Exhibit: From Swamps to Parks: Building Chicago’s Public Spaces at Harold Washington Library Center

This exhibit was on display in Harold Washington Library Center's 9th floor exhibit hall from October 2020 through February 2022.

From Swamps to Parks: Building Chicago's Public Spaces 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.


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