Lincoln Park: Chicago, Illinois


Just 60 acres when it was developed in 1860 from land housing Chicago's only cemeteries, Lincoln Park today is the largest of the 552 parks in the "City in a Garden." Each year more than 6.5 million people visit the park on Lake Michigan. The zoo, arboretum, theater, and museums are major draws, and water covers roughly a fifth of the park's 1,208 acres. Citizen activism is what led to creation of the park, and today, citizen groups work to identify issues of concern.

Designated Area

Park is bordered by Foster Avenue to the north; North Avenue to the south; Lake Michigan to the east; and Stockton, Lakeshore, and Marine Drives to the west.

A substantial public amenity, this beachfront on Lake Michigan is the result of nearly 150 years of foresight and planning. Photo courtesy of Chicago Park District.

Planning Excellence

Listed on the National Register, Lincoln Park is home to several architecturally significant structures. The park also is known for its statuary, including a bronze of the park's namesake by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and statues of Ulysses S. Grant, Alexander Hamilton, and William Shakespeare.

Easily accessed by bus, rail transit, car, and on foot, Lincoln Park has vehicular roadways and paid parking, paths for walking or jogging, and bike trails. The park is popular with summertime rollerbladers, beach volleyball players, and skateboarders, and cross country skiers and skaters in the winter. A free trolley operates during the summer.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is a serene place to get away from the bustle of city life. It is one of myriad amenities drawing nearly 6.5 million visitors to the park each year. Photo courtesy of Chicago Park District.

Defining Characteristics, Features

World-Class Amenities

  • Home of Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission); opened with gift of two mute swans from New York's Central Park Zoo in 1868; now has some 2,300 animals
  • Park's Conservatory (free admission) constructed in stages (1890-1895); showcases exotic plants and grows thousands needed for park use; four greenhouses
  • Theater on the Lake built in 1920; originally recuperation ward for tuberculosis-infected babies; June through August showcases professional theater companies
  • Chicago History Museum is city's oldest cultural institution (1856); destroyed during Great Fire of 1871 and temporarily housed in stone structure in park. Collection includes bed where President Lincoln died
  • Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; has three green rooftops, water conservation systems, solar panels, exhibits using recycled materials

Historic Nature

  • Added to National Register of Historic Places in 1994
  • South Pond Refectory (Cafe Brauer) designed by Dwight H. Perkins and completed in 1908. Outstanding example of Prairie-style architecture; ground floor cafe open; second floor Great Hall fine example of Arts and Crafts design
  • Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool named National Historic Landmark in 2006. Three-acre pool one of city's premier Prairie-style landscapes designed by Caldwell in 1930s
  • Carlson Cottage, 120-year-old comfort station, excellent example of Victorian-era design. Now used for zoo's volunteer gardening program following $1 million restoration
  • Lion House (1912), designed by Dwight H. Perkins, displays fine craftsmanship and geometric masonry ornamentation, including visually distinctive brick lion mosaics
  • Public art is prominent throughout the park. Dozens of strategically placed statues; Abraham Lincoln 1887 bronze at south end of park: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor, and Stanford White, architect

Planning and Improvements

  • Nurseryman Swain Nelson's 1865 design for park features rolling landscape made from dredged sand with three connecting ponds, trees, lawns, and winding paths
  • Lincoln Park Board of Commissioners formed in 1869 to expedite transfer of bodies from cemetery so park can be expanded; only one family mausoleum, Couch tomb, remains
  • Nelson and partner Olaf Benson created expansion plan for park in 1873
  • State legislature granted Lincoln Park Commission right in 1895 to reclaim submerged lands, paving way for park expansion; space nearly doubled in size between 1904 and 1910; park essentially completed by 1957
  • Lake Shore Drive extended to Lincoln Park as boulevard link to southern parks (1957)
  • Montrose Extension, designed by Ernst Schroeder and Alfred Caldwell, started in 1930s; features dramatically sculptured landforms and naturalistic landscapes
  • Lincoln Park Framework Plan developed in 1995; amended in 2008
  • Public transit serves Lincoln Park via several buses and three L trains

One of the draws to Lincoln Park is the price. Many of the world-class museums and amenities offer free admission. This fountain sits in a formal garden between the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of Chicago Park District.

Engaged and Active Citizens

  • In 1858 a physician calls city's only public cemetery a health threat from buried bodiesĀ  leaching cholera into city water supply; urges replacement of cemetery with a park
  • Lincoln Park Advisory Council formed in mid-1980s following a consent-decree ruling with Chicago Park District that settled a suit pertaining to discrimination in funding; group was instrumental in developing 1995 Framework Plan
  • Established in 1984, Friends of Lincoln Park is now Lincoln Park Conservancy; nonprofit group identifies park assets in need, such as Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, restores them, and commits to long-term care and programming; co-manages assets with Park District