Mahoney Park Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary

Mahoney Park

In 1931, the homestead of the Mahoney family was willed to the village of Kenilworth with the stipulation that it was to be developed and maintained as “Mahoney Park”.  It was part of an original 38-acre homestead along Lake Michigan that had been farmed since the mid-19th century. If the terms of Ms. Mahoney’s Will were not fulfilled, the land would revert to “several religious organizations to be developed as they deemed fit.” The village was suffering financially at the time and the deadline stipulated in the Will was near.  The scale of the initiative was far too large for just local funds, so the Village partially financed the clearing and construction of the Park through the federal Civil Works Administration established during the Great Depression.  An eclectic group of citizens from the Garden Clubs, Joseph Sears School, Kenilworth Club, Kenilworth Historical Society, Village and Park boards joined to form the Mahoney Park Advisory Committee.

The committee hired Danish-born landscape architect Jens Jensen in 1933 to design Mahoney Park as a wildflower preserve and bird sanctuary — an “outdoor classroom“ for nature studies that includes seven limestone council circles for seating, a stone bird bath and a small bird pond on 3.12 acres of land.

Jensen was known for pioneering the uniquely American “Prairie Style” design aesthetic in Chicago’s West Parks, including Columbus, Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglas Parks.  An early conservationist, Jensen organized movements that led to the creation of the Cook County Forest Preserve, the Illinois state park system, and the Indiana Dunes Park and National Lakeshore.  Jensen had already collaborated with local architect George Maher on gardens for five homes in Kenilworth, and he believed in the humanizing power of the landscape and was committed to working closely with indigenous plants and trees. 

At Mahoney, Jensen felt passionately that residents of all ages in a community would benefit from studying nature. With the help of the Kenilworth Home and Garden Club members, he planted plenty of flowering trees and native plants to attract and provide food and protection for the birds and wildlife in the park. The birds that migrate seasonally along the Lakeshore are all present in Mahoney Park, along with the mix of local native birds that nest in the Washington Hawthorns that circle two small meadows.

Jensen’s trademark design elements, using native trees and plants, and his loyalty to the natural character of the terrain in prairie landscapes are fundamental to the beauty of Mahoney Park. The council rings, made of local limestone, were Jensen’s personal signature symbolizing the “democratic spirit’ and the American Indian past of the prairie. His use of native plants and trees in “stratified” plantings, one of his trademarks, is still apparent in Mahoney Park:  a larger canopy of mature trees, steps down to flowering hawthorns and crab trees and even lower to witch hazels, ninebarks, smooth roses and finally to perennials such as the spring ephemerals Jack-in-the-pulpit and Virginia bluebells.  The diversity and adaptability of these native perennials has allowed them to be sustained for decades.

After WWII, the park started to deteriorate until concern began to revive again in the mid-1970s as increasing pressure brought unwanted activities to the park, and as local citizens began to realize the significance of Jens Jensen and his work. By the mid-1980s a four-year restoration project began. Mahoney Park was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, described in the application as “a wildflower and bird sanctuary”.

Mahoney Park is maintained by the Kenilworth Home and Garden Club.  Residents and park enthusiasts participate in seasonal weeding and planting activities weekly.