Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Shoreline Development

The Campaign to Maintain Lake Front Park

For most of the nineteenth century, the city neglected Lake Front Park even though it stood as the lone exception to private development along the lakeshore. Additionally, varied private interests repeatedly attempted to encroach on the park. Through a steadfast campaign, led primarily by local merchant Aaron Montgomery Ward, the Illinois Supreme Court consistently prohibited the city and private interests from developing the dedicated land for purposes other than public use. Ward, whose dry goods business located at 10 South Michigan overlooked the park, described the land in the 1880s as a dumping ground for garbage and rubbish. After the 1871 fire, the city had used the land to hold a significant amount of debris, the Illinois Central Railroad Company (ICRC) was storing cars on the land, and the American Express Company had built a shed to house equipment on the land. During the seven years that it took Ward's case to reach the state supreme court, from 1890 to 1897, two more buildings were constructed on the space, a wigwam for the 1892 Democratic National Convention and the Art Institute erected in 1891 as part of the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1897 the Supreme Court ruled that the city had accepted the land with the dedication and therefore held the land in trust as public grounds and were bound to enforce its restrictions. The ICRC tracks and the Art Institute were the only exceptions to the dedication allowed to remain.

View of Lakefront

By the turn of the twentieth century, despite the prominent presence of the railroad, Chicago promoted its Lake Front Park as a tourist attraction as well as a recreation area for city residents. In this promotional photograph, the park is barely visible behind the railroad cars along the shoreline.

See also: Grant Park; Illinois Central Railroad; Lake Michigan; Tourism and Conventions; Waterfront

Montgomery Ward's Battle for Lake Front Park

In 1935 the Chicago Daily News recounted Montgomery Ward's twenty-year battle to force the city to uphold the original dedication of Lake Front Park for public use.

See also: Environmental Politics; Environmentalism; Grant Park; Montgomery Ward and Co.; Waterfront

Grant Park panorama, 1907

In 1899 the Illinois legislature created Grant Park as a public park from the submerged lands that were part of Lake Front Park, the area south of Randolph Street, north of Park Row. Since 1896 this land had been under the authority of the South Park Commissioners, an autonomous park district established to oversee the park for the city. When in 1902 the Commissioners agreed to let the Illinois National Guard construct an armory and parade grounds in the park, Ward successfully sued the city a second time to prevent the proposed construction.

See also: Grant Park; Park Districts; Waterfront

Montgomery Ward versus the Field Museum

Ward's final battle on behalf of the lakefront was waged against the estate of his respected colleague Marshall Field, who had bequeathed $8,000,000 for the construction of a new Natural History Museum. The original Field Museum was erected in Jackson Park in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exhibition. The commissioners sanctioned the project and began excavating a hole for the basement of the building. In 1910, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the dedication and ordered the hole to be filled. In 1911, to create a new home for the Field Museum of Natural History, the South Park Commissioners began landfill operation expanding Grant Park to the south. The new museum opened to the public in 1921.

See also: Adler Planetarium; Field Museum; Grant Park; Park Districts; Shedd Aquarium