March 26, 2017 Cloudy, 56°F

Hard-to-find-history in Dixon

DIXON – The Dixon Park District keeps a file of every memorial in the city's parks, so it doesn't lose track of them.

There are more than 100 trees, benches and flagpoles dedicated to people or events, estimates Deb Carey, park district executive director.

Many do not have markers and would be hard to find without the record, Carey said.

A historical marker is supposed to remind those in the community of a significant person or event.

Sometimes, though, it can get overlooked or forgotten, as was the case with the Beirut Memorial on the north end of the Rock River, between the Galena and Peoria avenue bridges, and a number of others in the city.

This memorial honoring the 241 Americans who died in the Beirut barracks bombing on Oct. 23, 1983, during the Lebanese Civil War, is nestled behind a bush and faces away from the sidewalk, making it difficult to find.

It's being moved to Veterans Memorial Park this fall, where it can gain more exposure.

So, what other markers in the city are getting overlooked?

A bench dedicated to Larry Hill, deep in The Meadows park along the Rock River, may qualify as the hardest to find.

Hill was an Illinois Department of Transportation employee who was instrumental in the creation of the Depot Museum in Amboy. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning several years ago, Carey said.

He loved to ride horses, and the bench is on a trail accessible only by horse, bike or on foot.

A limestone and bronze memorial on the south edge of Reynolds Field, at the Sheridan Avenue entrance, honors Horace G. Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Wire Co.

"That's why it's called Reynolds field, but I bet 99 percent of people playing softball at Reynolds don't know why," Carey said.

There's a sculpture of a great horned owl on a limestone pedestal to the right entering Lowell Park. The sculpture is hard to miss, but very few know why it's there because there is no plaque, Carey said.

It's a memorial to Vera Hill, who volunteered many years at the Nature Center until she was stricken with Alzheimer's.

"Everyone loved visiting her at the Nature Center, and she cared very much about the park," Carey said.

Not too far from the owl sculpture is a boulder marking the path of the historic Boles Trail from Peoria to Galena, important during the lead mining days.

"Most people drive past and probably don't look at the boulder," Carey said.

Overlooked memorials go beyond the city's parks, said Greg Langan, a Dixon historian.

The city has several historical markers, from a boulder on the Old Lee County Courthouse lawn marking the site of a speech given by Abraham Lincoln to the historic marker for the Illinois Central Rail Road stone arch bridges, Langan said.

Some are easier to spot than others.

A memorial with the 34 names of those who died in the cholera epidemic of 1854 rests in Oakwood Cemetery. It was dedicated in 2010 but remains little known, mostly because of its location.

"Many thanks go to Rick Munson and Pat Gorman, and others, who worked on getting that memorial there," Langan said. "Take a visit to the cemetery to see this one, because if you don't go through the cemetery often, you wouldn't know it was there."

Another memorial on the north side of the old courthouse lawn sports a baseball on top. It's there to honor Dixon native Ward Miller, who played baseball for the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and the now-defunct St. Louis Browns and St. Louis Terriers of the former Federal League.

"Very few ballplayers can say they played in all three leagues: American, National and Federal," Langan said.

A large white memorial is visible in Haymarket Square from Second Street, just across from the Ronald Reagan Post Office. It's for Horace Ortt, who gave his life in Oct. 4, 1918, in World War I, and was honored with the American Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.

"This one is right there in a park, but I don't know that many people have stopped and looked," said Gorman, president of the Lee County Historical Society.

The park district is looking at using GPS technology to mark each of its memorials, Carey said.

"There's been a lot of history in Dixon," Langan said. "There's quite a bit there to learn for anyone who wants to stop and look."

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