By Charlie Feldman
The next time you visit Maryville’s Village Hall, take time to enjoy the artistic splendor of the grounds. Bright, cheerful flowers in neatly kept pots. The fountain where lion (or cat) heads spew water on three different levels. That little buffalo sculpture you see as you drive through to drop off your water bills.
Newly settled residents in town may have no idea of the rich history and fond memories behind that little animal. That and a popular restaurant where the old Knights of Columbus Hall used to be on Illinois Route 159 are the few reminders of one of the happier chapters in Maryville history.
Buffalo really did roam this area back in the days of Cahokia Mounds were built and back when Kickapoo Indians hunted for food.
Centuries later in 1910, when the village got its first electric lights, Maryville was starting to get more amenities. A movie theater had opened the year before. And then there was the park. Albert Hrubetz Sr., who constructed the first building in Maryville at the corner of Central and Main Street, had leased a strip of land from the Zajicek family in 1905 with the idea of building one, according to his grandson Albert Hrubetz III in a 1977 interview.
“He cleared the brush and built a small open-air dance platform and lunch stand and planted soft maple trees at the southeast end of town,” he told reporter Dick Norrish of the Intelligencer. “The opening of Buffalo Park coincided with the building of the East St. Louis Interurban Railroad which ran through Collinsville and then north along what is now Route 159.”
It was a popular picnic destination. The Maryville Fire Department in 1912. The Miners Union in 1915. Schools held their end-of-year picnics there, arriving from all directions in parade style.
And dancing. People rode in from the city for Saturday night dances. Bands played. The last trolley left at 11 p.m., so the picnic had to break up at 10:30, just when the dancing was best, according to a newspaper article from the 1970s.
But as World War I began, the park fell into disuse for several years, “reverting to pastureland, wildflowers and wildlife,” according to Lilian Zajicek and Frances and Leonard Dickman in a 1977 Tribune newspaper.
In 1926, Hrubetz Sr. built a new and much larger dance hall, according to Hrubetz III, and the fun began again. Six years later the trolley line was gone and people were arriving in cars and buses for dancing and fish frys. The property reverted back to the Zajicek family.
But it closed in 1952 after the illness and death of Joseph Zajicek and again fell into disrepair for many years. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
“The Maryville-Troy K of C purchased it in 1975 and did extensive repairs to it,” said Mike Picchioldi, chairperson of the Maryville Heritage Museum. “They rented it out for weddings and special events. They also had regular Friday night fish frys.”
One of their first events was a turkey shoot in November 2, 1975 with 720 shots fired, 180 turkeys won and many half-barrels of “refreshments” (free beer) consumed. Proceeds went toward improving the grounds. The next year’s turkey shoot would offer 10-cent beer.
And there was bingo. And dancing. And, of course, meetings of the Knights of Columbus. Enlarged to about nine acres, the park now had a bigger, better dance pavilion and a shrine.
But the property was sold to a private developer on April 30, 2012. Four years ago a popular bar and grill, the LakeHouse at Buffalo Park, opened and has been attracting customers back to the old park site where fun and merriment once reigned so long ago.
Today there is no longer a streetcar. Just the #19 Collinsville MCT bus. There is no longer dancing. Just the munching of chicken wings and the aroma of chocolate barbecue sauce for pork steaks. But the buffalo remains.