• Resolution to Name Lincoln Park
  • Swain Nelson, the First Landscape Gardener
  • The Park's Early Features
  • The Beginning of a Zoo

This scrap of paper is the official document that gave Lincoln Park its name. Although the new designation honored the recently slain President, the reason given for changing the name from "Lake Park", was because that name had already been taken.

Whereas, It appears by the records of the City of Chicago, that there are now two public parks designated by the name "Lake Park" therefore

Resolved, That the park recently set apart from the unoccupied portion of the old Cemetery grounds Shall be hereafter known and designated as Lincoln Park.

Adopted June 5 1865.
Presented to the Mayor for approval June 10th 1865.
A.H.Bodman City Clerk.
Approved June 12, 1865.
J.B. Rice Mayor.

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.
Chicago's Board of Public Works had control of the park grounds until the Lincoln Park Commissioners were given jurisdiction in 1869. This report to the Common Council dates the hiring of Lincoln Park's first landscape designer, Swain Nelson. See the first Nelson plan for Lincoln Park here, where you also can hear a conversation with Julia Bachrach, the Chicago Park District Historian.

Courtesy of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository.


Office of the Board of Public Works,
Chicago, September 25th, 1865

To the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Chicago, in Common Council assembled:

The Board of Public works and the Committee on Parks for the North Division, respectfully report:

That, after inviting by public advertisement the offering of plans for the improvement of Lincoln Park, they received a number of plans, several of which were quite meritorious, and that of these plans the Board and Committee have adopted with some proposal modifications, the plan of Mr. S. Nelson, the intention being to modify it wherever the natural features of the ground may make any change necessary.

Respectfully submitted

J.G. Gindele
Fred. Letz
O.J. Rose
Board of Publc Works

Samuel Shackford
L. Proudfoot
Committee on Parks,
North Division

Concurred in Sept 25, 1865
Presented to the Mayor for approval Sept 30, 1865.
A.H. Bodman City Clerk.
Approved Sept 30 1865.
J.B. Rice Mayor
Hear a conversation with Julia Bachrach about the early landscape features of Lincoln Park, here. Bachrach is the Chicago Park District Historian.

Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1867

                            Lincoln Park

Comparatively few of our citizens are aware of the existence of a Park by this name in Chicago, and a still smaller number know that it is probably destined to be the most beautiful and popular place of resort in the city. Lincoln Park consists of about sixty acres of land just north of the old city Cemetery, between North Clark street and the lake, and extending north to Asylum place, to which, by a section in the new City Charter has been added the forty acre lot owned by the city, on the lake shore, commencing forty rods north of Belden avenue, provision having been made for connecting it with the lot at first set apart. This gives a Park with a lake frontage of nearly a mile, which will probably eventually be increased to a mile and a half by the addition of the cemetery grounds, from which the bodies are gradually being removed.

The natural surface of all this tract is sufficiently uneven to be adapted to the purposes of a public park, being a series of sand ridges and sloughs, with here and there a grove of scrub oaks. In September, 1865, the Board of Public Works adopted an elaborate plan for transforming the ridges into picturesque and fertile hills; to change the sloughs into sheets of water and green lawns; to add choice ornamental trees and shrubbery, and to construct avenues, drives, walks, rustic bridges, arbors, prospect towers, fountains, rock work and other adornments. The work was commenced in November, 1865, and a material improvement has already been made with the twenty-two thousand dollars which the Common Council appropriated for the purpose. A lake has been excavated and serpentine walks laid out and graveled, and people have begun to flock there to find quiet and pure air, though the grounds are not yet in a very inviting condition. The money is now expended, and unless a further appropriation is made by the city, the work will be suspended. The total cost of all the projected improvements is estimated at less than one hundred thousand dollars, but a few thousands in addition to the sum already expended, would serve to make a very attractive place of resort.

The Park being but two miles north of the main river, and easily accessible by street cars, would prove a valuable means of health and pleasure to all classes of citizens, especially to laboring classes and those in moderate circumstances. It furnishes a splendid view of the lake, and of every vessel entering or leaving the harbor; it is far enough from the business part of the city to be quiet, and high enough to command a sweep of healthful air. The land in its natural condition is worthless; improved and thrown open to the public it will be worth more than can be estimated in health and happiness. The great Central Park of New York is the admiration of the whole country. Lincoln Park, though it can never bear comparison to it, may yet be the finest place of the kind in the West, and a source of pleasure to all who may dwell in our visit our city.

