The DuPage isn't a super impressive river. When the Napers arrived, a dam and pond was required to mill lumber and grain. Today, of course, Naperville is well-known for its beautiful and bustling Riverwalk.
Eventually, the mill pond dam was removed and the city grew. Too shallow for commercial transportation, land near the river attracted businesses that didn’t mind the threat of floods
such as storage lots, junkyards and gas stations. Mayor Emeritus Pradel remembers guys from his youth driving their cars into the river to wash them, a story commemorated in one of the Century Walk murals.
As the Naperville’s 150th anniversary approached, civic leaders took a fresh look at the river running through downtown. Inspired by the riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, they wondered if building something like it here would bring shoppers back from the new mall that had opened on Route 59 in Aurora.
Fundraising started in 1980 and folks donated both money and in-kind materials. A timely slowdown in the economy prompted businesses to contribute skilled construction crews as well. Anniversary fervor provided even more hours of unskilled volunteer labor.
The banks of the river were cleaned of trash. The ground was cleared, graded and planted. Paths were marked out and bricks laid. Lighting, bridges and fountains were installed. The Free Speech Pavillion, right across from the library, was built on the foundation of an old gas station.
These first two blocks of the Riverwalk were officially presented to Naperville’s citizens during the 175th Anniversary celebrations in June of 1981. Since then, it has expanded west, east and south, giving folks 1.75 beautiful miles to stroll, run on and enjoy year round.