Saturday 12 July 2014

Grant Park: Chicago's Front Yard

Looking north on Michigan Avenue in 1868, with the homes of prosperous businessmen on the left. Grant Park was nothing more than a marsh-filled lagoon, with rail lines on the right, between Lake Michigan and the lagoon-like area. The estimated vantage point of this photo is from where Congress Avenue is now located.

Grant Park was a marsh filled lagoon in 1868 courtesy

New York City has Central Park, 820 acres of nature in the centre of a metropolis.  Chicago has Grant Park, 319 acres which runs along Lake Michigan.  Built on top of rubble from the Great Fire of 1871, Grant Park is home to a famous fountain, famous statues and famous museums.  Named after an old president, it is where the current president delivered his acceptance speech in 2008.  Here is the story of Chicago's Front Yard.

Until 1839, the land on which Grant Park sits was part of Fort Dearborn.  It was also home to many squatters and refuse sites.  In the mid-1800's, a causeway was built in Lake Michigan on which the Illinois State Railway was built.  A lagoon developped between the shoreline and the railroad.

It was on this wild, uninhabitable land that Camp Douglas was built, used as a prison camp for 25,000 Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  At the war's end, those prisoners who survived were released.   It was along the Lake Michigan shoreline, not far from Camp Douglas, that President Lincoln's funeral procession marched in 1865.

After the Great Fire of 1871, the resulting rubble was dumped into the lagoon as landfill.  City planners claimed 319 acres between Randolph Street, to the north, Roosevelt Road, to the south, Michigan Ave. to the west and Lake Michigan to the east.  They named the site Lake Park.  Montgomery Ward declared that the public area would "forever remain vacant of buildings".  However, the one building that War did agree to, the Chicago Institute of Art, was erected in 1879.  Developpers increasingly ignored Ward's request, constructing civic buildings such as a post office on the site.  More landfill was added, jutting into Lake Michigan, to make room for structures like the Field Museum in 1893.

In 1901, Lake Park was renamed Grant Park after the Civil War general and 18th President of the United States.  More landfill was added, trees were planted, flowers bloomed.  A statue of Lincoln in the Court of Presidents was commissioned in 1926.

Seated Lincoln circa 1938 courtesy

Christopher Columbus statue, financed by a group of Italian Americans, appeared in 1933.  The piece de resistance came in 1927 when a rococo wedding cake style fountain was constructed in the middle of the park called Buckingham Fountain.  The Shedd Aquarium and Adler Plantarium both opened their doors in 1930.

Buckingham Fountain circa 1935 courtesy

Grant Park was a happening place.  In 1933, the World's Fair returned to Chicago.  Millions of guests strolled along the shores of Lake Michigan.  In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II disembarked at Queen's Landing, after celebrating the opening of the St. Lawrence River, linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. Demonstrators waved anti-war placards in 1968 during the Republican Convention.

Pope John Paul II led an outdoor mass in 1979.  The Chicago Bulls celebrated victories in the 1990's.  And, of course, Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech in 2008.  All within the confines of Grant Park.

Today visitors to Chicago can attend one of several events:  The Taste of Chicago (world's largest food festival), the Music Festival, the Chicago Blues Festival, or the Chicago Jazz Festival, all held in Grant Park.


Taste of Chicago courtesy

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