Grant Park is one of Chicago’s most recognizable and beloved institutions. Find out how Chicago’s front yard came to be, and one man’s fight to keep it forever open, clear and free.
Grant Park is one of Chicago’s most recognizable and beloved institutions. It hosts the city’s biggest festivals. It’s got Buckingham Fountain, baseball fields, a skatepark, a bandshell, and gardens and a dog park and the list goes on and on and on. But creating and saving this public space was no easy task. It was such a battle it involved city ordinances and lawsuits all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There were also people who essentially said: “Take my money!”
Whodathunk so much drama could play out over a park? So. Much. Drama.
From its beginnings as a strip of sand to its current status as the city’s Front Yard, the story of Grant Park is a microcosm of the personalities and interplay of greed and philanthropy that built this city.
It began with a simple notation on a map: “Public Ground—A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings or Other Obstructions whatever.” In 1836, the town of Chicago was only three years old and the city wouldn’t be incorporated until the next year. Commissioners for the Illinois and Michigan Canal raised money to build the waterway by selling parcels of land the U.S. Congress had provided for that purpose. The commissioners sold those plots using a map with blocks laid out in a grid, a layout required by the Land Ordinance of 1785 for any new towns and municipalities.
A few of those plots lined Michigan Avenue and faced a strip of land between the street and Lake Michigan. It was prime waterfront real estate, and that meant the same thing in 1836 as it does now: Mo’ money mo’ money mo’ money.
Find out more about how Lake Park became Grant Park, and one man’s fight to keep it forever open, clear, and free in Living Landmarks of Chicago.
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Sources for Grant Park
This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.
- Encyclopedia of Chicago
- Grant Park Conservancy – Timeline
- Illinois Supreme Court Decisions
- The Origins of the American Public Trust Doctrine: What Really Happened in Illinois Central
- Private Rights in Public Lands: The Chicago Lakefront, Montgomery Ward, and the Public Dedication Doctrine
- White, Ronald C. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant. Random House, 2016.