From Swamps to Parks: Building Chicago's Public Spaces is on display now in Harold Washington Library Center's 9th floor exhibit hall. This exhibit examines six Chicago Park District icons—the lakefront, the Museum of Science and Industry, the fieldhouse, Soldier Field, Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo—and in doing so reveals Chicago’s commitment to building public spaces.
About the Exhibit
In 1837, Chicago's fledgling government adopted “Urbs in Horto,” “City in a Garden,” as the official city motto, inspiring the transformation of what was then mostly swampland into beautiful parks and public spaces. A few years earlier, the U.S. government had forced the Potawatomi people to cede their land, which included the village of Chicago. European American settlers looked to incorporate the growing town into America’s capitalist structure. To build the metropolis they envisioned, complete with verdant parks, required innovative engineering and intentional policy to overcome the marshy environment.
In 1869, Illinois passed laws establishing Chicago’s South, West and Lincoln Park Commissions. These independent agencies worked to create a unified park and boulevard system for the city. As Chicago expanded, so did the number of park commissions. In 1934, the Chicago Park District formed, consolidating 22 existing park commissions.
The exhibit features highlights from the Chicago Park District Archive at CPL's Special Collections. On display are landscape and architectural drawings, photographs, toys, and archival and conservation materials. See exhibit highlights and hear from the curators in the WBEZ story "Historical Photos Revisit the Rise of Parks and Public Spaces in Chicago’s Bygone Eras."
The Chicago Park District Archive, from which this exhibit is largely drawn, consists of over 106,000 park drawings and more than 62,000 park photographs. You can view 10,000 of these images in our Chicago Park District digital collection.
How to Visit
Face masks are required to enter Harold Washington Library Center. Social distancing and masks are required in the exhibit gallery. No more than 18 visitors are allowed in the gallery at a time.
- Take a sneak peek preview of the exhibit
- Dive behind the scenes with the exhibit curator
- Learn more about fieldhouse history from our partners at the Chicago Park District
- View past recorded event Building Chicago's Public Spaces with Julia Bachrach.
- View past recorded event Environmental Justice in Chicago: A Panel Discussion.
- View past recorded event Author Rebecca S. Graff on World's Fair Archaeology in Jackson Park.
- View past recorded event The Olmsted Legacy in Chicago with Julia Bachrach, co-sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Center.
- View past recorded event Historic Chicago Parks: A Research Workshop, with Johanna Russ and Julia Bachrach.