Summer Gardens & Picnic Groves


Summer beer gardens and commercially operated picnic groves were popular in Chicago prior to Prohibition and the widespread use of air conditioning. They were festive places, characterized by the lively music of old-world bands, the dancing of waltzes and polkas, the smell of grilled meats and smoked sausages, and an endless supply of locally brewed lagers. Often they were owned and operated by German-American families, who carried the traditions of community-based merry-making with them from the old country to the United States. Indeed, the majority of the city’s largest beer gardens and picnic groves were located on the city’s north side, home to a large German-American population.

Nevertheless, the gardens often attracted non-German Chicagoans. Some stopped in for refreshment during day-long trips to and from the city’s outlying cemeteries, others to escape the heat of the city and the strict Sabbatarianism of its more conservative residents. Patrons particularly enjoyed the Continental atmosphere of the beer gardens and picnic groves, where Sundays were seen as a day of pleasure and merriment rather than a day of self-conscious religiosity. Against a growing national temperance movement, Chicago’s beer gardens and picnic groves kept the traditions of vibrant, community-based festivals alive, at least until the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919. A few, however, grew to become full-fledged amusement parks.

The following were some of Chicago’s more notable early twentieth-century beer gardens and picnic groves:

Atlas Grove
Atlas Grove was the southernmost of three large picnic groves along the east side of North 40th Avenue (now Pulaski Road) that catered to summer revelers and visitors on their way to and from nearby Montrose, Saint Lucas, and Bohemian National Cemeteries. (See also Nagl’s Grove and Scheiner’s Grove.) Atlas Grove was bounded roughly by Nagl’s Grove on the north, Springfield Avenue on the east, Argyle Avenue on the south, and 40th Avenue on the west. The Atlas Grove restaurant and tavern fronted 40th Avenue, behind which the picnic grove was located. The grove featured an outdoor dance floor, a bowling alley, a beverage bar, access to a small pond, and shady areas for picnicking. During its heyday, in the 1900s and 1910s, Atlas Grove would have attracted patrons from across the city’s north and west sides.

Bismarck Gardens, ca. 1915

Bismarck Gardens, ca. 1915

Bismarck Gardens
Bismarck Gardens was located at the southwest corner of Grace and Halsted Streets in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It was opened in 1895 by brothers Emil and Karl Eitel to serve the sizable number of German-Americans living on Chicago’s North Side. The park quickly became one of the city’s most popular summertime beer gardens. It featured ample shade trees, electric lamps, an outdoor stage and dance floor, and plenty of German beer and music. An attractive beer hall was also built so as to permit year-round operations. Bismarck Gardens was renamed Marigold Gardens in 1915, in response to rising anti-German sentiment in the city during the First World War. For a time during the early 1930s, the gardens became known as Vanity Fair. The Bismarck’s elegant and shady gardens have long since been paved over by a parking lot, but parts of the former Marigold Gardens dance hall complex still stand, now converted to other uses.

Belmont Grove
Belmont Grove was one of several small outdoor beer gardens that operated in Chicago’s predominantly German-American Lakeview neighborhood during the 1890s. (See also Millers Garden and Paradise Garden.) It occupied a small parcel of land on the northeast corner of Belmont and Western Avenues, and extended as far north as Melrose Avenue. The garden featured a dancing pavilion, open bar, and a bowling alley. Opened no later than 1894, the beer garden had ceased operations by the early 1920s. The property, however, remained largely undeveloped in 1923, save for a couple of stores, a meeting hall, and a storage shed.

Brands Park
Brands Park was located at the southeast corner of Elston Avenue and School Street on the city’s northwest side. Early features of the park included a tavern and dancing pavilion. Over time, several rides and attractions were installed around the periphery of the property. By 1913, these included a merry-go-round, a bowling alley, a shooting gallery, a photo booth, several game booths, a beer hall, several free-standing bars, and a restaurant with a canvas-covered seating area. The centerpiece of the park, however, remained the steel-truss-roofed dancing pavilion. In 1927, the Chicago River Park District, a predecessor to the Chicago Park District, purchased and redeveloped the site, transforming the old picnic grove into a modern public park that featured a playground, an athletic field, tennis courts, and horseshoe courts.

Elm Tree Grove
Elm Tree Grove was located at the southest corner of Irving Park Boulevard and Neenah Avenue in the Dunning section of Chicago. In 1905, the picnic grove included a dancing pavilion, restaurant, and small bowling alley, all of which remained in place until at least 1924. The picnic grove was bordered on the south by Mount Olive Cemetery and on the north by the Cook County Mental Hospital.