Chicago Tribune, June 9, 1868

Excursion to the Park by the
Council and Board of
Public Works.

Viewing the Improvements –
A Banquet – Speeches by Prominent

         In compliance with an invitation from prominent citizens of the North Side, the Common Council and other public officials, consisting of the Boards of Health, Public Works, Police and Fire Commissioners and numerous guests, visited Lincoln Park, yesterday afternoon. The conveyances for the occasion were furnished gratuitously by Messrs. Sawyer and Brown and Wright Bros., and comprised fifteen carriages.

         The beautifying of the grounds in the North division known as Lincoln Park, was commenced three years ago. There are sixty acres now under process of improvement, to which eighty acres, still in a state of nature on the north, are to be added, and eighty acres, comprehending the old Chicago Cemetery, included on the south.

         Very few citizens are aware of the great improvements which have been inaugurated upon this chief lung of the city. The work, thus far, has been under the superintendence of Messrs. Swain, Nelson & Co., [sic] and they have the contract for the ensuing year. From seven to eight miles of walks are now completed, and six bridges of rustic woodwork span the artificial lakes and ponds which circulate through the grounds.

         For the last three years the appropriations made have been respectively $10,000, $12,000, and $17,000; the whole expenditure thus far upon this park footing up to the sum of $42,000. The next appropriation to be asked for is $29,000, although the Board of Public Works recommend the sum of $30,000. Thus far the improvements exhibited are of a most satisfactory description; the indigenous trees, which consist mostly of oak and white ash, have been cultivated to the greatest advantage, whilst evergreens in numerous variety, have been transplanted, and occupy intervals tending most to the display of a magnificent verdure. Among these latter, may be mentioned the Norway spruce, arbor vitae, and eight or ten other descriptions.

         As mentioned above, the parties mostly interested and the prime movers in the excursion, were prominent citizens of the North Division. The names of the foremost are General Stockton, A.C. Hesing, George Rumsey, E.B. McCagg, E.H. Sheldon, Superintendent Rehm and numerous other gentlemen living in the locality.

         The park proper is bounded on the west by Franklin and Clark streets; on the North by Asylum place; on the south by the City Cemetery, and on the east by the lake. In the eastern quarter the view on the lake is very vine, and form this point the numerous craft that furnish commerce to Chicago, can be seen going and returning. The water of the pond, which is eight miles in length, is furnished from natural springs on the ground, and is as crystal and pure in appearance as that brought from the crib for the consumption of Chicago citizens.

         A prominent feature in the improvements of the park is the artificial mounds which have been erected at appropriate distances. Mound Look Out, the most prominent of all, overlooking the main lake and in the vicinity of the restaurant, is the largest, being thirty-five feet high and composed of twenty thousand cubic yards of excavation. The amount of taxes collected last year for the purposes of park improvements, more than equaled, in the immediate vicinity of Lincoln Park, the sum appropriated by the Council. This fact may be accounted for in the increased value of the property in the neighborhood.

         After the inspection of the park, the guests assembled in the building erected near the principal lake, where a generous lunch was provided, to which the City Fathers and the other guests did ample justice.

         Alderman Wicker, after the passing of champagne, &c., was called upon for a speech. He said that the South and West Sides were amply provided with parks, and he would cheerfully vote for selling of other property belonging to the city for the purpose of furnishing a breathing place, which was much needed, by the inhabitants of the North Side.

         Alderman Comiskey said that he was in favor of any appropriation that might be made for the healthful recreation of the people.

         Alderman Macalister was in favor of parks, and would vote for a liberal appropriation.

The two paragraphs, below, are an excerpt from a longer article presenting the views of Lincoln Park by a writer who signs him/herself as Peregrine Pickle. The piece is noteworthy because of the description of the City Cemetery during this early history of the park.

Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1868

Peregrine Pickle

“Lincoln Park, when I first saw it, a week ago, was to me a new revelation. It showed me, what I had long doubted, that there was taste enough in this city to conceive, and enterprise enough to execute, a beautiful retreat out of the everlasting din and wear of business. It was, beyond all this, an eloquent prophet of still greater improvements looking to the comfort, pleasure and recreation of the people. It said to me as I rode along its pleasant drive-ways, Chicago is no longer a mere depot for hogs, pine boards, corn and whiskey, and a good staying place for those who deal in these articles. She is now going to set her house in order for us to live in. She will beautify it and adorn it and make a home of it, full of attractions, which will keep us here in the golden summer days we can find nowhere else, and entice also pleasure takers from abroad to come and visit us.”

. . .

