Bourbonnais Illinois is called the Village of Friendship because of its pleasant, neighborly people with their welcoming smiles. Located on the scenic Kankakee River forty miles south of Chicago, Bourbonnais healthcare system is considered among the best in the state; and Bourbonnais’ famous Friendship Festival every June brings visitors from all over the country.
The Kankakee River was originally called the Te-ok-e-kee, which means “wolf”, by the Pottawatomi Indian inhabitants of the area. Later the name changed to Kankakee. In 1679 Cavalier de LaSalle, the celebrated French explorer, visited the region and began trade with Native Americans along the river. In the year 1830 Francois Bourbonnais Sr., an agent for the American Fur Company, arrived in the area to hunt, trap, and trade furs. The town of Bourbonnais Grove was named for this pioneer. In 1832 two more fur traders – Gurdon Hubbard and Noel LeVasseur, settled in Bourbonnais Grove. The next year the United States Congress approved the Treaty of Tippecanoe, which established reservations for Native Americans living in the area. One section was given to Francois Bourbonnais Sr.’s wife Catish; another section was established for Francois Bourbonnais Jr.’s daughter Mawteno (for whom the present town of Manteno is named). Two sections were established for Me-she-ke-te-no, the chief of the Pottawatomi Indians. In 1858 the Maternity BVM Roman Catholic Church was begun; and in 1860 the parish priest brought 3 nuns from Montreal to teach and established the first Bourbonnais Illinois healthcare. Two years later Notre Dame Academy was founded with ten students to provide citizens with higher education. This college continued until 1940 when the campus was purchased by Olivet Nazarene College.
A referendum was held in 1875 to incorporate the town, which then became known as Bourbonnais Village. In May 1875 the first Village Board was elected, with George R. LeTourneau named the first mayor of the Village. George R. LeTourneau’s original home, located at 698 Stratford Drive E., is presently open to the public as a historical museum operated by the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society. Bourbonnais Village became notorious in 1999 as the site of a devastating train wreck.
Today Bourbonnais Village is a bustling community with over 16,000 citizens. It boasts several championship golf courses, (Aspen Ridge Golf Course and Bon Vivant Country Club); a top-notch Kankakee hospital; and Olivet Nazarene University. The university campus is home to the Chicago Bears Training Camp every July and August, which brings Bear fans from all over the midwest. Besides watching the team practice and shopping in the team pro chop, there are free practice games, player autographs, and football coaching clinics for kids. The Bourbonnais Friendship Festival every June highlights regional traditions and customs. The Festival features wholesome fun entertainments and activities for the whole family, and also raises funds for community projects.