Soon after World War II, the Chicago Park District and the Board of Education began providing cooperative programs in many of the city's rapidly growing neighborhoods. Known as the school-park plan, the intent was to save money and utilize buildings to the fullest extent by sharing facilities.
To create a park across the street from Thomas Kelly High School, the park district began leasing part of the seven-acre site from the Board of Education. The district had to condemn the remainder from reluctant home owners. All of the property was finally acquired in 1951, and the Engineering Department began preparing plans for the new park.
By 1953, the park included a large athletic field, a smaller practice field, horseshoe courts, a children's playground, and plantings. Three years later, the park district constructed a small brick fieldhouse there. This jointly operated site has always provided park district athletic programs which are run out of the high school.
In 1991, the Board of Education transferred its part of the site to the park district. Although the adjacent high school is named for 28th Ward alderman and Chicago Drainage Board president Thomas Kelly (1843-1914), the park's name honors Edward J. Kelly (1876-1950), fourteen-year mayor of Chicago.
Having grown up in the Back of the Yards and Brighton Park neighborhoods, Kelly began working as a newsboy at the age of 9. He held many different jobs while attending school, and worked his way up to Chief Engineer for the Sanitary District. Appointed to the board of the South Park Commission in 1922, he became president the following year. Kelly was a member of the committee that nominated Anton J. Cermak for the state legislature. When, as Mayor, Cermak was shot by an assassin, the city council elected Kelly to fill Cermak's unexpired term.
Serving three more terms as mayor, Kelly helped Chicago cope with the Great Depression and realize major construction projects such as the city's subway system.