The Garden City 1862

Let us now ascend the dome of the Court House. The climb is not so wearisome in fancy as in the olden days it was in fact, when it was a favorite youthful diversion. Near the top we shall find a circular balcony, specially designed for sight-seeing, and let that be our place of observation. In an atmosphere as yet undefiled by the soot of ten thousand factories, a pleasing panorama unfolds itself. Naturally you are amazed to note how clearly the sand hills of Michigan, beyond the shimmering waters of the lake, thirty miles away, glint in the sunlight. Truly it would take a miracle to catch a glimpse of them now, even from the top of the Auditorium Tower, except perchance for a moment, after some phenomenally clearing storm from the east.

As you gaze about, you may realize why Chicago was once generally known as the "Garden City." First, note those broad stretches of lovely green, due to tree-lined Wabash and Michigan Avenues, - and observe how richly the neighborhood of Cottage Grove Avenue is wooded, and the area of verdure widens as you follow it southward to Hyde Park. The building in the midst of a forest of uncommonly large oaks, at about Thirty-fifth Street (then outside the city limits), is the old Chicago University, founded by Stephen A. Douglas, who at the time of his death (1861) owned much of the land in its vicinage.

Although the foreground, westward, is fairly inviting (for not only are most of the streets tree-bordered, but here and there large, unoccupied spaces refresh the eye with their rich green), it is really not until you turn fully to the north, and a bit to the east, that a climax of verdure is revealed. What we now behold is a magnificent natural forest in the midst of a city, - or is it not better to say that the city here plays hide and seek in the forest? Either way, it is a dream.

The noble lake-bordered expanse is divided into lordly domains, embellished with lovely gardens. From this height the north division, east of Clark Street, and to the farthest limits, presents an unbroken stretch of woodland, as if the Lincoln Park of to-day (then in part a cemetery, and for the rest primeval forest) came down to North Water Street. Not only is every street shaded, but entire wooded squares contain each only a single habitation, usually near its centre, thus enabling their fortunate owners to live in park-like surroundings.

These spacious domains exhibit a native growth remarkable for its variety. The Hon. Isaac N. Arnold is at this period the proud owner of one of these preserves, acquired in the thirties when this region was first platted, and when entire squares, at opportune times, were bought for less than the present value of a single lot with fifty or more to the square. Mr. Arnold's plot retained much of its original aspect up to the fire, and he could point out among other varieties of timber (as he loved to do) fine specimens of oak, ash, maple, cherry, elm, birch, hickory, and cottonwood. And to think that in a single night all this wealth of nature disappeared as if it had never been!


Bygone Days in Chicago by Frederick Francis Cook, pages 177-179
A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1910.