Good Templar Park
Kathryn E. Felter
Good Templar Park in Geneva, established in 1925 to celebrate Swedish Day without the use of alcohol, symbolized the temperance movement throughout the United States as well as the preservation of Swedish traditions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although Swedish Days now includes the use of alcohol, the park remains alcohol free and is a symbol of Geneva's Swedish heritage.
The temperance movement was the drive towards abstinence from alcohol in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States. It was led by Protestants. In 1851, in Utica, New York, the International Organization of Good Templars (IOGT) was born. This group pursued the common ideals of "temperance, brotherhood, and peace dedicated to the preservation of Swedish traditions." By the turn of the century, the IOGT numbered in the hundreds of thousands, all of whom believed in "the idea of fostering general human development through the temperance movement."
This group had its most obvious impact on the Scandinavian countries; and, in time, Scandinavian Templars moved to the United States. The Scandinavians set up lodges where they could associate with others of the same ethnic group, and eventually they began to dominate the organization, which in turn made the organization Scandinavian in character.
The area near Good Templar Park was referred to as "New Sweden" because of the large number of Swedes there. Many people, including Swedes, immigrated to the United States, and many of them ended up in a quaint little village along the Fox River, which they called "Yeneva." The Scandinavian settlers brought with them many traditions, the biggest of which was the festival of Midsummer, celebrated on June 21 in Sweden. The day before, Midsummer Eve, was as big as Christmas Eve is in the United States. The festival included dancing, singing, and eating good food.
To preserve these traditions, Carl Ramstedt, of the Svea Lodge of IOGT proposed a large picnic for all the lodges. A few of the Good Templar lodges on the north side of Chicago decided to sponsor a large Swedish festival at Linden Park in Evanston. The speaker at that picnic was Carl Holmsten. The picnic was so well received that in September 1911, the Grand Lodges voted to hold a festival called, "Svenskarnas Dag" (Swedish Day) on the day closest to Midsummer in Sweden. In later years, the festival was held at Ravinia Park, and eventually the Illinois Scandinavian Grand Lodge became a cosponsor.
By 1924 the festival had grown immensely, to about ten thousand people. Some of the Good Templars thought that they needed a place of their own to celebrate the holiday. To look for possible sites, different committees were appointed, and a suitable piece of land was found near the Fox River on the east side of Geneva. This land seemed perfect for the Swedish festival; therefore, when the Grand Lodge met on September 14, 1924, it decided to buy the sixty-six acres of land.
When the deal was closed, work began immediately to transform the real estate into a park. Crews of members numbering in the hundreds volunteered on the weekends. Mostly Swedes but also some Norwegians participated. They laid bricks, carried water, mixed mortar, built the restaurant, the refreshment stands, the circular stage, and the picnic tables. The park board asked the city council for permission to bring water and sewers into the park; eventually, the park board convinced the city council to bring the necessary utilities into Good Templar Park. Contractors were hired to build the pavilion, build the fence, and do the plumbing and floors in the bathrooms; however, the rest of the work was done by the members, free of charge.
These members worked every spring weekend until the park was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 31, 1925. The mayor, councilmen, county officials, and reporters all joined together in a parade to the park. The first officers of the park were, Axel Nelson, president; William Nelson, secretary; and Victor Bergstron, treasurer. Bands played, flags waved, and there were speeches by many of the important officials.
Nearly a month later, on Sunday, June 30, 1925, the first Swedish Day was held in the park. Fourteen thousand people paid admission. It was estimated that nearly twenty thousand people attended due to free passes, and many others snuck in. Many of the members form Chicago came by way of the CA&E interurban, a convenient way to reach the park. The festival included delicious food, dances around the maypole, Scandinavian music, speakers of state and national reputation, and meeting friends.
For years this tradition was preserved, as every year people from all over came to join in the memorable event called "Swedish Day." As one walks through the park even today, as society has become fast paced, one can feel the peace and imagine the wonderful dances and music that once were highlights of the summer. Although Swedish Days now include alcohol, and have grown to an enormous week-long festival all throughout Geneva, the park remains a symbol of temperance and of the preservation of Swedish traditions.—[From Earl Hanson, ed., A Place for Midsummer; Julie M. Ehresmann, Geneva, Illinois.]