The City in a Garden

A Photographic History of Chicago's Parks

Lincoln Park: 1869-1900

default-imageWhen the newly formed Lincoln Park Board of Commissioners began meeting in 1869, its first concern was to transform the remaining burial ground on the southern end of the park's new boundaries between Diversey Parkway and North Avenue. Through condemnation proceedings, heirs of the cemetery's lot owners were given a six-month period and compensation to exhume bodies and transfer them to other cemeteries. One family mausoleum, The Couch Tomb, was never removed, and it remains a symbol of Lincoln Park's early history.

Landscape gardener Swain Nelson and his then partner Olaf Benson created a plan for the expanded park in 1873. Although their plan initiated the immediate building of Lake Shore Drive, many of their other recommendations proceeded slowly due to funding constraints and legal challenges. As a result of these problems, the Lincoln Park Commission never successfully improved Diversey Parkway as a pleasure to drive, and the city's boulevard system ultimately developed in a crescent shape, rather than a full circle.

Between the early 1880s and 1900, Lincoln Park took shape as one of the city's most beautiful and fashionable places. The zoo, which had begun with the donation of mute swans from New York City's Central Park in 1868, had grown to an extensive collection that included polar bears, leopards, a Bengal tiger, African lions, a camel, an elephant, sea lions, and various animal houses and exhibits. The Academy of Science's Laflin Building and a Victorian conservatory were also constructed in the park during this period, and the grounds boasted impressive gardens, sculptures, lagoons, and bathing beaches. Problems with lakeshore erosion led to the building of additional breakwaters and the first of many landfill projects that expanded the park's acreage.