Site hosted by Build your free website today!

-----Fox River Picnic Grove
Grove Marina
Barberry Hills Ski Area
Fox River Grove, IL

In the 1850s and early 1860s, Native American tribes camped in the rolling hills south of the Fox River. The women traded beadwork and purses with local settlers, and the men trapped muskrat and mink and sold the pelts in nearby Barrington. The men also made fenceposts for local farmers in exchange for being allowed to camp on their land during the winter. When spring came, they packed up their belongings on sleds and traveled north on the frozen river to their summer lands in Wisconsin.

In 1869, Frank Opatrny purchased 80 acres of land on the southern shore of the Fox River. In the 1870s, city dwellers from Chicago began to discover the pleasures of hunting and fishing along the Fox River, and the region developed a reputation as an ideal vacation spot. Cottages and small resorts were built, and many people who came to the area during the summer enjoyed it so much that they became full-time residents.

Frank's son Eman Opatrny bought the land from his father in 1900. The area's resort trade was booming and country picnics were very much in fashion. Eman decided to transform the family homestead into a pleasant picnic area, and the Fox River Picnic Grove was born.

Eman Opatrny built several cottages and a restaurant near the shore. He installed boat docks, set up a picnic area with shelters and planted 2,200 trees. He built a railroad spur track directly to the park, hired a promoter and convinced the railroad to run special excursion trains from the city.

In 1902, a luxury hotel was built on the hill. Known as the Castle Pavilion and Resort Hotel, this building featured windows from Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition. It contained the area's first player piano, as well as a dance floor where dances were held regularly. According to a 1914 guidebook published by the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, the Castle Pavilion had accomodations for 60 guests.

Many improvements were added to the picnic grove during the 1900s. They included a large restaurant, six bars and numerous refreshment stands. Recreational items included a shooting gallery, dance platform, bowling alley, boathouse, photo gallery, rowboat rental, horse track, steam-powered excursion boat and baseball fields. During the 1910s, motion pictures were shown in the Castle Pavilion.

The 1900s were peak years for the picnic grove. It was a popular destination for company picnics and weekend visitors from the city. The spur track brought as many as 22 trainloads of visitors each weekend.

Many of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1918.

The picnic grove remained open during the 1920s and 1930s. The spur track was removed, and although most of the attractions that visitors enjoyed in the 1900s were no longer present, it was still a popular spot for picnics. Visitors also enjoyed swimming, boating, baseball and dancing at the pavilion. Cottages were available for longer visits. During this time, the park was referred to as Opatrny's Woods and Opatrny's Grove.

The park got a new lease on life in 1943 when it was purchased by Louis and Clara Cernocky. Louis was a prominent businessman in Fox River Grove, and his wife was the daughter of Eman Opatrny.

The picnic area was improved with the addition of outdoor fireplaces, a bath house, modern restrooms, a baseball diamond, speedboat rides and a 300-foot sand beach. Other amenities included a dance pavilion, air-conditioned cocktail lounge, refreshment stands and carnival rides for the kids. Louis dubbed the park "40 acres of paradise."

In 1947, dances were held at the pavilion every
Thursday, Friday and Saturday night

These images are from
a circa 1960 brochure.



In the 1960s, the Grove Belle Showboat was available for excursions on the Fox River. Groups of 40 or more could hire the boat for private two-hour trips. Music, dancing, drinks and food were optional.

Additional acreage was purchased in the early 1960s. A ski hill was established, complete with two rope tows, a vertical drop of 145 feet and a ski shop. This was the Barberry Hills Ski Area.

The Grove Marina opened in 1961. This building featured a restaurant, cocktail lounge, live entertainment, boat launch, marine supplies and boat slips for rent.

--------Grove Marina
--------Cocktail Lounge

Louis Cernocky retired from the picnic grove business in 1966. He entered into an agreement for deed with a developer doing business as Barberry Hills Inc. The park, ski hill and marina retained their names and continued much as they had before. Operation of the Grove Marina lounge and restaurant was taken over by Wilbert Hanke and Eldon Chewning, who had recently opened the Branded Steak House in Crystal Lake.

The new developer planned to build a hotel on the property, and the agreement stipulated that a major hotel chain such as Hilton or Holiday Inn would make a suitable tenant. These plans fell through, however.

The ski hill and picnic grove remained open until the early 1970s, when they fell into disuse. The Grove Marina stayed in business until being destroyed by fire in the mid 1970s.

The land changed hands several times between 1976 and 1993, but remained unused. In 1987, a proposal to build a Holiday Inn on the property and rename it Holiday On The Fox stalled when the developer passed away before plans could be completed.

In 1994, a state grant and an agreement with a new developer made it possible for the village of Fox River Grove to purchase 40 acres along the river. The rest of the land was sold to Picnic Grove LP and became the Picnic Grove Subdivision. The plat was recorded and the first lots were sold in 1995.

Today, the 40 acres owned by the village are known as Picnic Grove Park. It is one of the last remaining public areas on the Fox River. It contains a playground, picnic shelter, gazebo, boat docks, boat launch, grills, picnic tables and a sledding hill. The only traces of the park's former life are the original roadways and a concrete slab where the Grove Marina once was located.

return to:
<<< Fox River Grove History