For directions using public transportation visit www.transitchicago.com.
The planning and development of the first Jackson Park and the Great World’s Fair of 1893, the Columbian Exposition, helped shape what we see today on Wooded Island. When famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux began planning Jackson Park in 1869, they applied their immense sense of place to produce a park that responded to the land, the lake, and the needs of the great city growing up around it.
Park commissioners, led by local businessman and land speculator Paul Cornell, selected Olmsted and Vauz for the park based on their reputation designing New York’s Central Park and other notable sites. The land where Wooded Island now stands was then a flat, sandy marshland with a few trees.
In 1890, Chicago was selected for a world’s fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. The site chosen for the fair was Jackson Park, and Olmsted again was asked to be the designer. Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was appointed chief of construction.
Olmsted was confronted with a major engineering project. The $16 million allotted for the endeavor was used to dredge, drain, and produce an extensive array of lagoons and Wooded Island, the shorelines of which were held in place by careful staking. Wooded Island became the center of the fair, surrounded by lagoons and by over 200 buildings erected for the fair. Just as Jackson Park was established by Olmsted as a respite from the city, the calm beauty of Wooded Island was designed as a respite from the hurly-burly of the great fair. Wooded Island remains today a tranquil space affording city dwellers an opportunity to stroll in the beauty and quiet of a natural landscape.
Jackson Park, Wooded Island in particular, is also a bird-watchers’ paradise. Birders from all over the country come to see spring and autumn migrants. More than 250 species of birds have been identified as either permanent residents or migrants passing through this special area.
Wooded Island has benefited greatly from the dedication and hard work of community volunteers who collect and scatter native seed, plant native species, pick up trash, monitor vegetation and birds, and remove invasive species. Learn more about volunteer opportunities by visiting our Community Stewardship Program page.