Chicago Park's 'Stormy' past included a baseball club
Not much more than a little berg, Chicago Park has many history ties to the Colfax region. The community lies just to the north of the Bear River on the Bill Bean Jr. Highway, also known as State Route 174 or Highway 174.
Chicago Park was initially referred to as Storms Ranch, so named for Simmon Storms, a young man who came to California for the Gold Rush and had extensive dealings with the local Indians in the 1850s.
Thanks to Pat Jones, local historian and Colfax Record editor in the 1970s, we have a comprehensive story in the form of one of her books, The Chicago Park Connection, published in 1983. Before becoming editor, Jones had been a stringer for the Record – her beat was Chicago Park where she was a longtime resident.
In her research, Jones found an announcement in the Grass Valley Union, made July 1887, that there was to be a new town at Storms Ranch.
Rumors in 1887, about a new colony planned for Nevada County, stirred the interest of Northern California editors. The July 9, 1887 Union announced, “It is considered about settled that Colfax Real Estate men who have had an option on the lands belonging to J.C. and Edward Coleman, at Storms Ranch and vicinity, on the line of the Narrow Gauge, have sold them to parties in the interest of a Chicago colony. The purchase will include 2400 acres, from the Colemans, together with their sawmill and some hundreds of acres more of contiguous lands. It is understood that the land is to be subdivided into smaller tracts and there will be a town established at the site of the present railroad station, and a capacious hotel erected for the needs of local business and as a summer resort.”
A September 6, 1887 item in the Union explained that 80 acres of the land had been set aside for a town site, to be known as Chicago Park, “in compliment to Chicago capitalists who are at the back of the project.”
The Colfax connection was none other than the Hayford brothers, William and Jacob, and the Lobner brothers, Morris and Leo. Besides being storeowners – and Morris Lobner the stationmaster – the group dabbled in many enterprises in the region. Speculating in real estate was one key aspect to their monetary success. These men formed a syndicate with nine Chicago businessmen.
Another factor in the location was the Nevada County Narrow Gauge, which had an existing station in Storms Ranch. It was located around 100 feet south of Lakewood Lane on Highway 174.
By September, 100 town lots were sold and 1,900 acres of the adjacent properties had been purchased in 20- and 40-acre tracts, primarily by people from Illinois and other mid-western states. One month later, 6,700 acres had been bought and bonded. Land was set aside in the heart of town for a park, and a school was to be built. There were also plans for an 80-room hotel, which never came to fruition. Presently, there are 1,600 parcels with improvements, and the Chicago Park population is estimated to be at 3,000.
Storms Station on the NCNG was officially renamed Chicago Park Station in November 1887.
Charles Stafford, a photographer, came to Colfax under an assumed name to investigate the Chicago Park Colony for other colonists. He became so enamored with the area that he bought property and was a director of the colonization company. He was the first colonist to start work on his land; his barn, built in February 1888, was the first building in the colony.
On April 25, 1888, the community announced they had a baseball club and held a dance to raise funds. The following Sunday the NCNG brought the Grass Valley Browns and a crowd of spectators to witness the Chicago Park Empires’ first game, a game they lost by a score of 20 to 9.
For further reading on Chicago Park’s history, check out Jones’ book at the Colfax Library. The family of the late Pat and Buck Jones has given the Colfax Historical Society permission to publish a reprint – coming soon.