GENEVA - Today, visitors to Peck Farm Interpretive Center in Geneva enjoy running and walking along the trails and visiting the historic home, nature center and the butterfly house. It wasn’t so long ago when the primary occupants of the land were sheep.
There were lots of sheep.
Visitors will have a chance to view life of days long ago with the Geneva Park District’s introduction of Heritage Day at Peck Farm Park, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 6. Visitors will have an opportunity to witness firsthand activities such as sheep herding, cow milking, candle dipping, butter making and more.
The Heritage Day is an opportunity to celebrate the farm’s history and create a window into activities of the past. Traci Wicks, director of marketing and public relations for the Geneva Park District, said visitors will be able to see wool spinning, basket weaving and even play lawn games.
“The sheep herding is a big draw,” Wicks said, adding the first demonstration will be at 11:30 a.m. and continue at 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. eck Farm Park is located at 4038 Kaneville Road. Admission is free.
The Peck family occupied the land starting in 1844 after receiving the homestead deed, according to historical records cited by Dilip Das, in his article “Preserving the Past and future at Peck Farm in Geneva” which appeared in the May/June 2000 edition of Illinois Parks and Recreation.
Das is the former manager of Natural Areas and Interpretation for the Geneva Park District. He was hired to open the Peck Farm Interpretive Center, helping to set up the facilities.
“I had a great experience,” said Das, who is now an administrator at the University of Michigan.
As part of his work, Das met with members of the Peck family, including the grandson of the original settles, to learn more about the land’s history.
“I had a lot of fund digging into the history and discovering some of the back story,” Das said.
The original settles included Eli and Jerusha Peck, who left Vermont and brought their family to Geneva. The pioneers raised merino sheep, known for their soft wool. According to Das’ research, the farm once supported more than 2,000 merino sheep.
After years of success, the Peck family farm began to decline, first after the introduction of synthetic materials and then the effects of the Great Depression, according to Das. Through the years, the family split up and portions of the land were sold, but descendents of the original settles continued to live and work on the land.
In the late 1980s, George and Erdene Peck saw their hometown become a hub of growth and development with shopping malls and subdivisions.
“They were pretty far-sighted,” Das said. “They didn’t want to see their farm turn into another housing development.”
The Pecks sold 131 acres of their farm land, including the historic properties, to the Geneva Park District.
“They definitely sold for a lot less than they would have gotten from a developer,” Das said.
The Geneva Park District’s mission was to preserve the land, keeping a portion as prairie and keeping the historic home on the land. It has made some developments to the land, building trails, an observation silo and the popular butterfly house. The butterfly house, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, opens in May. Last year, there were more than 20,000 visitors to the butterfly house, Wicks said.
This year, the park district will begin work on an addition to the park, an outdoor education center designed to give children an interactive learning experience. Trish Burns, manager for the Peck Farm Interpretive Center, said the outdoor education center will provide a way for children to get out and, in some cases, get their hands dirty, as they explore.
Construction on the outdoor education center is slated to begin this spring and the new feature should open by fall, Wicks said.
The Peck Farm Park is open year round. Throughout the year visitors enjoy the trails and in the warmer weather it becomes the site of a number of activities, from special events to summer camp programs for children. Wicks said it has even become a wedding destination.
“It’s a very beautiful location,” she said.