by Ann Londrigan
It was 2008 when Lincoln Memorial Garden held the Indian Summer Festival in the Cawley Meadow for the first time. Before then, this long-running and very popular family festival was held in what’s known as the “Historic Garden.” The original 60-acre parcel was secured by civic leader Harriet Knudson in the mid-1930s as the city was creating Lake Springfield, and its blueprint was designed by celebrated “Prairie Style” landscape architect Jens Jensen in 1936. It entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
Taking the Festival out of the woods and across the street was a bold but necessary move.
According to Jim Mathies, retired executive director of the Garden, the six-acre “Cawley Meadow” parcel had been given to the Garden in 2000 by Joyce Cawley following the passing of her husband Fred. Eight years later, after some major cleanup and planting the landscape, it was still mostly a large open space with little shade. And it was distinctly different from the tucked-in vendor booths along the Historic Garden paths with children’s activities spread out in the woodland openings. Who remembers turtle races in Council Ring 3?
“It was controversial,” says Joyce Munie, who served as secretary of the Lincoln Memorial Garden Foundation Board, along with president and 2008 Festival Chair Carol Herndon.
“We did surveys and exit polls,” she recalls. “We asked, ‘What did you like about the Festival?’ And many said ‘We hate it over there!’”
The bottom line was that the Historic Garden needed protection. In their October 31 letter to the editor in The State Journal-Register, 2009 Festival Co-chairs Munie and longtime volunteer Chris Davis wrote:
Lincoln Memorial Garden’s foundation is a nonprofit organization charged by the Garden Clubs of Illinois to protect and maintain the garden. The garden was placed on the National Register of Historic Places because it was designed by Jens Jensen, one of the foremost landscape architects of the early 20th century. We moved the festival across the street last year because we could no longer ignore the impact that the footsteps of 4,000 people caused to the trees and other plants within it. We thank all those people who joined us again this year at the festival and all our new visitors who discovered the garden for the first time. Without your generous support we could not continue the work of the foundation.
Today, Festival-goers love the Cawley Meadow space. The trees along the edges have matured to offer more shade, and each year more benches are added for seating areas. A bandshell was created as an Eagle Scout project with funding from Sutton’s roofing and siding company. Thanks to an army of loyal and hard-working volunteers, new activities—such as “Build a Scarecrow,” the Tree Troll Trail and the beloved Fairy Woodlands—“magically” appear each year.
“It truly looks like what a festival area should look like,” says Munie, who has continued to volunteer along with Davis after their three-year stint as event co-chairs from 2009 to 2011.
So, what did it look like 20 years ago? Mathies and Garden staff, including Larry Miller, along with many volunteers, inventoried the newly acquired property. Here’s a partial list of what they found, which triggered a professional review by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- A large step van truck
- Three old farm tractors, a plow, disc and harrow
- Two 20-cubic-foot dumpsters full of metal including barbed wire, rebar and 55-gallon drums all weighing 30,240 pounds
- 100 tires
- 12 appliances
- Contents of a shed filling six 20-cubic-foot dumpsters and including glass, plastic, hardware, old bikes and unlabeled containers of grease, herbicide, oil, paint and insecticide
According to the EPA final report, “A crew of four Garden staff took about five weeks to clean up the area. This included dragging items out of the woods with tractors, tearing down the shed and mowing fields to find items hidden by the vegetation.”
It was a herculean effort for several years.
“From an EPA perspective, there was non-point source pollution with rain and snow and the different pollutants,” says Davis, a 30-year professional with the Illinois EPA and currently manager of the Watershed Management Section. “When we worked on the project identifying all the stuff on the site, it dawned on everyone that it was less than a quarter mile to the lake and chances [were] it would deliver pollutants through the Garden to the lake.”
So, much like the Ostermeier Prairie Center, the maintenance of the Cawley property is a stewardship measure.
Says Joel Horwedel, executive director of the Lincoln Memorial Garden Foundation: “Adding Cawley Meadow to the Garden’s holdings has allowed us the opportunity to develop a dedicated area for our annual fall festival and this important additional buffer to the Historic Garden.”
Chris Davis (left) with Joyce Munie, longtime Garden volunteers working the front gate at the 2019 fall festival
Cathy Slater, president of the Lincoln Memorial Garden Foundation, and past president and festival chair Tom Wilkin, look over the pristine Cawley Meadow grounds in the early morning hours before the start of the 2019 fall festival
The well-established half-acre wetland in 2019, first created through the work from January 14, 2002, to January 31, 2004, by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Lincoln Memorial Garden volunteers, under the U.S. EPA’s Source Water Pollution Control Program and the Federal Clean Water Act
Save the date for fall festival 2021! As COVID-19 makes holding events safely nearly impossible, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our annual fall festival this year. We are offering Fall Harvest Festival at-home craft kits for sale online for $10 each including some of our favorite festival activities including Build a Scarecrow, Tree Troll, Pumpkin Painting, Fall String Art, and Fall Wood Cookie Décor. Get details and shop online here: https://bit.ly/306QjWD