by Natalie Bump Vena
At the turn of the twentieth century, civic and political leaders dreamed of establishing a system of open land to serve as a natural retreat for Chicagoans. To begin realizing that vision, Chicago’s City Council hired architect Dwight Perkins to compile a report for an enlarged park system in 1903. Perkins in turn asked Landscape Architect Jens Jensen to recommend land to include in what they called an “outer belt park.” They published their report in 1904.
During archival research, I became interested in how and why Jensen and Perkins’ inclusive vision for an outer belt park composed of wetlands, prairies and forests became, by 1916, a Forest Preserve District with the stated purpose of acquiring and protecting natural forests, seemingly exclusively. That evolution was even more puzzling to me because Perkins and Jensen both had strong ties to Chicago’s Prairie School of Architecture made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. While Jensen described all of Cook County’s landscapes in the 1904 report, he made clear the prairie’s ubiquity, writing: “The predominating character of the landscape around Chicago is that of prairie” (83). Read More