HOMER, Ill. (WCIA) — The Champaign County Forest Preserve is highlighting one of its historic parks, how part of a heritage trail honoring the county’s African American history.
Homer was one of the first towns in Central Illinois to have an established Black community. Now, the forest known as Old Homer Park is part of the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail.
The trail gives insight about African Americans who once gathered at there. Many different events happeend at the park throughout the 1900s, inclduing boat rides, church events and dinners.
The Forest Preserve and a list of others wanted to continue educating people about the park’s more than 100 years of history.
“We’re only highlighting a small part here, but it was a much larger area that includes the area across Route 49,” said Ray Cunningham, President of the Homer Historical Society. “There was a dam, a large lake and dancing pavilion.”
It was a place where African Americans would get together. One way they got there was by a train called the Interurban Line, similar to today’s Metrolink or Amtrak.
The park was very popular during the 1900s, but the economy caused loss of interest.
“There were a large number of events that occurred between basically 1904, 1905 to the decline of the park in the early 1930s,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said the plan is to educate generations on the history of different landmarks covering Champaign County.
“Our vision is really to have an African American trail where we have bus tours to highlight the different areas in the history of African Americans in Champaign County.”
The Forest Preserve has operated the park since 1998.
“This land, once being Old Homer Park, was really important to the local African American community,” said Lorrie Pearson, Executive Director of the Champign County Forrest Preserve. “So what happened is we are now part of the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail, and this is a stop on that trail. So the Forest Preserves is so proud to conserve this very important land and to help tell the story, a very important story.”
Cunningham said this is the first part of the Forest Preserve’s project and they will reveal more soon. This includes bus tours that will begin next year.