A piece of Dixon history: No remnants of the Lincoln Pavilion remain

This is map, created by Tom Wadsworth, shows the probable location of the Lincoln Pavilion between Dixon and Sterling.

This is the rarely told story of the “lost” Lincoln Pavilion, which also was known by other names. Created when the Sterling-Dixon electric trolley opened in May 1904, it was first called “Oak Park, the Sterling and Dixon pleasure park.”

Sitting on 5 fenced acres 1 mile east of Prairieville, Oak Park featured a 24-by-48-foot dance pavilion that soon was expanded to 36 feet by 64 feet. The park also had a bandstand, gas lighting, a dining hall and concession stands for ice cream and soda water. Interurban riders, after exiting the trolley near the site, walked a 2-block distance on a board sidewalk.

Bands provided entertainment for dances throughout the summer, usually on Tuesday and Friday evenings, initially adding a “sacred concert” on Sundays. The park also occasionally hired speakers to provide “an oratorical feast” of intellectual stimulation.

A ‘rotten’ baseball game

At that time, the temperance movement was strong in this area. So, no alcohol was allowed at the park, and management reserved the right to “eject any objectionable characters from the grounds.” But the battle with misbehavior became a constant challenge.

Just to the west of the park, owners soon added a baseball diamond with bleachers, a grandstand and a clubhouse. The park attracted professional teams throughout northern Illinois.

However, accusations of gambling erupted. In August 1904, almost 1,700 people came to Oak Park to watch a newly formed Sterling team that lost 8-6 to the Chicago Union Giants, an experienced Black team. A rumor quickly spread that three of the Giants had been bribed to throw the game but were unable to do it. The Oak Park manager declared the game was “rotten” and banned further games under Fred Dayton, the Sterling team manager, who denied all accusations.


In 1905, park owners changed its name to Central Park since it was centrally located between Dixon and Sterling. Local newspapers again noted an ongoing concern about the park attracting undesired behavior. In 1906, the park’s management assured the public that it was trying to eliminate “every tendency towards rowdyism.”

By 1910, the park was sometimes called “Interurban Park” or “Electric Park,” but the park’s vitality diminished. Local newspapers reported no activity there between 1912 and 1919.

With the advent of the Roaring Twenties, the park’s popularity soared again as flappers and progressive new dance styles emerged, such as the Charleston, the fox trot and the tango. In 1921, four Dixon men announced plans to build the Twin City Amusement Park on the site of the old Central Park. Renovating the site, they added a “monster dance pavilion” 110 feet by 50 feet, “one of the largest of its kind in the state.”

‘Menace to the community’

However, citizens and churches in the Palmyra area opposed the project as a “menace to the community.” Critics claimed that the “evil institution” would attract undesirables from faraway cities who could drive their cars to the site on the new Lincoln Highway (Palmyra Road) that opened in 1920. They claimed that the community’s moral standards would drop, resulting in lower farm prices.

To respond to concerns, the owners gave assurances that a special officer had been hired to police the grounds and use discretion “in the class of people that are admitted.” In addition, the park would hold no dances on Sundays.

Guy Lombardo!

Dances continued off and on until the October 1925 closure of the interurban. But in 1926, the park was bought by two La Salle men who also owned the dance pavilion at Starved Rock State Park. Under their management that year, Twin City pavilion dances attracted as many as 1,500 at a time, arriving in automobiles.

In 1927, new management took over a now-heated dance hall, changing its name to the “Lincoln Pavilion.” Nationally known bands were featured, including Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, whose fame was spreading from Columbia records and broadcasts on WBBM radio in Chicago. Lombardo’s band played at the Lincoln Pavilion twice in 1928 and once in 1929.

Catching the culprits

In 1930, the Lincoln Pavilion had been plagued with three years of unsolved minor robberies and vandalism. But in July of that year, two Palmyra men finally solved the crimes by climbing a tree and waiting quietly for 12 hours for the perpetrators to return to the scene of the crime.

And return they did. The culprits were not undesirables from faraway cities; they were two boys, ages 9 and 14, from the rural Palmyra area. The two boys implicated five accomplices, and they revealed a stash of stolen soft drinks in a groundhog’s den near a creek (probably Sugar Creek).

Where is the lost pavilion?

Although the dance pavilion existed almost 30 years, it’s difficult today to pinpoint its exact location. Bill Manon, a fellow history enthusiast, and I have walked through the likely area of the pavilion. After studying dozens of newspaper articles, maps and other sources, the attached map identifies my best guess. If you have a better idea, please let me know.

I also could not find a definitive date for the closing of the pavilion, but its last mention in local newspapers appears in August 1931. Like the interurban, the “lost pavilion” is another little-known remnant of local history that once flourished but has now vanished.

  • Dixon native Tom Wadsworth is a writer, speaker and occasional historian. He holds a Ph.D. in New Testament.
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