“At no distant day, the cemetery will be included in the park. At present, I confess it was with a sort of shudder I drove through the City of the Dead, and I thought as I passed between the rows of solemn monumental poplars that some of the sleepers under the daisies must move uneasily in the darkness of their narrow chambers at the rumble of the wheels and the gay laughter of the pleasure-seekers over their heads. But I comforted myself with the assurance that the sleepers would still sleep, however mad the carnival drove them; that they little cared of the paint on the cheek of my lady or the loud jest of my lord, for their feet press other shores in the dream which only the trumpet of the angel, sounding over sea and land, shall shatter. And yet it seems to me that if I had some dear friend resting there under the sod, or some little one who came down from Heaven to us by mistake, patiently waiting to get home again, I should instinctively stretch out my hands to protect them, as I did in life, and request my lady and my lord to remember that they had passed in an instant from the City of Life to the City of the Dead.”

Other Countries, by Major William Morrison Bell, Volume II, London: Chapman and Hall,1872, p.295


We drove to the Lincoln Park, which, strangely enough, begins with a cemetery. There is something more odd in the idea than in the reality (for the graves are nearly hid in low wood) of driving through an enclosed graveyard, the commencement of a large and beautiful park. A park gay with carriages in the evening, in the centre of which you can have ices, and improve your mind with beasts and an aquarium.
There has been an ongoing, decades-long, discussion about which city can claim the first zoo the United States. The three contenders have been Philadelphia, New York City, and Chicago. In my audio conversation with Dr. Lester E. Fisher, the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo from 1962-1992, he says it is a tie between Philadelphia and Chicago, the difference being a matter of semantics. The topic of the first zoo came up again during my audio conversation with Julia Bachrach, the Chicago Park District Historian, who made the distinction that Lincoln Park had the first free zoo. The transcribed correspondence, below, details the transaction of the two pair of swans that became the first animals in a soon-to-be growing menagerie. The letters seem to eliminate the Central Park Zoo from the equation. The swans came to our park commissioners directly from the Central Park commissioners.
There is no mention of a zoo in the New York City park.

Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1868


Oliver B. Green, one of the contractors on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and the brother of the Comptroller of the New York Central Park, was not long ago struck with the idea that much would be added to the attractiveness of Lincoln Park if he could secure for it some of the swans which have formed such a feature at the great New York park. The success met by him will be seen from the following correspondence:

CHICAGO, August 26, 1868.
To A.G. Burley, Esq. , President, Board of Public Works.
Sir: Some weeks since I applied to the Comptroller of the Central Park of New York for a donation of some swans for Lincoln Park of this city. In answer to my application I have received the communication which it gives me pleasure to enclose to you, together with a letter of instructions as to the care of the birds also enclosed, with my order on the express company to deliver them to such person as you may designate to take them in charge.
         Hoping that this early attempt to add the attractions of living animals to the daily-increasing beauties which our park, under the management of your board, is receiving, may prove so successful as to lead others to contribute in a similar way, I am
         Very respectfully yours,  G.B. Green.

CENTRAL PARK, August 24, 1868.
To O.B. Green, Esq.
Dear Sir: Yours of 19th was duly received. Today I ship you by express two pair of swans for your park. They should not be put into the lake immediately on their arrival, but should be supplied with plenty of water in a large box or trough or something of that kin. They should not be put into the lake for about a week after their arrival as it acts injuriously upon them to do so after being out of water so long. Feed them with corn and put fresh grass into their enclosure until they get into the lake, afater which they will take care of themselves as to grass. Also give them bread, which they are very fond of.
         Yours truly, B.F. Crane.

NEW YORK, August 4, 1868
To Oliver B. Green, Esq., Chicago:
Sir: The Commissioners of the Central Park, in answer to your request in behalf of the Park Commissioners of your city, present to the city of Chicago two pair of swans. These are of the stock presented several years since to our park by the cities of Hamburg and London, and will be with you, as they have been with us, a great popular attraction.
         Will you kindly express to the Park Commissioners of the city of Chicago the gratification that the members of our board feel in aiding in any degree in their power to the advance of a kindred work in the chief city of the West.
         The swans will be forwarded to your address.
         Very truly yours,
                  H. Green, Comptroller, C.P.

         These swans arrived yesterday, and are now at Lincoln Park. The Board of Public Works, at their meeting yesterday, passed resolutions thanking Mr. Green for the kindly part taken by him in procuring these birds for the park, and also expressing its thanks to the Central Park Board of Commissioners for their courtesy and kindness.



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