Listen to this article

Lots of questions during a short workweek, made even shorter by a tornado that passed right over the Mailbag's home office in southeast Urbana. The St. Louis Blues flag that was flying that morning was slightly damaged but survived.

This week in the 'Bag: Joyland, a mysterious structure in a creepy part of west Champaign, a Legacy Tree lost in the Urbana tornado, a sign dedicated to a bicyclist killed on Illinois 130, and more on the ghost sign along University Avenue.

Also, train noise, red-light cameras, the Midtown project, guns on the UI campus, tennis courts on the UI campus, proper flag disposal and illegal dumping along rural roads.

Joyland amusement park

"I saw the photo of a man riding in a miniature railroad locomotive in your paper. It reminds me of a train ride they used to have at a small amusement park north of Urbana in the late 50s and early 60s called Joyland. Whatever happened to that? Obviously it went out of business. I had so many fond memories, and lots of fun, at that place as a child."

Joyland, sadly, did not last long. According to News-Gazette clippings it first was operated in the early 1950s by George Mallow on the Champaign County Fairgrounds, although there were ongoing legal skirmishes between the fair association and Mallow.

It later moved to a site on North U.S. 45. In 1960 new owner Frank Stewart, who also owned the two drive-in theaters in Champaign-Urbana, announced that he had purchased Joyland from Mallow and that it would have entertainment "for every member of the family, no matter what his age may be." Instead of just merry-go-round, train and other rides for small children, there would be a go-kart track, a driving range, a rifle range and an indoor trap shooting range, Stewart said.

Stewart sold the park, located two miles north of Urbana, in 1961 to Mr. and Mrs. B.V. Phelps, who had operated a Joyland Park in Wichita, Kansas. In 1962 they said that hours would be 6 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. An adult-sized ferris wheel was installed and a boat ride was planned. Kiddie rides cost 5 cents apiece.

In 1963 a "Tilt-a-Whirl" and "Twist" ride were added to the amusements that included the kiddie train, roller coaster, merry-go-round, ferris wheels and kiddie rides.

By 1964 Phelps proposed moving much of Joyland back to Urbana, this time at Crystal Lake Park. But a few days later the Urbana Park Board rejected the idea. Ted Brash, president of the park board, said kiddie rides are "not in character with the park."

Incidentally, neither The News-Gazette nor the archives at the Urbana Free Library have any photos of Joyland. If you have any please email them to the Mailbag and we'd be happy to show them off next week.

Memorial sign

"What happened to the sign on (Illinois) 130 (south of Urbana) for Matthew Wilhelm, who was killed in 2006 while riding a bike?"

Your answer comes from Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation:

"The sign in question was installed according to the department's DUI/Reckless Driving Memorial Signing Program in June of 2016. According to the program rules, such signs must be requested by a family member of the deceased. If the application is approved and the associated fees are collected, the department will erect and maintain the sign for a period of not less than two years.

"Matthew's sign was removed in July of 2018 and a portion of that assembly was kept by his family."

Flag disposal

"I have a number of weathered and torn small US flags that I would like to respectfully dispose. Is there a group in town that accepts these?"

You can take them to Urbana VFW Post 630 at 1303 E. Main St.

There's a metal flag box just inside the front door where you can take your flags to have them properly disposed, said John Maggio at the post. Hours are 11 a.m. to midnight.

Legacy tree lost

"Did you

know that the tree on the corner of Scovill and Cottage Grove that was uprooted is a legacy tree, over 100 years old? It is a European Ash."

Urbana City Arborist Mike Brunk, coincidentally marking his last day of work with the city today, verified that the European Ash in the parkway at 2316 S. Cottage Grove Ave. was approved in 2015 as an Urbana Legacy Tree.

And it was felled during last Sunday's storm in southeast Urbana."This 43-foot tree is the only European single-leaved Ash in the city of Urbana tree inventory. It has a spread of 60 feet," he said. "With the threat of Emerald Ash Borer spreading across Illinois and found to be present in Urbana and Champaign trees, this Ash was treated with a preventive injection in June 2015."

