Photo by Kayla Mack, chairman of Friends of Haskell Park
A cake donated by Duke Bakery in honor of Lucy Jane Haskell was on hand at her 135th birthday party celebration.
ALTON — The 135th birthday of Lucy Jane Haskell, the daughter of Dr. William A. and Florence Hayner Haskell, was celebrated by more than 500 people Wednesday at the Lucy Haskell playhouse on Henry Street in Alton. Lucy’s grandfather, John E. Hayner, built the playhouse in 1885 as a gift for her fifth birthday.
Part of the celebration included the 130th anniversary of the playhouse, which is in the final stages of renovations after months of fundraising and piece-by-piece work.
“We’ve been having these celebrations every year for the last 12 years,” Haskell Playhouse Committee chairman Carolyn Dooley said. “We’ve enjoyed having a free community birthday party that resembles Lucy’s fifth birthday party with pony rides, lawn bowling and bean bag games. It’s amazing to me that today’s children enjoy those Victorian time period games as much as they do with all the technology they have today.”
Music, ice cream and lemonade was served along with a birthday cake donated by Duke Bakery. Ryan Hanlon helped organize and achieve the $50,000 fundraiser to restore Lucy’s playhouse and his daughter Audrey dressed in period clothing to represent Lucy Haskell and blow out the cake’s candles.
“We are still in need of a roof,” Dooley said. “Landscaping is still in the process, but we actually did it. We were able to get the main restorations done. The lead paint was removed and we had carpenters and painters working over the last several months. The playhouse looks beautiful.”
Lucy Jane Haskell died March 27, 1890, at the age of 9 of “black diphtheria” just four years after the playhouse was built.
Following the death of Florence Hayner Haskell in 1932, Alton city officials learned she had bequeathed the large house, the playhouse and 6.4 acres of ground to the city, to be used as a playground and facility for children. The playhouse is to be retained forever in memory of Lucy Jane Haskell.
“In many ways I believe that Mrs. Haskell would be pleased because the property is used as she hoped, for the joy of children in the community,” Dooley said. “But a part of me thinks that she’d be appalled as well. The main house has not been kept as it should because the city can’t afford all the cost to maintain the house. We’re discussing options for the main house from time to time and have a lot of ideas for it.”
As part of the celebration, large cakes once used in St. Louis for the city’s 250th anniversary were on display at Lucy’s party.
“One of the cakes were painted with chalkboard paint and the kids were able to decorate it themselves,” Dooley said. “So many people worked so hard to get the playhouse ready for the party and it looked beautiful. Lucy’s house is centered toward kids and families in memory of Lucy.”