ALTON - If there's anything that practically all Riverbenders hold dear, it's our fascinating local history. From the Piasa Bird to the world’s tallest man, we love to tell out-of-towners just why our area is so special. Not least of these points of pride is our love of local architecture, a shining example of which is the Haskell Playhouse, commissioned in 1885 by John E. Hayner for the fifth birthday of his granddaughter, Lucy Jane Haskell.

Generations of Alton’s children have enjoyed the playhouse and its surrounding 6.4-acre park over the more than 80 years since Lucy’s mother, Florence Hayner Haskell, had bequeathed the area to the city. Summers have always meant concerts by the Alton Muny Band in front of the historic structure, and each July, the park hosts a Victorian birthday party in memory of Lucy Haskell, who died at age nine of black diphtheria. Winters mean sledding down the hill near the playhouse. The park and the playhouse are an important part of Riverbend history and continue to be a large part of Alton’s culture.

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On March 20, 2014, the Friends of Haskell Park launched a campaign to preserve the Haskell Playhouse, a truly unique structure that is unmatched anywhere in the United States, and its goal is to raise $50,000 in 50 days for repairs including the removal of lead paint. Now nearly a week into the campaign, donations have topped $4,000, a great start, but not nearly enough to begin the costliest repairs. Aside from a website and video created by Route 3 Films’ Ryan Hanlon, the association is also contributing to its own efforts by opening the playhouse to the public every Saturday in April from 1-3pm, according to the group’s Facebook page. Many Alton residents have never been inside the structure, a one-room space currently housing a doll collection, several small tables, and tea sets, as well as the only known photograph of Lucy. Furthermore, the Friends of Haskell Park are making the playhouse available to rent for children’s tea parties.

To contribute to this fundraising effort, please visit or mail a check payable to Lucy Haskell Playhouse Fund to Alton City Treasurer, 101 E. Third Street, Room 102, Alton, IL 62002. To keep updated on the fundraiser’s progress, you can follow Friends of Haskell Park on Facebook.

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