- In 1942 a Parks & Playground board is formed by the Village of Downers Grove, the first recreational activities are offered in 1943.
- The Downers Grove Park District was created in 1946 when a group of concerned citizens envisioned the establishment of a park and recreation system to serve Downers Grove village residents. The vote was 130 for and 82 against in a local referendum on June 15, 1946.
- The district's first commissioners were Otto H. Hummer, E. Russell Bradley, Phillips Goodell, Phillip S. Rinaldo Jr and Frank W Ahalt, and during their first meeting they voted to borrow $500 a 2% interest for the "business of operating the district." In 1947, the District had 12.5 acres of park land to serve its 11,300 residents.
- The park district purchased Prince Pond Park, Gilbert Park and Randall Park from the village in 1948.
- In 1951 Hummer Park is purchased. including a six room house for use as a recreation center.
- In 1952 the Park District took over responsibility for recreation programming from the village by forming the first department of recreation. Eight summer programs are offered.
- May 19, 1955: (photo shown here) "First Pitch! Back of the backstop view of how opening pitch will look to fans who flock to Memorial Park this Saturday. Dan Rightmire is ready to give the old heave-ho to batter Stewart Mitchell. Catcher is Dick Perkins. Photo by Joe Corrigan."
- On its 10th anniversary in 1956 the district is managing 6 parks on 35 acres.
- In 1968, the Downers Grove Golf Course, the site of America's first 18 hole course, was purchased by the Downers Grove Park District for $275,000.
- Soccer is offered for the first time in 1968 and attracts 33 participants.
- On its 20th anniversary in 1966 the district is managing 15 parks on 119 acres.
- Management of Fishel Park was transferred to the Park District. This park was named after Newell Fishel, a past Village Mayor.
- The 5.8-acre Barth Pond was constructed in 1978, as a joint venture with the Village of Downers Grove.
- The McCollum Park property was purchased by the Park District in 1972 and named in honor of Ted McCollum a few years later. Mr. McCollum was a former Commissioner and volunteer fireman.
- In 1974, the Park District purchased the historic Lincoln School and the land adjacent to it. Recreation programs are first offered at the Lincoln Center in 1979 after a renovation.
- The first Park District Senior Center opens at the Masonic Temple in 1974.
- SEASPAR is formed in 1976. The Downers Grove Park District is a member of the South East Association for Special Parks And Recreation (SEASPAR). This association was formed in 1976 under authority of an intergovernmental joint agreement for the sole purpose of providing special recreation services to all residents with disabilities within eight Park Districts and three villages situated in the southeast region of DuPage and western Cook Counties, Illinois.
- The Downers Grove Park District purchased the 1892 Blodgett House in 1976 and opened it to the public as a museum on January 30, 1977. The Pierce Downers Burial Place is dedicated to the district in 1973.
- The District hires it's first recreation director in 1971.
- On its 30th anniversary, the District manages 24 parks on 219 acres.
- Belmont Prairie becomes an Illinois Nature Preserve on August 16, 1980.
- Mar Duke Farm is acquired and opens in 1981.
- The Lincoln Center's auditorium is named in honor of famed archaeologist, Egyptologist and founder of University of Chicago's oriental Institute James Breasted, who went to school at the Lincoln Center.
- Mail-in registration for recreation programs is first offered in 1983.
- The Park District is named a national Recreation & Parks Association Gold Medal Award winner in 1983.
- The Park District acquired the old Washington School property in 1987, and operated recreation programs in the building until it was demolished in 2003.
- Construction of the athletic facilities at McCollum Park was completed over three phases. When completed in 1985, McCollum Park was considered by many as the premier athletic complex in Chicago's western suburbs. The miniature golf course also opened in 1985.
- On its 40th anniversary in 1986, the district manages 37 parks on 379 acres.
- On March 19, 1996, the residents of the Downers Grove Park District passed the referendum to save Lyman Woods - "Downers' Last Grove" by just 12 votes out of over 13,000 votes cast. Over the following years, additional parcels were purchased by the Park District and/or the Forest Preserve District and added to the preserve, supported by the activism of Pierce Downer Heritage Alliance.
- The administration offices and maintenance facility on Warrenville Road are purchased in 1994.
- A new driving range opened at Downers Grove Golf Club in 1995.
- On it's 50th anniversary in 1996 the district manages 46 parks on 555 acres of land.
- In 2003, with the assistance of the Forest Preserve District, an environmentally friendly Interpretive Center was built in the north addition to Lyman Woods. Through an on-going aggressive restoration plan, the Downers Grove Park District is working to restore the preserve to pre-settlement condition.
