Chicago Public Library Home to 161,000 Archival Photos and Drawings of Chicago Parks

Chicago Park District Transfers Historical Archival Material to CPL’s Special Collections

Chicago Public Library (CPL) and Chicago Park District (CPD) announced today the addition of more than 161,000 photographs and drawings of public parks to CPL’s Special Collections. The transfer of CPD’s historical archival material to CPL’s Special Collections enriches the telling of Chicago’s story, particularly with regard to how the demographics and populations served by the city’s parks have changed over time.

"Housing the archival history of Chicago’s parks through our partnership with Chicago Park District is central to our mission of strengthening communities,” said Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. “This collection holds a wealth of information for those interested in Chicago’s community history, our green spaces, and the residents who have enjoyed them for over a century.”

The collection boasts more than 61,000 photographic prints processed and digitized to archival standards, covering the over 500 parks in the Chicago Park District system. These photographs are high resolution and fully searchable in the Special Collections Reading Room. The physical prints are also available upon request. 10,000 selected images are available in the Chicago Park District digital collection on Chicago Public Library’s website, representing 91 parks. Funding for this project was provided by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the Chicago Public Library Foundation. CPL will host an exhibit of the collection in fall 2019 at Harold Washington Library Center.

The collection also includes approximately 100,000 landscape and architectural drawings spanning 150 years and representing over 500 parks, boulevards and beaches. They include property surveys of park sites; maps showing Lake Michigan's shoreline changes; plans showing utility lines; architectural plans for park buildings and structures; and planting plans for landscapes. These drawings represent the work of famed architects, planners and landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted, Daniel Burnham, William Le Baron Jenney, Edward Bennett, Alfred Caldwell, and Jens Jensen. Some drawings were also created by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The drawings are currently available for research via the Special Collections Reading Room at Harold Washington Library Center, with partial funding from the Parkways Foundation.

“The Chicago Park District has a rich and wonderful history that continues to teach us and influence the way we shape and use our parks,” said Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly. “We are excited to have our photos added to the Chicago Public Library’s Special Collections, making them more accessible and sharing our story with those who helped create it.”

CPL’s Special Collections also worked with a conservator who treated 18 drawings created in 1891 by D.H. Burnham & Co. and Charles Atwood of the Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. These are the only known remaining copies of these important plans of the building that now houses the Museum of Science and Industry.

The collection also includes photos of Martin Luther King’s Freedom Rally, the first Special Olympics, and the Century of Progress World’s Fair at Soldier Field. Other large events, such as the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests at Grant Park, and photos of Garfield Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Zoo are highlights of the collection.

The Chicago Park District collection features photos from 1863 to 2005 and serves as a rich resource for studying the growth and evolution of the Chicago’s parks and services. Viewed with an even wider lens, the photographs document changes in American leisure activities. Photos feature marbles competitions and square dancing festivals in addition to current day activities, such as swimming lessons, sports, beaches, arts and crafts, and community concerts.

To learn more about the archives and CPL’s Special Collections, visit

About Chicago Public Library

Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through innovative services and programs, as well as cutting-edge technology. Through its 80 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults. CPL received the Social Innovator Award from Chicago Innovation Awards; won a National Medal for Library Services from the Institute for Museum and Library Services; was named the first ever winner of the National Summer Learning Association’s Founder’s Award in recognition of its Summer Learning Challenge; and was ranked number one in the U.S., and third in the world by an international study of major urban libraries conducted by the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf in Germany. For more information, please call (312) 747-4050 or visit To follow CPL on social media, visit us on Twitter (@chipublib) or Facebook (Chicago Public Library).

About Chicago Park District

The Chicago Park District is a Gold Medal Award winner, recognized for excellence in park and recreation management across the nation. For more information about the Chicago Park District’s more than 8,800 acres of parkland, more than 600 parks, 26 miles of lakefront, 12 museums, two world-class conservatories, 16 historic lagoons, nearly 50 nature areas, thousands of special events, sports and entertaining programs, please visit or contact the Chicago Park District at (312) 742.PLAY or (312) 747.2001 (TTY). Want to share your talent? Volunteer in the parks by calling (312) 742.PLAY.