Chicago's famous architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham imagined Northerly Island as one of the northernmost points in a series of manmade islands stretching between Grant and Jackson Parks. Burnham's lakefront vision, with lagoons, harbors, beaches, playfields, and a scenic drive, was published in his renowned 1909 Plan of Chicago. Disputes over property rights and funding constraints hindered development, and his plans for Northerly Island and Burnham Park were never fully realized. During the 1930s, because of its location, the park was referred to as Northerly Island and that name has continued to the present.
Although the South Park Commission began landfill operations for Northerly Island in 1920, progress was slow until the site was selected for Chicago's second World's Fair in 1928. With preparations for the Century of Progress underway, Max Adler built the Western Hemisphere's first planetarium as a gift to Chicago. By 1933, the planetarium sat within a gleaming campus of Art Deco buildings. In addition to numerous exhibits highlighting the fair's science and technology theme, attractions included the towering "Sky Ride" and the infamous fan dancer Sally Rand. After the Century of Progress closed in 1934, a committee suggested retaining fair attractions and adding a casino and playgrounds to Northerly Island. In 1934, the 22 park districts were consolidated and the park became part of the Chicago Park District’s portfolio. Soon, the newly‑consolidated Chicago Park District began holding festivals such as Carnival of the Lakes on Northerly Island. To accommodate large crowds, the Park District built a causeway connecting the island with the mainland.
Despite public opposition, a 1935 State bill established a Metropolitan Fair and Exposition Authority with the power to construct an airport and operate a permanent fair on Northerly Island. When the 1946 Meigs Field Airport lease expired in 1996, Mayor Richard J. Daley decided to transform the airfield into the green space Burnham had envisioned. After months of wrangling, the city and state reached an agreement for a five‑year lease extension. After the lease extension expired the site was developed into a beautiful lakefront park. Today, Daniel Burnham’s vision is now a reality. With wild prairie grasses taking root, beautiful strolling paths, casual play areas, and a spectacular view of the City skyline, we invite you to come out and enjoy the emerging world of Northerly Island.