Lots of people know that Ronald Reagan grew up in Dixon, Illinois. His boyhood home is part of a declared National Historic Site (more on that tomorrow). Some people know the tales of Reagan saving 77 people from drowning while working as a lifeguard. Fewer probably know where he worked as a lifeguard at, and fewer still know anything about the place. At least that’s my take. Today I share with you Lowell Park in Dixon, Illinois.
National Register plaque, Lowell Park
The park is just north of Dixon along the Rock River, where Reagan pulled the otherwise (probably) doomed swimmers from. Work began on the 200 acre public park in 1907, by 1908 Arthur Coleman Comey was hired as superintendent on a recommendation from John Olmstead. He began to implement suggestions from a 1906 report the famed Olmstead Brothers (Frederick Law, and John) compiled for the city of Dixon.
The park’s natural features take precedent over the designed features
During his tenure as superintendent, Comey drew landscaping plans, and plans for the caretaker’s home, a Dutch Colonial Revival home known as Woodcote. Woodcote’s two gambrel roofs (wiki) form a pent which creates large overhanging, flaring eaves. You might be more familiar with Dutch Colonial Revival style than you think, the house in the Amityville Horror was a Dutch Colonial home. Comey also cataloged over 150 species of birds within the park while superintendent.
1909 – Woodcote, designed by Arthur Coleman Comey
The beach where Reagan saved the swimmers, according to the tale, is along the Rock River, I wasn’t sure of the exact location, but I snapped the picture below. The river is visible in the distance (I know it’s not a great photo). Reagan worked as a lifeguard here from 1926 until he finished school at Eureka College in 1932.
The Rock River (visible in the distance) is where Reagan plucked 77 swimmers from while working as a lifeguard.
There are numerous structures and objects in the park that help make it historic; historic in the sense that it represents high quality landscape architecture that doesn’t overwhelm its natural environment.
The historic limestone water pump outside of Woodcote
The historic pump above is near Woodcote, other historic structures include 7 shelters built with Works Progress Administration funds, a concession stand, a bathhouse, a pump house, the entrance pillars (another WPA project) and other assorted stone objects and structures. Part of the park’s very identity is found in the numerous small quarry stones set during the 1920 which separate roadways from picnic and recreation areas.
Lowell Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places, as a historic district, in August 2006. The park was submitted under what is known as a Multiple Property Submission (MPS) (wiki explanation by me – a bit bureaucratic I fear). An MPS makes the submission of properties to the Register in the future a much easier task. An MPS usually constitutes an MPS cover sheet which is a report that provides lengthy details about the property type, it’s usually an excellent resource. The title of the MPS cover that includes Lowell Park’s Register submission is “Historic Resources of Dixon Parks”, the cover isn’t available online yet but I would look for other Dixon, Illinois parks to be submitted for inclusion consideration on the Register in the future.
You can learn more about Lowell Park from the National Register nomination form I have linked below.
*Lowell Park: Official site (Warning: Loud bird chirping upon opening – turn volume down before clicking)
*Lowell Park: National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
*Dixon, Illinois: Ronald Reagan Trail information