- The new recreation center at 4500 Belmont Road opened in 2003.
- The new Veterans Memorial Pavilion was constructed at Fishel Park and dedicated on May 22, 2012.
- A new playground, shelter, fountain and ball field seating was constructed at Washington Park.
- Construction of the McCollum Park Infrastructure Renovation project was completed in July 2012. The project included replacement of aging sports field lighting, irrigation, ball field backstops and hardscape surfaces; the addition of a new concession building a new, larger picnic pavilion, and renovation of a seating plaza located within the existing playground.
- Completed a $2 million dredging project at Barth Pond and debuted a new expanded park at Patriots Park in 2015.
- In 2015, the Park District purchased an additional 14.8 acres immediately north of the original 4.8-acre site at Walnut Park. This site is currently undeveloped.
- Expanded the boardwalk and improved the trail at Lyman Woods in 2017.
- Began offering the Link Before & After School Program for grades K-6 at the Lincoln Center in the fall of 2017.
- In April of 2018, the District renovated the existing water lines at Mar-Duke Farm. The renovation replaced six existing hydrants and connected the hydrants on the south side of the drive to newer water service on the north of the drive.
- In February of 2018, functional and aesthetic elevator improvements were completed at the Lincoln Center to provide a safer, smoother and faster ride for visitors.
- Installed new artificial turf featuring "CoolPlay" technology at Doerhoefer Park. The field is used for football, soccer, lacrosse and other outdoor sports. The District hosted a dedication ceremony on August 30, 2018.
- In 2018, the Downers Grove Golf Club constructed a 10-station Driving Range Shelter featuring infrared heaters and ceiling fans for a comfortable golf experience and extended season. The dedication ceremony was held on Sept. 12, 2018.
- Remodeled the fitness locker rooms at 4500 Fitness located at the Downers Grove Recreation Center in the fall of 2018. The improvements included new tile and fixtures.
- In the fall of 2018, the playground at O'Brien Park was renovated.
A Brief History of Lyman Woods
Reverend Orange Lyman, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Marcia Dewey Lyman, came to Downers Grove from Ohio in 1839. They settled in a log cabin on 600 acres that included what is now known as Lyman Woods. They built a new home in 1839 that is still standing at 806 Maple Avenue and is the oldest home in Downers Grove. The Reverend and his wife were abolitionists and the home is rumored to have been part of the Underground Railroad.
Reverend Lyman's son, Henry, inherited the homestead in 1851 and used the land to breed cattle and sheep. Henry's wife, Lovancia Pease was one of the earliest suffrage advocates in this area. Henry's son, Walter C. Lyman, inherited the homestead and cared for his mother until her death. He married Jesse Woodford, a librarian, naturalist, wildflower preservationist, and poet. Walter was a pioneer in beekeeping in Illinois, and was awarded the only prize for honey at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. The Lymans had a great love for nature and the oak woods, especially the wildflowers that thrive under the centuries-old oaks.
Jesse Woodford Lyman lived at the homestead after Walter died in 1926 at the age of 72. She felt strongly about the continued preservation of the old oak woods, and before her death she entrusted Lyman Woods to George Williams College. George Williams College preserved the land as part of the campus until they faced financial difficulties in the 1980s. The campus was sold to Midwestern University, but what is now known as Lyman Woods was put up for sale in 1986.
The community was concerned about the future of Lyman Woods, and efforts to encourage the preservation of Lyman Woods were led by Friends of Lyman Woods. In a Village poll, 62% of residents felt that Downers Grove should participate in the preservation of Lyman Woods. However, the proposition was defeated at a Village Council meeting. Residents appealed to the Village Council members, who reconsidered and finally approved the joint purchase of 81.5 acres with the Downers Grove Park District and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in a 3-2 vote. The land was preserved as a natural area in 1987.
In the mid-90s, community activists worked to preserve additional property at the corner of Highland Avenue and 31st Street, north of what was then Lyman Woods. The land had previously been a wooded residential area and had been purchased by Town and County Homes. Town and Country intended to build a town home development and an office complex on the land. A professional ecologist was hired to study and document the importance of this north parcel of land as a buffer to the Lyman Woods preserve.
On March 19, 1996, the residents of the Downers Grove Park District passed the referendum to save "Downers' Last Grove" by just 12 votes out of over 14,000 votes cast. Over the following years, additional parcels were purchased by the Park District and/or the Forest Preserve District and added to the preserve, supported by the activism of Pierce Downer Heritage Alliance.