Garfield Park

West Washington Boulevard at Homan Avenue
Opened 1869

Garfield Park, originally known as Central Park, was the westernmost link in the parks and boulevards system that was constructed in Chicago during the late 1860s and early 1870s. Garfield was formally laid out in 1869 by the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. The 187-acre park included two manmade lakes, a more formal “upper” lake and boathouse and a more pastoral “lower” lake.

Officially conceived in the hopes of improving the health and recreational well-being of the city’s poorer residents, the parks and boulevards, Garfield Park among them, were carefully regulated public spaces wherein certain behaviors were either formally or informally prohibited. In the case of Garfield Park, the West Side Park District Board, comprised mostly of middle-class male professionals, decided what activities were allowable and which were not.

Garfield Park, Police Drill, ca. 1910

Garfield Park, Police Drill, ca. 1910

For the purposes of maintaining order inside the park, a large park police force was instituted. While most of the park policemen were well-trained and quite competent, a number were known for their cavalier patrol style and lust for professional prestige and neighborhood celebrity. Police drills and similar training exercises were meant to instill discipline and a knowledge of the law in members of the force, but they also had the unexpected consequence of feeding the egos of those who enjoyed the ceremonialism of police work more than their everyday duties.

Garfield Park, ca. 1910

Garfield Park, ca. 1910

Garfield Park, like the other large city parks, served a the citizens of Chicago in a number of ways, some of which were widely acknowledged and some of which were not. To be sure, as many have liked to point out, Garfield Park, surrounded as it was by public transportation of all kinds, provided the city’s poorer residents the chance to escape shabby tenement districts for a day and enjoy the nature’s splendors. But in a time when many Chicago workers spent six days a week at the factory or slaughterhouse, it seems doubtful that the city’s poor were always able to find the time to visit the park.

More often than not, Garfield and its counterparts served the leisure needs of the city’s growing middle class best, especially up until the turn of the century. For one, the park provided wealthier citizens ample space to promenade about and enjoy the latest leisure fads such as lawn tennis. Likewise, middle-class men greatly enjoyed speeding down the park’s well-paved drives in an ostentatious display of their prized carriages and best trotting horses.

Internet Resources
Photograph: Garfield Park Pavilion and Water Courts, 1907 [Library of Congress]
Photograph: Children and men on the terrace of the Pavilion at Garfield Park, 1907 [Library of Congress]
Photograph: Garfield Park Boathouse with rowboats docked alongside, 1907 [Library of Congress]
Photograph: Garfield Park Conservatory pool surrounded by plants, 1910 [Library of Congress]

Image sources: “Summer Days in Garfield Park, Chicago,” postcard, V.O. Hammon: #1976, n.d.; “Police Drill at Garfield Park, Chicago, postcard, V.O. Hammon: #226, n.d.