Arts & Culture / Mosaic / October 16, 2008

A brief history of Galesburg’s Lake Storey

In the fall, orange, yellow, pink, and green leaves can be seen dangling from the skinny trees growing in bunches around Lake Storey. The lake water ripples in the wind, only broken by the thin lines of flannel-clad fishermen standing on yellow sandbars. Women in sweatsuits walk swiftly around the park’s trail, as children dressed in jackets with their hoods up play on the playground equipment.

“I love Lake Storey, it’s beautiful,” said Knox junior Sara Belger, who was at the park, drawing. “It’s very autumn.”

Belger said she enjoys going to Lake Storey, which is located on Route 150 North, to get away from the stress of classes at Knox. She was drawing the children playing on the playground.

“I didn’t want to be creepy, so I told the kids’ parents that I was a Knox student and asked them if I could draw their kids. They just laughed at me and said I could as long as I didn’t kidnap them,” said Belger.

Belger said last year she and others came to the park to rake up leaves and jump in them.

“There were tons of leaves all over the ground. It was coated,” said Belger.

Lake Storey is now a place of recreation, but it did not start out that way.

According to “History of Lake Storey” by Roger D. Nelson, found in the Galesburg Public Library archives, the park Galesburg now uses for recreation began as a reservoir, constructed by Santa Fe Railway for the locomotives to use. The locomotives going through Western Illinois needed a spot to pick up water to keep their engines cool.

The reservoir was constructed in 1927, and Santa Fe set up a 20-year contract to lease the reservoir and surrounding area to Galesburg for $1 a year. In [1952?], according to a story in the May 7 edition of the Register-Mail, Santa Fe Railway gave the lake to Galesburg as a gift because they had switched to diesel engines and no longer needed the lake.

“The railroad plans to receive what little water it needs for the stockyards from the city in order to yield all rights to the lake,” the article reported.

Nelson wrote that at first, Galesburg locals called the lake “Santa Fe”, but in 1929 it was officially named Lake Storey after W.B. Storey, the president of Santa Fe Railway.

By way of a general vote, Galesburg citizens authorized $150,000 to be used in developing the area around the lake into a park. Galesburg built roads, boat houses, beaches, and playgrounds there.

Galesburg took on the major project of building a large pavilion. The pavilion had separate dressing rooms for men and women, a common area for gatherings, and a fireplace. It was built in 1930 near the main beach.

Fishing was and still is a popular way to spend a day at Lake Storey. There were so many people fishing on the first day that some lake-dwelling animals found a temporary home out in the park.

“The ducks all went over to the golf course…also the frogs have deserted the lake and gone over in the golf course creeks,” said Bert Bunker, who worked as a custodian at the time for Lincoln Park and Lake Storey, in the July 16, 1936 issue of the Register-Mail.

Camping is another activity Lake Storey provides. According to an undated map, when first set up there were 20 planned campsites, but the park had room for 50 campsites, should the need arise. Since then, the campsite has acquired much more land and has been very busy during the summers. In the Oct. 16, 2003 edition of the Register-Mail, then campground manager Ralph Gilmore said that during one July 4 weekend he packed over 500 campsites into the area.

Throughout the years, Lake Storey has expanded its attraction to keep Galesburg residents and visitors excited about traveling to the lake. A 2002 Lake Storey brochure boasted that the lake provided boat rental, boat ramps, a walking trail, paddle boats, row boats, and a waterslide, which was a brand-new attraction in the park that year.

The large pavilion was also redone in 2001, and according to a story by John R. Pulliam in the Nov. 9, 2001 issue of the Register-Mail, Galesburg spent $1.6 million to renovate the facility. Recreation Supervisors Tracy Fell and Elizabeth Varner were in charge of this task. In the story, they said the new pavilion could seat over 400 people for a meeting and 250 people for a dinner. They also built a ballroom inside of the pavilion, which costs $250 to rent for a function.

Laura Miller

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