Prairie Farm turns 50

Prairie Farm turns 50

CHAMPAIGN — An attorney's dream to honor his late wife has been entertaining and educating area children for half a century.

This month marks the 50th birthday of the Champaign Park District's Prairie Farm, a replica turn-of-the-century farm complete with a farmhouse, barn, pond, flower garden, wandering paths, big shade trees and a pasture.

But generations of boys and girls — and their parents as well — have been most enthralled by the attraction's collection of animals: cows, horses, miniature horses, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, llamas, donkeys, peacocks, rabbits, turtles and turkeys.

"I could stare at this turtle all day long," Sam Johnson, 5, of Champaign, said as he toured the farm on a recent Sunday afternoon.

For Lindsey Davis, 4, of Urbana, the big attraction was the koi pond.

"Look at those fishies," she squealed.

"The koi pond is a special gem of Prairie Farm," said Chelsea Norton, the park district's marketing director. "It is fun to see the wonder and excitement on children's faces as they peer over the bridge looking for fish."

Part of Prairie Farm's charm is the fact that it isn't open year-round. Folks can tour the facility from Memorial Day through early August. And while admission is free, donations to support the farm are welcome.

According to Norton, Prairie Farm was the brainchild of attorney John L. Franklin, who on Dec. 1, 1964, donated $15,000 in the memory of his deceased wife, Margaret, as seed money for a proposed children's farm at 2202 W. Kirby Avenue.

After architect Donald Molnar designed the attraction, park district staff and local community groups worked together to build Prairie Farm, which was launched in July 1966.

"City kids don't often get a chance to see these kinds of animals," said Al Griggs, the longest-serving member of the Champaign park board. "When you expose children to the things we offer at Prairie Farm, it is a blessing."

Over the years, the farm has added a variety of attractions. The farmhouse was dedicated in 1976. A trolley barn was built in 1997. A windmill followed.

The farm is open from 1-7 p.m. Monday through Sunday. The petting area is open from 3-5 p.m.

The park district is planning a celebration to mark the farm's golden anniversary later this summer, but details remain to be ironed out, Norton said.

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djames354 wrote on July 19, 2016 at 7:07 am

Should this not read from Memorial Day not Labor Day for opening.


Mike Howie wrote on July 19, 2016 at 8:07 am
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You're right (and we were wrong). Thank you for the note, though I'm sorry you had to send it. This is fixed.

Mike Howie

online editor