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

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The Development of Private and Public Beaches for Recreational Use

By the end of the nineteenth century many Chicagoans sought to use the lakeshore for recreational purposes. Most of the first beaches were developed by private enterprises that included hotels and clubs built for wealthy members. City ordinances that prohibited public bathing in the lake severely limited working-class men, women, and children's access to the beaches and waters of Lake Michigan. The demands of poor and working class boys and girls to have access to the lake coupled with campaigns by Progressive Era reformers incrementally resulted in the establishment of public beaches along the lakeshore.

The city opened its first public bathing beach in 1895 in Lincoln Park primarily as a response to the efforts of the Free Bath and Sanitary League (formerly the Municipal Order League). One element of the campaign involved persuading the city and state governments to designate certain spaces as beaches for public use. The second element involved ensuring that the city would clean up and maintain these beaches so that city residents could actually enjoy the benefit of access to clean water. While the primary motivation of middle-class reformers in opening the bathing beaches was to improve the health and sanitary habits of the working class, the campaign also demanded that city dwellers have recreational use of the lake.

As a result of such continuing efforts, in the second decade of the twentieth century a number of public beaches were opened along the city's shoreline. By the 1920s the city had reclaimed the land on which many of the private beaches operated. The South Park and Lincoln Park Commissioners maintained a number of them as municipal beaches.

Hotel Irving

On the north shore, in 1874, Methodists took advantage of the beautiful beaches along the lake and established the Lake Bluff Camp Meeting Association as a summer gathering place. Within a decade wealthy Chicago businessmen and their families began to travel to Lake Bluff and other northern suburbs on the lake to summer at private resorts such as the five-story Hotel Irving built in 1883.

See also: Hotels; Lake Bluff, IL; Leisure; Protestants; Vacation Spots

Chicago Beach Hotel, c.1903

At the turn of the twentieth century on the South Side of Chicago well-to-do residents became members of the new and elaborate Chicago Beach Hotel built at the lake and East Hyde Park Boulevard (51st Street). Residents and members enjoyed the hotel's accommodations, restaurants, and entertainments as well as its beaches.

See also: Hotels; Leisure; South Side; Vacation Spots; Waterfront

Letter to the Editor, 1892

In 1892 Sarah Hackett Stevenson, one of Chicago's most accomplished and respected women doctors, was the chair of the new Municipal Order League's Committee on Public Baths. The League, composed of primarily women, was formed to address the unsanitary conditions that existed throughout much of the city. It initiated a campaign to secure bathing facilities for the city's poor. As chair, Dr. Stevenson appealed to the Mayor to assist in opening the beaches of Lake Michigan to the public.

See also: Baths, Public; Public Health; Swimming

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