Naperville’s southern neighbor, Plainfield, has undergone quite the transformation since Mayor Michael Collins grew up there.
“Plainfield was just 1,800 people when I was a child. It was all farm fields,” he says. “We had one supermarket on Route 59 and that was the only one in the area.”
Though farms still remain, the village is now home to 48,000 residents and countless businesses—the newest being Costco, which, as of presstime, was slated to open in mid-November on the site of a former truck stop at I-55 and U.S. 30.
Collins, 74, grew up the oldest of nine children, and with the exception of the four years he left to serve in the U.S. Air Force, he’s lived in Plainfield his entire life. After serving in the military, he joined the Plainfield Police Department and then the Illinois State Police for 29 years. Collins retired from the police force and then became a volunteer firefighter and trustee for the Plainfield Fire Protection District. He served as trustee and on the Village Board for Plainfield before becoming mayor in 2009.
Collins remembers the day John F. Kennedy came to Plainfield during his run for the presidency. “He went by in a red convertible waving … on his way to the Plains Theater to give a speech,” he says. The mayor has fond memories of his mother dropping off him and his sister at the same theater to see movies, or at Electric Park roller rink to go skating.
Though those two venues are no longer, Plainfield’s historic downtown, centered on Lockport Street between James Street and Route 59, is worth a visit. About $7 million in improvements over the years include flower beds and extended sidewalks to make the district more pedestrian friendly, and new infrastructure to serve downtown businesses, which include a yoga studio, dance and music schools, salons, and plentiful restaurants and retail.
Collins says visitors to Plainfield should also make time to visit Settlers’ Park, which features a band shell and war monuments that serve as a centerpiece for annual Memorial Day ceremonies.
Though Collins does not plan to seek reelection after his term ends in April 2021, he looks forward to watching Plainfield continue to evolve. He’s especially excited for the village’s plans to redevelop its riverfront along the DuPage River to include park space, a promenade, and a kayak launch.
The area that is now Plainfield was originally settled by the Potawatomi tribe.
Plainfield’s Historic Downtown District is one of 22 Illinois downtowns on the National Register of Historic Places.
Plainfield is the reported birthplace of the first ice cream sundae.
Some of Plainfield’s earliest businesses in the 1830s include a gristmill, a cheese factory, and the John Bill Wagon Shop, which manufactured wagons.
Photo courtesy Go Plainfield