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Stories and History PDF  | Print |  E-mail
In 2009 Oregon, Illinois faced the possibility of the closure of two of the state parks located on the outskirts of our community. Fearing that Oregon would lose two of its major tourism draws a small group of concerned citizens created the Oregon Trail Days Festival.

The festival is intended as a means to raise awareness of Oregon as a tourism destination and to celebrate the Native American and Western Heritage of our community. Additionally, the event will commemorate the creation of the statue Chief Black Hawk which was designed by artist Lorado Taft in 1910 and completed and dedicated in 1911. This 48 foot statue is the second tallest monolith in the country and has recently been placed on the Historic Preservation National Register.

All funding from the festival will be used to perpetuate an annual event and help to repair the 100 year old statue. Estimates for restoration are between $350,000 - $400,000. If you are interested in donating money to the restoration of Blackhawk Statue you may mail a check to Oregon Trail Days, 500 N 4th Street, Oregon, IL 61061, put Black Hawk Statue on the memo line.

The Festival Committee invites you to attend this unique and exciting celebration of Oregon’s heritage, enjoying Native American dancing, drumming, a cowboy medicine show, country music entertainment and much more. We are sure that you and your family will have rip-roaring, foot stomping, knee slapping gosh darn good time.

Festival Committee:

Beth Henderson

Amy Trimble

Ken Williams

Chris Williams

Rebecca Martin

Creations of the Blackhawk Statue

In 1898, Lorado Taft and a group of his friends established the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony on the land that became the Lorado Taft Field Campus. The land belonged to Chicago attorney Wallace Heckman whose home, called Ganymede Farm, included all the land that became both Lorado Taft Field Campus and Lowden State Park. Mr. Heckman’s home was located where Lowden State Park’s campground is now, and over the years, Taft and his friends would walk along the bluff as they traveled from their summer homes over to Mr. Heckman’s house. One day in 1905 as they paused to watch the sun set over the river valley, it occurred to Lorado Taft that Native Americans had undoubtedly stood on that very spot over the centuries before and enjoyed the sunset just as they were doing. He decided at that point to build a monument to those Native Americans and the idea for the Blackhawk statue was born.

It took Lorado Taft five years to turn his idea into reality. He began with a sketch, then a small clay model, and eventually created a six foot model. He hired an engineer, John Prasuhn, to turn the model into the concrete statue. Taft chose concrete because he had seen a concrete smokestack being poured at the University of Chicago with an inner and outer form leaving the center empty. He decided he could build a statue the same way. The first step was for Taft to decide on its exact location and size. Taft put a wood frame on the back of a wagon and moved it back and forth on the bluff until he like how it looked from the town of Oregon. He decided it should be fifty feet tall so it could be seen easily. With these decisions made, Prasuhn began calculating the amount of material and workers it would take to build. Work began in the fall of 1909 and stopped for the winter. Over that winter, a big storm blew down everything they done.

They returned in the summer of 1910 and began construction again. Many supply problems occurred as Taft was building the statue out of his own money. The construction took too long and Taft did not begin pouring concrete until late November. The concrete froze before it could set up so they stopped pouring. Taft and Prasuhn then had the idea of heating the mold they had made. They wrapped the whole thing in steam piping and insulated it with burlap and muslin. They then borrowed two steam engines for heat from the local piano factory and started again on December 20, 1910. It was two degrees below zero. Two crews of fourteen workers per crew worked ten long twelve hour days around the clock to complete the construction. When they were done, they ran the steam engines for three more days and then shut everything down for the winter and returned the steam engines to the piano factory with their thanks. Then, everyone went away for the winter.

On the first warm day of spring, Lorado Taft and John Prasuhn took the train out from Chicago to see what had become of their new statue. They climbed the scaffolding and started tearing at the mold over the face hoping to see the detail of the facial features. When the nose, eyes, and mouth were good, they knew the rest of the statue would be good too. Lorado Taft had taken a big risk pouring the concrete in the winter, but he was afraid of another winter storm ruining his work again. When asked later why he had pressed on, he replied, “I was broke. It was now or never.”

And that is how the Blackhawk statue came to be built.

See the WGN Crusin' Illinois - Blackhawk Statue Special for more information about Blackhawk Statue and Oregon, IL.

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