The structure of Naperville


Always blooming forward


With good news that the DuPage River receded after last month’s torrential rains, making way for plans to proceed to ready Centennial Beach for its opening day on May 25, thoughts turned to many citizen initiatives in this city that set it apart from many other communities.

For starters, Centennial Beach, when built in 1931 to commemorate the city’s 100th birthday, provided a chance for citizens to connect and celebrate Naperville’s first 100 years.

Settled as a small farming community along the DuPage River in 1831, the first DuPage County seat was 33 years old before steam-powered engines rolled into town to provide railway service.

Until that time, local businessmen had opted instead for a toll road located where Plank Road travels several miles east from Columbia still today. What seemed to be a short-sighted business venture in the 19th century paid off for the city in the 20th century at Fifth Avenue Station.

And even though in 1868, an entourage of “40 daring men” from Wheaton stole into the darkness to capture the county records from the courthouse in Naperville, the county’s southern-most city has thrived without the distinction of being the county seat that found its home in Wheaton that night. Fortunately, downtown Naperville is without train tracks to cross. By contrast, the North Central College campus is set in the heart of the city connected to a happening business district with a river running through it.

The rest of the drama and lore of the 19th century comes alive on the grounds and throughout the buildings at Naper Settlement, the city’s outdoor history museum.

Oh! How Napervillians love their outdoor amenities and events!


The story of how outdoor concerts, parades and festivals have developed since the arrival of Captain Joe Naper, his brother and their families along the banks of the DuPage in 1831 merits retelling again.

Ever since pioneer families first were attracted here, countless risk-takers and spirited volunteers have followed, building a structure for a thriving community with many seasonal traditions, service club by service club.

Every morning’s walk provides opportunities to reflect upon the dedication of thousands and thousands of citizens who have pitched their innovative ideas, neighborhood by neighborhood, often serving on boards early in the morning before heading to work and then after business hours late into the evening.

Local residents meet, greet, plan, study, debate and educate each other, always trying to improve the quality of life that attracted them to this active community in the first place.

YMCA1For instance, last month we received an e-mail from Sue Maloney who handles publicity for the Naperville Newcomers and Neighbors Club. Every month Maloney sends a chatty, upbeat message about the club and its upcoming events in this 182-year-old city, where the Kroehler Y is home to the oldest indoor pool in DuPage County.

“We had our April coffee today and it was great!” wrote Maloney, noting they had welcomed women from Cincinnati, Estonia, Ireland, and Korea by way of Singapore as well as a returning gentleman from Mongolia.

“Love all the different countries!” she wrote. “Everyone was very enthusiastic and signed up for a variety of activities. We’re now at 372 members. Not bad!”

Maloney also noted the newcomers group will be awarding scholarships to two high school seniors in May at Meson Sabika. (Those events and many others are featured on PN’s online calendar of events updated daily.)

bank_coverDuring a recent stroll of the Naperville Riverwalk, surprisingly few signs of spring showed along the city’s natural treasure on the chilly sunny morning. Still, the absence of flowering plants and budding foliage provided a clear and uplifting view of some of the city’s rich history nestled in the landscape and its most prominent figure rising toward the blue sky.

Around 15 years ago when ideas for a bell tower were first pitched, hundreds of folks came together with a vision to create a large musical instrument that would stand for the future, a symbol for the new millennium that later was named Moser Tower in memory of Margaret and Harold Moser. On a summer evening in 2000, thousands of residents descended on Rotary Hill to hear the 72-bell carillon ring for the first time in concert with the Naperville Municipal Band and the Naperville Men’s Glee Club.

That’s when we hoped that some of our personal objections to its size as well as the controversy regarding its big expense would be followed with acceptance over time. In our dream, we imagined that the Moser Tower at Rotary Hill would become a place to create awareness for charitable causes. Then this spring, thanks to the Naperville Park District, new blue lights illuminated the tower at night to shine for autism, an international initiative promoted by Autism Speaks and a rally in April at Turning Pointe Career College. And Big Joe, the largest bell, tolled three times at 1:50PM on April 22 in memory of the three victims in the Boston bombing.

gateway-parkThe Riverwalk, built to commemorate the city’s sesquecentennial in 1981, provides winding brick paths for brisk walks and daily constitutionals for hundreds of residents. Visitors meander the paths, too.

We often observe visitors pausing to remark to each other about the Dick Tracy Century Walk sculpture, Exchange Club Veterans Plaza, the Moser covered bridges, Fredenhagen Park or commemorative bricks and benches.

The full bloom of spring is arriving later than normal this year. Yet, upon reflection, its delay has provided a chance to look at the strong structure of this nationally-recognized Tree City, mindful of its striking emphasis on open spaces, parks and cultural amenities that have withstood uncertain times and rainy days.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for visiting the Riverwalk and for staying later to discover all that’s new and traditional in downtown Naperville.

North Central College is now connected to the Riverwalk, too. That’s where you’ll find art galleries as well as stages for live theater, speakers, music, book events and other performing arts.

North Central College will host Cornerstone Day Picnic from 11AM-1:30PM on Fri., May 17, a free event open to the public, held this year at the Riverwalk Gateway.

May_edwardAnd again, whenever you want to learn more about the city’s endearing history, its challenges and its dedication to education, public safety and good healthcare at Edward Hospital, stop by Naper Settlement, now open for the summer season. The 12-acre outdoor history museum is just a block south of the Riverwalk with an entrance in the PreEmption House, located at Webster St. and Aurora Ave.

Naperville residents receive free general admission with proof of residency. Enter the buildings and meet costumed interpreters, eager to share the experiences of daily life in a 19th century Midwestern town. Stroll the grounds and interact with the young people engaged in old-fashioned activities.

Finally, regarding those meetings mentioned earlier in this story… If you’re looking for meeting spaces, contact the Naperville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Centennial Beach & the Riverwalk

Centennial Beach memberships are now on sale. Individuals who purchase by May 13 will receive a discount. Beach memberships may be renewed online or by mail. New memberships can be purchased at Park District’s Administration Building at 320 W. Jackson Avenue, or the 95th Street Center at 2244 W. 95th Street.

The Riverwalk Eatery will open Sat., May 4, the same day that the Millennium Carillon and Visitor Center opens for tours. Eatery hours are from 11AM. to 7PM, weekends only until Memorial Day, May 27. From Memorial Day through mid-August, hours will be 11AM to 8PM daily. The Eatery is located at 441 Aurora Ave. along the Riverwalk and may be accessed from the Park District Administration Building parking lot, the Centennial Beach parking lot, or from the parking lot at the top of Rotary Hill.

The Paddleboat season at the Jaycees Marina begins May 18. Hours are 11AM.-7PM weekends only until May 27. Then daily hours will be 11AM to 7PM through mid-August with the last boat sold at 7PM.

One more thing… Don’t feed the ducks and geese harmful bread and other human snack foods. Help waterfowl find insects and plants naturally in the environment, not only for their good health, but so they don’t make such a mess of the low flow walkway where folks want to stroll with their children. Messages stamped in the Riverwalk concrete path read “Do not feed wildlife!” Ducks and geese are wildlife.

PN Ombudsman
PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.