1951- 1953: The Deerfield Park District was formed in 1951. The first Park Board of Commissioners were elected that same year. One of the first significant actions the Park District completed was the acquisition of Jewett Park from the Jewett Park Association in 1952. Also in 1952, the Park District and local school districts executed cooperative agreements to acquire property jointly and share services. The district’s first referendum in 1953 to acquire additional land was defeated.
1955: In 1955, a fieldhouse was built at Jewett Park. Coordination with School Districts 109 and 110 to acquire school/park sites continued. In 1955, James C. Mitchell was elected to the Park Board.
1956 -1958: From 1956-1958, Progress Development Corporation was formed as a subsidiary of Modern Community Developers. Morris Milgram, the founder of Modern Community Developers from Pennsylvania, had completed integrated residential housing projects in Philadelphia and Princeton. Progress Development Corporation sought to bring integrated housing to the Chicagoland area.
In 1957: The Deerfield community passed a bond issue for land acquisition. Land was purchased for what became Woodland Park and Wilmot Elementary School.
1958: Numerous opportunities and considerations were provided to the Park District. There were a number of residents who requested the Park District purchase Briargate Golf Club. James Mitchell was elected Board President in June and the Park District completed a land swap with School District 110 for Woodland Park. Mitchell continued to be elected to the Park Board and elected President of the Park Board until his departure in 1969.
A Citizen’s Committee was established to examine the requested acquisition of Briargate. The Committee instead recommended a referendum be held to acquire additional parkland. James Mitchell stated that, due to the growth of the community, two new schools would be needed and that the acquisition of 75 acres would be of greater benefit to the whole community and should be prioritized over the purchase of the golf course. The Park Board reached a consensus that the needs of the Park District for acquisition of land and a recreation tax should be studied, with the idea of promoting a referendum in early 1959.
1959: In 1959, Progress Development began the search for development sites which included Deerfield. In February of 1959, Progress Development signed contracts to purchase two unimproved sites in Deerfield: Floral Park and Pear Tree. (These sites would eventually become Mitchell Park and Jaycee Park.)
In February of 1959, the Park Board set a referendum date of April 21, 1959, for a recreation tax and an increase of bonding power for property acquisitions, which would be for park land and Briargate Golf Club. The April 21 election resulted in only the recreation tax gaining voter approval.
Following the failed acquisition referendum, the Park District then set another referendum for August for the building of a pool at Jewett Park and for land acquisition. Both issues were defeated.
In July and August of 1959, the Village of Deerfield approved the purchase and building plans for both Floral Park and Pear Tree residential developments. Construction began in Floral Park in September, 1959 with two model homes.
In November of 1959, the Village of Deerfield learned of Progress Development’s plans to have an integrated residential development. Construction at the model homes was halted due to the Village Building Commissioner claiming several violations. Chicago area news outlets then broke the news of the planned integrated housing development.
During the same timeframe in November, 1959, a citizen committee was formed to make a comprehensive study of the needs of the Park District. The committee reaffirmed that 75-80 more acres were needed to provide a balanced park program.
Throughout the last weeks of November and in early December, numerous Village meetings were held and a number of groups were established, some in favor of the integrated development and some against.
In early December, the Park Board established another referendum for December 21, 1959, which included acquisition of property that failed in the two previous referendums earlier that year along with the purchase of the Floral Park and Pear Tree properties.
The December 21, 1959 referendum resulted in an 86 percent voter turnout with the acquisitions approved by a 2-1 majority. The park district offered to purchase the Floral and Pear Tree properties.
On December 22, 1959, Progress Development and Modern Community Developers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit charging the Village Board with harassment and the Park Board, North Shore Resident Association, Deerfield Citizen’s Committee and a local individual of conspiracy to deprive them of their civil rights. Progress Development Corporation lost the suit and the case was dismissed. They subsequently appealed and lost several times, with the case eventually reaching the US Supreme Court in 1963, which refused to hear the case. This upheld Deerfield Park District’s right to condemn the land. Ultimately, Progress Development was unable to prove a conspiracy by the Park Board to keep African Americans out of Deerfield.
1960s: Throughout the 1960s, the Park District was able to complete numerous land acquisitions and work with local school districts on property distribution for schools and parks.
1964: In 1964, the first of two community pools was added to the Floral Park property.
1969: In 1969, James Mitchell finished 3rd in an election for two open Park Board positions. He left the board in April, 1969. After his departure from the Park Board, the newly elected and remaining Park Board officials voted to name the Floral Park property, and the pool which was then on site, after James C. Mitchell.
2020: In the summer of 2020, the Park Board received hundreds of messages requesting the Park District change the name of Mitchell Park. The messages claimed that the name Mitchell was associated with racism. Some of those messages specifically requested the name of the pool be changed as well. The Park Board agreed to change the name of the park, to keep the name of the pool Mitchell Pool and established a Citizen Advisory Committee to come up with a new name for the park, offer suggestions of other ways to honor James Mitchell and to develop educational proposals to accurately teach the integration time period of Deerfield.
The advisory committee presented the Park Board with a number of possible names to consider. The Park Board officially changed the name of Mitchell Park to Floral Park in November, 2020.
Deerfield Public Library
Deerfield Park District Board Meeting Minutes
A more detailed history is posted at Deerfield Park District website – History of Deerfield Park District 1951-1969.