Kolze’s Electric Park
Kolze’s Electric Park was located along the south side of Iriving Park Boulevard just east of North 64th, or present Narragansett, Avenue in the sparsely developed Dunning section of Chicago. It was operated by Henry J. Kolze, who owned a two-story roadside restaurant and tavern on the site to serve visitors to nearby cemeteries and the Cook County Mental Hospital. The extension of streetcar service to the area in 1896 boosted traffic along Irving Park Boulevard and enhanced the commercial possibilities of the site. Kolze responded by developing a picnic grove in the wooded area behind his restaurant. By 1905, the park featured a dancing pavilion, a shooting gallery, various concession stands, and bright nighttime illumination. Attendance at the park steadily increased during the 1910s and 1920s, leading Kolze to undertake additional expansion of the park. By 1924, several new booths and refreshment stands had been added. Records also indicate that Kolze acquired additional property to the south of the original park, pushing its southern boundary to present Byron Avenue. The picnic grove remained in operation until the late 1940s. In 1950, the Chicago Park District acquired the property and announced plans to convert the picnic grove into a public park. In subsequent years, the park district demolished most of the structures on the property and replaced them with athletic fields, tennis courts, and a children’s playground. The new park became known as Merrimac Park.

Marigold Gardens
See Bismarck Gardens.

Millers Garden
Millers Garden was one of several small beer gardens that dotted the Lakeview neighborhood landscape during the late nineteenth century. (See also Belmont Grove and Paradise Garden.) It occupied the northeast corner of Belmont and Leavitt Avenues and opened no later than 1894. The garden included a dance hall and a small outdoor dancing pavilion. By 1923, Millers Garden had closed and been replaced by residences.

Moulin Rouge Gardens
See Rainbo Gardens.

Nagl’s Grove
Nagl’s Grove was one of three large picnic groves located along North 40th Avenue (now Pulaski Road) that served visitors to the nearby Montrose, Saint Lucas, and Bohemian National Cemeteries. (See also Atlas Grove and Scheiner’s Grove.) Nagl’s occupied a site on the east side of 40th Avenue, about 150 feet south of where the road crossed the north branch of the Chicago River. The grove featured a restaurant and tavern, bowling alleys, two outdoor dancing pavilions, beverage bars, access to the river and a small pond, and several game booths and other amusements. By 1913, the restaurant and tavern had been demolished, and the Bohemian Old People’s Home and Orphan Asylum occupied part of the site.

Paradise Garden
Paradise Garden was one of several small beer gardens that operated in the Lakeview neighborhood during the late nineteenth century. (See also Belmont Grove and Millers Garden.) Consisting of little more than a dancing pavilion and a patch of open ground, it stood at the northeast corner of Melrose and Oakley Avenues. The garden opened no later than 1894 and closed by the early 1920s, replaced by residences.

Pilsen Summer Garden
During the early twentieth century, the Pilsen Brewing Company operated a summer beer garden, at 3101 West 26th Street, next to their brewery at 3045-3057 West 26th Street. It included a dance hall, banquet hall, and outdoor beverage bars.

Pilsener Summer Garden
The Pilsener Summer Garden occupied a roughly triangular piece of land between Montrose, Elston, and North 40th (later Pulaski) Avenues in the old Irving Park neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. In 1905, the resort featured a dancing pavilion, bowling alley, and at least two refeshment bars. By 1924, however, Pilsener’s had given way to urban growth, replaced by a filling station and new commercial storefronts along the increasingly busy Elston and Montrose Avenues.

Rainbo Gardens
See Rainbo Gardens.

Sans Souci
See Sans Souci amusement park.

Scheiner’s Grove
Scheiner’s was one of three picnic groves along North 40th Avenue (now Pulaski Road) that catered to summer revelers and visitors to the nearby Montrose, Saint Lucas, and Bohemian National Cemeteries. (See also Atlas Grove and Nagl’s Grove.) The picnic grove was located immediately south of Bohemian National Cemetery, on the east side of 40th Avenue, and straddled the north branch of the Chicago River. Present-day Foster Avenue forms what would have been the grove’s southern property line. During its heyday, in the 1900s and 1910s, Schiener’s Grove offered patrons a wide variety of activities and amenities. There was a restaurant and beer hall facing 40th Avenue, from which visitors could walk to a foot bridge that led to the picnic grove on the other side of the river. The picnic grove featured the standard dancing pavilion, bowling alleys, and beverage bars. Scheiner’s also offered complimentary parking; patrons could park their horse-drawn carriages in the grove’s own buggy shed.

Sharpshooter’s Park
See Riverview amusement park.


Sources: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps.

Image source: “Bismark Garden, Chicago, Ill.” published by V.O. Hammon: #235 (n.d.).

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