Here's a link to the Urbana Legacy Trees website ...

Rural dumping

"I occasionally, every few months, see dumped furniture, mattresses, appliances, or piles of household trash on rural roads in Champaign County. Who should I report this to?"

Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue says that typically those instances are reported to and cleaned up by the road authority, who most of the time is the township road commissioner. (It also can be county engineer or the state transportation department, he said.) They sometimes work with the sheriff to try to catch those illegally dumping junk along the roads.

"Sometimes the highway commissioner can figure out where the dumping came from and get the offender to clean it up," Blue said.

Red light cameras?

"I know you solved the Golden Corral problem, but the running of red lights in our town keeps getting worse. It's a drag race at Windsor and Neil, Windsor and Prospect, and Kirby and Neil just to name three intersections. Anymore if you can see a light is yellow from two blocks away you 'have permission' to run any light.

"How bad will an accident need to be before our city puts up cameras to catch the reckless drivers? Is this a city council mishap? A city manager issue? A mayor's decision? I have been nearly sideswiped twice in the last month."

We've had this question before and the answer is the same. First, the issue was discussed many years ago by the Champaign City Council and the council wasn't interested.

And the Legislature approved a measure that prohibits red-light cameras everywhere but within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties, said Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins.

Also, a 2018 study by Case Western Reserve University found that red-light cameras don't reduce the number of traffic accidents or injuries at intersections where the devices are installed.

Here's a link to that study ...

Train noise

"Trains that pass by State and Vine area routinely sound their horn for long periods of time. From 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. it seems to be worse. I believe a horn broke or the conductor fell asleep on it as the horn blast lasted for approximately 6 minutes. That's just the part I actually timed. There must be an ordinance for this."

There is no ordinance because local governments are largely preempted in regulating train horns by federal regulation.

Here's part of that regulation:

"Under the Train Horn Rule, locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.

"If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within one-fourth mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds.

"There is a 'good faith' exception for locations where engineers can't precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound the horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving at the crossing.

"Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts."

Here's a link to more information ...

If you want to complain about excessive train horn noise, I suggest contacting the Canadian National Railroad at 1-888-888-5909.

Or you can write to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose congressional district includes Champaign-Urbana. He's a member of the House Transportation Committee, which oversees railroads.

Monticello High School enrollment

"Has Monticello (High School) grown due to an increase in residence in Piatt County and in the voting district of White Heath (town) and rural area?"

Enrollment at Monticello High School in 2018 was 527 students, only a little more than the 521 in 2000.

"We've stayed pretty steady," said Vic Zimmerman, superintendent of the Monticello schools. "District-wide population has increased a little, mostly due to home-building within several in-town Monticello subdivisions. As for White Heath and Cisco, (small towns around us), they are not seeing new housing, but we are seeing some pretty nice homes being built out in the rural areas."

UI tennis courts

"Just inquiring about the plans (the University of Illinois) has for the corner of Pennsylvania and Dorner, where the tennis courts have been recently removed. Will there be new courts installed, or will the corner will be used for another purpose?"

The work is part of a tennis court and fencing replacement project for both the Illini Grove and Outdoor Center (Gregory Drive and First Street), said Steve Breitwieser, of the UI's Facilities and Services.

"Substantial completion for the project is anticipated in late July with punch list items occurring in August. Project funding is from the Auxiliary Facility System Repair and Replacement Reserve," he said.

Mystery structure

"Between Heritage Park and Kaufman Lake, near the path along the Copper Slough, there are the remains of an old dam and what may once have been a mill run. The run is near the east bank. The old dam is just south of a wooden railroad trestle, and along the way there's graffiti on every surface. What's the history of the dam and the run next to it?"

Don Wauthier, vice president of the Berns Clancy and Associates engineering firm, has all the details.

First, though, it is not a former mill run.

"The concrete structure was a combination outlet for a large 36-inch diameter tile line, a second large 42-inch diameter tile line, and also served as the upstream end of the Copper Slough channel," he said. "Upstream of that point (around 1938) was all farm ground and there was no channel. Instead there was a grass waterway that remained dry when it was not raining. While the Copper Slough channel was more than 10 feet deep, the grass waterway was only 2 to 3 feet deep.

