Children won’t be playing with their thumbs at Donley’s Wild West Town, unless they have a sling shot or rope in their hands. No hand-held game devices necessary.
“What we find is when they come here, it is all forgotten, the technology and everything,” says Randy Donley, who runs the business along with his brother, Mike, and parents, Larry and Helene, Berwyn natives. “They get right into it.”
“It” includes gold panning, slingshot shooting, cowboy-style roping lessons, kid-powered handcars, venture canoeing, a live action Wild West Show, a vintage carousel from 1951, the Runaway Mine Cars roller coaster, pony rides, a petting zoo and the C.P. Huntington Train, among other attractions.
“The most important thing we try to highlight is this is a park for kids,” Donley says. “They always get lost in the big parks and intimidated. … The little kids absolutely love it here. They find this enjoyable and fascinating. I hear all the time when parents are taking their kids out of the park, ‘No, we want to stay. We want to go back on the train.’”
Recently opened for the season, Donley’s has been entertaining families, especially children younger than age 12, since 1974. It traces back to when Larry Donley owned a gas station in Berwyn, and built a 1919 Model T Ford from used auto parts to display outside the station to attract more customers. That car was the beginning of the family’s passion for antiques, and led to creating the park to house their burgeoning number of collectibles.
As their collections grew, they built the Wild West Town, the Old West Saloon and Steakhouse and Village Hall Banquets, which provides an unusual wedding venue and McHenry County’s largest dance floor. They also founded Donley's Auction Services.
The amusement park draws visitors from all over, with the Donleys promoting it as a day or weekend trip, especially for those living within a 60-mile radius.
“There’s plenty to do here for several hours, have lunch or dinner and they’re on their way,” Randy Donley says.
Or they could take in other attractions, such as the nearby Illinois Railway Museum and the McHenry County Historical Society Museum.
Children often come dressed in cowboy and cowgirl costumes, prompting the park to host daily costume contests this season, he says, noting kids karaoke in the saloon has become a big hit for young crooners.
The family's antiques are rated among the finest in the country, and include cowboy memorabilia, such as woolly chaps, gun belts, guns, spurs, lariats and boots. Others include death masks of outlaws’ faces, tools for mining gold and silver, Civil War weapons and Larry Donley’s music box and phonograph collection. The Charles Edison Foundation judged it one of the finest Edisonia displays in the U.S.
Donley's Wild West Town
Where: Route 20 and South Union Road, three miles south of Union at 8512 S. Union Road
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Aug. 23, and Saturdays and Sundays, Aug. 24 to Oct. 27
Admission: $16 for ages 3 and older; 815-923-9000, www.wildwesttown.com