The History of Perry Farm
The artifacts of the Perry Farm represent a heritage left behind by the pioneering families of Thomas Durham, a Virginia Quaker who settled with his family on the farm in 1835, and his son-in-law, David Perry, a Vermont stone mason and farmer.
Thomas Durham is remembered by historians, as the first "American-born" settler in the Bourbonnais Grove. This was to distinguish Durham from the French Canadian settlers who lived in Bourbonnais Grove at the time he arrived. Durham is buried on the Perry Farm.
Lomira Perry's vision for the future of Perry Farm is becoming a reality. When the State of Illinois inherited the 170-acre piece of land from the will of Perry, plans for the future were uncertain. Ms. Perry's will provided that at least 40 acres be used for a park that would have the name 'Perry' as part of it. But, the questions arose from the community: Who would maintain the property? Would it be developed or left in its natural state? The possibilities were endless, but Miss Perry pointed the direction.
The struggle for control of Perry Farm rose to the surface in The Daily Journal in the May 9, 1985 article, "There's a will: Way sought to get Perry project untracked," when the Kankakee County Convention and Visitors' Bureau and the Bourbonnais Township expressed opposing ideas for the development of the property. According to this article, "The land was willed to the State by Lomira Perry to be used as a park and recreational facility, kept in its natural setting with a part to be developed commercially to finance the natural and recreational portions."
The Bourbonnais Township feared that the development of the land would over-commercialize the area, making residents unhappy. Township supervisor Larry Power told reporters, "I still have a gut feeling there are people who want it [the Perry Farm] developed commercially, and the residents already said they don't want that."
Kankakee County Convention and Visitors' Bureau president Doug Neison and executive board member Francis Ciaccio told The Daily Journal in the same article, "The Convention and Visitors Association feels strongly that the properly structured setting- let's say an authentic Indian village or French settlement or working farm or a combination- would bring, literally, hundreds of thousands of visitors here.'
The Illinois Department of Conservation decided in November 1985 that it was willing to give the Perry Farm to a new park district representing the Bourbonnais Township area. This was excellent for the Township, but the decision outraged the Kankakee River Valley Forest Preserve (KRVFP), which was formed in 1986 to protect area forest lands in their natural forms. When they learned of the proposed Park District's wish to maintain the property as a natural and historic preserve and set aside some of the land for public recreation, the KRVFP felt that such development fell under its own jurisdiction.
The Department of Conservation required a full plan for development of the land to be submitted for approval before it would give ownership to a local government body. The KRVFP still had a chance to obtain the land. All that was necessary was to submit a better development plan to the Department of Conservation.
A mere nature preserve was not what the forming park district had in mind. In response to a Daily Journal survey of community wants and wishes, the Park District created a proposal to satisfy those desires as well as setting aside a portion of the property as a Nature Preserve. They expanded Ms. Perry's wish of 'forty acres to be set aside to be used as a park' into the entire 170 acres being used as a park.
The same article said, "The park district has informed the State that it is 'committed to protecting, preserving and developing the Perry Farm as a recreation facility consistent with park purposes without any commercialization of the property.'" The park district sought to realize Lomira Perry's dream and to comply with the terms in her will.
After a long struggle, the State awarded the property to the Bourbonnais Township Park District, which had been formed a year earlier. Bourbonnais Township attorney Mark Steffen said in a letter to the editor in the November 3, 1986 Daily Journal, "The Department of Conservation has stated that 'the idea of a park district has been studied, and it was felt that this would be the most feasible method of obtaining the capital and the operational funds necessary to preserve the Perry Farm as open space for recreational use only.'"
When Lomira Perry died in 1961, she willed lifetime farming rights to Francis DuVoisin. DuVoisin had been a close friend of the Perry family since his family moved to the area in 1924. The back section of the farmhouse was DuVoisin's home for 66 years.
An agreement was reached with Mr. DuVoisin for the Park District to purchase his life estate interest in the property. DuVoisin decided that it was best to think of Perry Farm's future.
In 1989, the Bourbonnais Township Park District took over title and ownership of the property. However, Mr. DuVoisin still keeps 'Francis' Garden' on the property near the barns. He and his wife, Anne Marie, can be found working many mornings and his famous hollyhocks can be seen and enjoyed by many visitors to the property.
Now, the development of the Perry Farm Park began in earnest. The Park District has met and surpassed its goals for realizing Lomira Perry's vision for the Perry Farm. With trails through beautiful natural scenery and near the flowing Kankakee River, the open spaces for recreation, the restored and preserved farm house and barns, Exploration Station®... a children's museum and a large biological and geological area, one should not be disappointed with the outstanding work that the Park District has done over the past years.
In 1999, the Bourbonnais Township Park District accepted a donation of seventy (70) acres from family of Roman "Smitty" Smietanski. Shortly after sixty-one acres of land was purchased adjacent the the Smietanski land. Whispering Willows Park was created on this property. A barn was donated from the Folker family in Iowa and the BTPD renovated it into the Willowhaven Interpretive Center. The doors of the Interpretive Center opened in July 2006.
In 2006, the Bourbonnais Township Park District signed an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Manteno and Manteno Township to begin offering programs for the residents of Manteno and Manteno Township.
The district expanded again in 2009 with the acquisition of Diamond Point Park; a 60.5 acre park just north of Bourbonnais. The park site is off of Career Center Road, and features existing softball and baseball fields as well as a pond and undeveloped open space. The park district is working on a Master Plan for the property to make it a community park with amenities to serve multitude of recreational activities.
Concept Drawing for Diamond Point Park