"By the time that I-72 was constructed there was continuous flow in the grass waterway due to all of the upstream development, effectively converting it into an extension of the C

opper Slough channel. Upstream development included several subdivisions, Parkland College, the Kraft-Humko Plant and the Northern Illinois (now Illinois American Water) water treatment plant.

"These all contributed flow 24/7/365 into the grass waterway, and so a northerly extension of the Copper Slough Channel was constructed thru Heritage Park and Dodds Park north to the Norfolk Southern RR to accommodate the continuous flow. As part of the construction of I-74 both of the tile lines were rerouted to the east and a new channel was dug just east of the concrete structure as an outlet for the tile flow. In addition the channel flow on the surface was rerouted to the west of the structure to allow for the Copper Slough channel to be deepened and extended to the north thru the two parks."

Here's the interesting part:

"The concrete structure was supposed to be removed by IDOT as part of the I-74 construction work, but that work was never completed. The Fountain Head Drainage District was the 'owner' of these facilities at that time. When the drainage district explored the possibility of removing the concrete structure in the 1980s it discovered that the cost would be very high due to the fact that IDOT had not left any way to easily gain access to the structure by construction equipment. Thus it has remained in place but abandoned for over 50 years."

As an aside, the pathway connecting Heritage Park and Kaufman Lake is one of the wildest and creepiest parts of Champaign-Urbana that I have experienced. It includes the small railroad trestle, some phenomenally creative graffiti under the interstate highway bridges and a lot of wildlife and natural areas along the Copper Slough. I've included photos of some of the graffiti.

Open for business

"Is the surgery center on Interstate Drive open? I rarely see any cars in their lot as I drive by."

Yes. Next time check the parking lot in the back.

Guns exemption?

"All of the U of I buildings have the 'no guns' sign on the doors, but I frequently see armored car drivers openly carrying their weapons inside university buildings. Shouldn't they be required to comply with this too since they're private businesses and not public officials, or are they exempt like law enforcement is?"

"State law makes it illegal to carry a weapon on state or federal property without prior written permission from the chief security officer of that property," said University of Illinois Police spokesman Pat Wade. "In the case of the university, that's the chief of police. Brinks and Garda have both received such permission to carry a weapon on university property in the performance of their duties. Permission is granted very sparingly, and there are only a handful of people who have received it."

Midtown project

"Could you tell me what is happening with the proposed Midtown Crossing development? As I remember, there were some optimistic projection dates for renovations and opening, followed by a fire, but I haven't heard or seen anything new in months."

We haven't been able to get in touch with Scott Cochrane, who is the developer of the project south of University Avenue between First Street and the Canadian National Railroad tracks.But T.J. Blakeman, senior planner for economic development at the city of Champaign, said he believes the project is still in its design phase.

"Mr. Cochrane is eventually planning to renovate the Avenue Building (66 Chester St.) followed by the former Chester Street Bar (63 Chester St.), followed by the Bush building (64 Chester St.)," Blakeman said. "Nothing has changed substantially from the original proposal, and city council has already approved the Avenue Building for a Redevelopment Incentive Program Grant. "The fire in 63 Chester Street set back the timeline while the developer undertook stabilization work. We are still looking forward to seeing these buildings restored and adding new vibrancy to Midtown."

More on "ghost sign"

Here's a little more on the "ghost sign" at 108 E. University Ave., Champaign, an item in last week's Mailbag. Local muralist and "wall dog" Glen Davies is helping to bring a sign back to life.

Davies said that Mike Hosier, who owns the building, thought that repainting the sign would help to preserve history there.

He said he learned sign painting and billboard art skills at the former billboard company C&U Poster in the mid 1970s.

Davies has done many signs and murals over the last 45 years, including the Tumble Inn sign on the south side of the Neil Street bar — made to look like a vintage-style sign — and the mural on the north wall of the Courier Cafe in downtown Urbana.


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).