Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grant Park -- The Beginning (Or Close to It)

Work on the landfill that would eventually lead to Grant Park
(Chicago Daily News Photo Archive)
Interesting article on this date, June 26, back in 1894 as the Chicago Tribune reported on the Chicago City Council meeting of the previous evening, at which the principal topic for consideration was a resolution regarding the Lake-Front park, that area of the city which is today Grant Park.

Two years earlier the city had begun the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the immense earth-moving undertaking that would, it was hoped, reverse the flow of the Chicago River, relieve the city of its foulness, and save the city’s supply of fresh water from Lake Michigan into which the river had always flowed.

The 28-mile excavation was, among other things, creating a lot of dirt, and the Drainage Board had offered the city 3,000,000 cubic yards of fill, free of charge, fill that could be dumped into the lake east of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks on the lakefront, instantly creating a new expanse of land that could become park space.

Alderman Madden urged a quick acceptance of the offer.  According to The Tribune, Alderman Madden stated, “This offer ought to be accepted and the earth utilized at the present time.  The project was feasible.  The park was a necessity for the people of the overcrowded districts of the city.  The project had been approved by the intelligence of the city.  It was demanded by the masses.  The matter ought to be acted upon at once.”  [Chicago Tribune, June 26, 1894]

Alderman Ballard immediately opposed the plan saying that the lakefront was a nuisance and would continue to be a nuisance, adding that the only time he had ever been offered a bribe had been in connection with the lakefront.  Alderman “Bathhouse” John Coughlin also opposed the development plan, saying that it would necessitate viaducts to access the new property and that viaducts were “objectionable.”

Alderman Gallagher then rose to speak, asserting that the aldermen whose wards lay close to the lake had opposed every plan for improvement which did not “increase the value of their property or put money in their pockets.”  Chicago would still be a lake village if everyone shared their “unprogressive” views was the thrust of his argument.

A motion to table the resolution was voted down, 40 to 25, and soon after the lakefront resolution was passed.

It read:

    WHEREAS, It has long been the desire of the citizens of Chicago to know what use is to be made of the Lake-Front, from Randolph street to Park row; and,
    WHEREAS, It appears from the late decision of the United States Supreme Court that the unquestioned title is in the City of Chicago; and,
    WHEREAS, It is desirable that it be put to some use; and,
    WHEREAS, The Drainage Trustees have let the contracts for the eastern portions of the Drainage Canal, the terms of which provide for the removal of the earth excavated from the line of said canal; and,
    WHEREAS, Such contractors are now towing all the material to a point in Lake Michigan, where a depth of 50 feet of water can be found; and,
    WHEREAS, It is desirable that the space east of the Illinois Central right of way to a point 750 feet west of the government breakwater be utilized for a people’s park; and,
    WHEREAS, There is no doubt that the Drainage Canal contractors would be glad to dump the excavated from the canal in this space without cost to the city; therefore, be it
    ORDERED, That the Mayor and Commissioner of Public Works be, and they are herby, requested to enter into negotiations, the result to be reported to the Council:
    First—With the Illinois Central railroad company for the lowering of its tracks from the present grade so that the present Lake-Front Park can be carried over them.
    Second—With the proper government officials with a view of securing permission to extend the park 1,250 east of the Illinois Central railway; and,
    Third—with the Drainage Canal contractors with a view to having them fill the space indicated without cost to the City of Chicago.

Note the below grade railroad tracks running straight up the middle
of the photo (JWB Photo)
At that meeting on that night one hundred twenty years ago Chicago began to lift itself out of the smoke and stench and become the city it is today.  When you stand on the Nichols Bridgeway leading from Millennium Park to the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago and survey those railroad tracks running below grade . . . they are where they are because of that resolution.

And when you enter Grant Park from Columbus Drive and draw close to a Buckingham Fountain, the setting in which that gem is placed would not have existed without the action taken on that night so long ago.

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park (JWB Photo)
All in all, not a bad couple of hours of work for the pols on that early summer evening back in 1894.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article, Jim. And what a great city!