clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Come Join Us on a Week-Long Tour of the Emerald Necklace

As a part of Curbed Outdoors Week we're taking you on a week-long tour of Chicago's Emerald Necklace. We'll be making all of the stops, from Jackson Park to Lincoln Park, showcasing the beauty of the Chicago Park District's linked chain of parks and the properties overlooking them.

Before we set our tour in motion, lets get everyone caught up on the long history of the Emerald Necklace itself. When Chicago officially incorporated as a city in 1837, it adopted the motto Urbs in Horto, a Latin phrase meaning 'City in a Garden.' But despite this verdant slogan, the city had few public parks at the time. Early residents succeeded in saving two small parcels of the lakefront as parkland (Dearborn Park and Washington Square); the few other small parks created during the 1840s and 1850s were donated or sold to the city at reduced rates by real-estate developers. These speculators knew that a small square in the center of a residential development would boost the value of the entire subdivision. In 1849, real-estate speculator John S. Wright suggested a much more ambitious system of parks and interconnected pleasure drives. At the time, however, the city government had neither the administrative nor the legal means to realize this vision.

Concerns about the health threat posed by an unsightly North Side lakefront cemetery furthered the park movement in the 1850s and 1860s. Physician John H. Rauch realized that Chicago's water supply was being contaminated by cholera and other diseases because of poor burial conditions in the sandy, low-lying site. Rauch, who also made a study of the world's most famous parks, led a crusade to convert the city cemetery into a public park.

North Siders rallied behind the cause, and, in 1860, 60 acres were reserved as a pleasure ground. Five years later, after the assassination of President Lincoln, the park was named in his honor. Improvements were made in accord with an original plan by landscape designer Swain Nelson.

In the late 1860s, Chicagoans rallied for additional parks, prompting the state legislature to establish the South, West, and Lincoln Park Commissions in 1869. Each commission served its own jurisdiction and was responsible for improving one section of what was intended as a unified park and boulevard system. Reflecting Wright's suggestion of 20 years earlier, a ribbon of parks and pleasure drives encircling the city was envisioned.

Dubbed the "Emerald Necklace" by visitors of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the ribbon is composed by a series of boulevards and parks, some of them designed by famed designers Frederick Law Olmsted and William Le Baron Jenney. After the mid-twentieth century, the lack of proper funding, the split of management of the system as a whole (The Park District relinquished control of the boulevards to the City in 1959, retaining control only of the parks), and the migration of residents to the suburbs led to the deterioration of the boulevard system and the neighborhoods surrounding many of the parks.

Follow along as we discuss each park this week and explore the (great and not-so-great) real estate offerings bordering Chicago's urban gardens. First stop: Jackson Park.