By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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LOVES PARK — The decision for Loves Park to become a city of its own was not made quickly.
A century ago, residents in what was then the largest unincorporated town in the country began a debate that lasted about two dozen years, according to “History of Loves Park, Illinois” by Craig C. Campbell. Some wanted the community north of Rockford to become a part of that city. Others wanted to maintain the status quo.
But, pushed by growth and a need to replace rural infrastructure with modern city services, a public vote to form the city finally prevailed.
It was April 30, 1947, when a referendum passed by a vote of 808 to 513 to give Illinois a new city of 4,505 people overnight, Campbell wrote in his book.
The city’s 75th anniversary quietly passed on Saturday, but city officials are planning a public celebration this summer to mark three quarters of a century.
“We’ve been here 75 years and we’re growing probably faster now than we’ve ever grown,” said Mayor Greg Jury, the city’s ninth mayor. “Maybe because we’re a lot more aggressive going after businesses and development, working out deals with them to get them to come.”
The continuing growth, focused primarily on retail and commercial business to help Loves Park fund its operations without a property tax, has changed the landscape of Loves Park since its inception.
‘A different world’
Grand Avenue, home to the original City Hall and the first fire station, was originally platted as chicken farms, City Clerk Bob Burden said.
“It was just a different world,” he said.
Burden’s family has a long history in the city. His grandfather, Robert E. Burden, was the 2nd Ward alderman on the first ever City Council.
“The first clerk was Wilbur Halbin. If you wanted to do business with the city you went to his living room. You went to his house,” Burden said of the early days of Loves Park.
The city’s growth leading up to incorporation was, in part, fueled by a housing boom from World War II veterans returning home, according to Campbell’s book. But residents lacked a lot of the basic urban services they needed, Burden said.
“If you had a fire in Loves Park, you called the Rockford Fire Department and you started negotiating,” Burden said. “They wanted 50 bucks before they’d come out and put your fire out.”
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The city has now had a full-time professional fire department since 2018, when it switched from its previous volunteer department.
But back then residents needed lights, water, sewer, police and fire and transportation services, Burden said.
“They didn’t have anything out here and they were growing and growing and growing,” he said.
There were 10 referendums between 1923 and 1947 asking whether the city should incorporate, thus forming its own local government capable of taxing and making city laws, before the vote passed 75 years ago last Saturday. Five of the referendums aimed to annex the land into the city of Rockford. The other five asked voters to approve incorporating as a new city, but it wasn’t always going to be called Loves Park.
No to North Rockford
In 1937, a referendum that would have incorporated the city under the name North Rockford was defeated 538-194, according to “History of Loves Park, Illinois.” Another public vote to annex the land into the city of Rockford was resoundingly defeated in June 1946. That set the stage for the final vote to incorporate.
The city is named for Malcolm A. Love, a Rockford industrialist and former alderman whose purchase of a “picturesque” farm on the east bank of the Rock River north of Rockford became known as Love’s Grove or Love’s Park. Journalists long referred to Love’s Park with the apostrophe to represent Love’s history with the property, Campell wrote, but that was dropped around 1925. It was officially incorporated as Loves Park – no apostrophe – after the 1947 vote.
A lot of the debate around incorporation centered around how it would affect residents’ tax bills, and Burden said those same promises of conservative spending hold true in the city today. Loves Park, which has not levied a property tax since 1977, prides itself on operating essential services such as a full-time police and fire departments without a city property tax.
“They always promised conservative government: We’re not going to spend a lot of money, we’re not going to go crazy and you’re not going to pay a lot of taxes,” Burden said. “That’s kind of the way it is today, too.”
Jury points to continued growth, a business friendly climate and no municipal property tax as signs the city is continuing to deliver on its promises.
“We’re successful,” Burden said. “After 75 years, it worked out pretty well.”
Celebrating 75 years of Loves Park
What: A free community celebration of the city’s 75th anniversary will include live music, food trucks, a car show and fireworks.
When: noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 30
Where: 100 Heart Blvd., Loves Park (Next to City Hall, where the Young at Heart Festival is typically held)
Band schedule: 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Bill and Jim’s Excellent Acoustic Adventure; 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Rosey and The Rivets; 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sensations; 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Kashmir
Food trucks: Thai Jasmine, Cluck Stops Here, Mario’s Tacos, Uzo Street Kitchen and more
Fireworks: A 20-minute fireworks show will begin at 9:40 p.m.
Car show: noon to 4 p.m.