Located in the River North neighborhood in the Near North Side community area, Ward Park sits on a 3-acre parcel that stretches along the north branch of the Chicago River. The Chicago Park District first acquired the southern two-acres in 2000, and three years later, the developer of new high-rise condominiums Centrum Properties donated an acre on the north side of the park to satisfy the requirements of Chicago’s Open Space Ordinance.
The Chicago Park District worked with two design firms, Wolff Landscape Architects and Peter Walker and Partners, to develop the site. The park’s plan emphasizes the Chicago River as the site’s main asset by incorporating a river walk promenade complete with benches and shade trees that offers spectacular views of the water and skyline. The park also has a large playground, adjacent dog-friendly area and two works of art — a lovely mosaic wall near the river and a stainless steel sculpture entitled "Commemorative Ground Ring" near the intersection of W. Erie and N. Kingsbury streets.
Sculptor Sheila Klein first displayed the work in 1989 in a temporary exhibit known as Sculpture Chicago. Moved to Ward Park in 2005, the sculpture emulates an enormous engagement ring, and incorporates imagery from the city’s architectural legacy. Elements include a skyscraper, the famous three-part Chicago window, and a form that looks like the famous Getty Tomb by revered architect Louis Sullivan.
While there is no structured programming taking place at this location, we invite you to check out our great programs offered at nearby Jesse White Park and Community Center.
In 2010, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners officially named Park 511 (previously nicknamed Erie Park) in honor of Aaron Montgomery Ward, Chicago’s famous mail order entrepreneur who became known as the “Watchdog of the Lakefront.” Its site at 630 N. Kingsbury Street is only a few short blocks away from the Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog House Building at 600 N. Chicago Avenue.
Born in New Jersey, Aaron Montgomery Ward (1843- 1913) grew up in Niles, Michigan where he attended public schools. As a teenager, he began as a factory worker earning 25 cents a day and then became a day laborer at a brickyard. Settling in Chicago in 1865, he worked for Field, Palmer & Leiter (later Marshall Field & Co.) and then for another Chicagodepartment store known as CW Partridge.
In 1872, A. Montgomery Ward founded the world’s first large mail order house in the world, operating from a loft over a livery stable on Kinzie Street between Rush and State Streets. He went on to become one of the nation’s most successful businessmen with the catalog house on N. Chicago Avenue and the company’s headquarters located from two buildings on Michigan Avenue at Madison Street. Ward’s Michigan Avenue office overlooked Lake Park (later renamed Grant Park).
By the 1880s the park had garbage heaps, livery shacks, an unsightly maintenance yard, and the City regularly leased out space there to Barnum and other circuses. A. Montgomery Ward filed an injunction to prohibit the city from dumping garbage, maintaining sheds and shacks, and holding circuses there. This proved to be the first in a long series of legal measures he took to preserve the lakefront park.
Daniel H. Burnham developed plans proposing several buildings in the center of Grant Park including a new Field Museum and Crerar Library. Aware that early restrictions that deemed the site as a “Public Ground… forever open, clear and free of any buildings or obstructions whatever,” Ward continued his battle to protect the lakefront open space.
Vilified by the media and government officials, public opinion regarding Ward’s efforts was generally negative. He once said, “I have nothing at stake in this fight but the good of the people now for future generations. Perhaps I may see the public appreciate efforts, but I doubt it.”
Ward won his final court challenge in 1910 and is revered today for his battle to protect Chicago's lakefront.