Shireland From the Air

Shireland was a theme park created by inventor Thomas Smrt, the man who invented the upside down aerosol can that is used to paint stripes on parking lots.  Smrt took a fancy to shire horses (a kind of plow horse, similar to the Clydesdale horses that pull the Budweiser wagon).  When there were less than 50 shire horses in the world, Smrt shipped some to the United States and began breeding them.  Smrt has a farm where he raises and sells shire horses.  He is also known for donating over 40 Shire horses to the Caisson Unit of the United States Army.  

Shireland, the theme park, opened on May 28, 1988.  Sitting on 111 acres of land on Dietrich Road and Lake Street in Hampshire, the theme park mission seemed to be to turn  these plow horses into super-heroes.  When Shireland was in its prime, it  included a circus tent larger than 4 football fields (68,000 square feet) as well as four smaller  (10,000 square foot) exhibit tents.

Smrt  maintained that Shireland was a "completely original family adventure that (will) include a zoo, a circus and a county fair all wrapped into one". He went on to say  that Shireland never attempted to compete with Great America, with its "high speed, gravity-defying rides". Instead, it was supposed to deliver a message of good conquering evil. He is quoted as saying "Some children today aren't allowed to enjoy their childhood without violence, drugs and other 'dragons' infringing on their dreams". With its musical show "Of Dragons and Dreams", Shireland attempted to deliver a positive message to kids.

His desire to make the world a more "child-user-friendly" place was not enough to keep the doors open. Shireland closed at the end of the 1988 season and stayed closed for two years. In 1991, the park opened again. Whether the park stayed open during the entire season 1991 is at question,  but it has been closed ever since.



This whole area would not be much more than a low spot in the road if it weren't for the truck stop across the street.  It is hard to say what came first, the truck stop or the exit on the Northwest Tollway at Lake Street (A.K.A. Grant Ave).  

Here is part of the great enigma:  Thomas Smrt operated Shireland during the summer of 1988 and for part of the summer of 1991.  While the park as undergone some minor vandalism (spray painted graffiti), it looks basically the same as it did over a decade ago.  The Big Top is gone, but the wires that held it in place are still there, as are most of the buildings.  Who can afford to sit on a piece of property for that long without generating any income?  A 1991 newspaper article (Old Stagecoach Stop Awaits New Arrivals, Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1991) maintains that the property taxes alone would be  $133,309.  Imagine what the taxes must be today?  In a  phone call to Chuck (Chicago Urban Explorer), he said that he hasn't decided if he intends to open Shireland again or not!



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