Centennial History Series

Centennial History Series: Who Put the “Forest” in the Forest Preserves?

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).

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Forest Preserve Proposition of 1914: The Day Cook County Said Yes to Nature

by Natalie Bump Vena   On November 3, 1914, Cook County residents went to the polls just as they will do this Tuesday, November 4, 2014. The 1914 ballot included a referendum that posed a pivotal question: Shall there be organized a forest preserve district...to be known as Forest Preserve District of Cook County…?

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Centennial History Series: Aldo Leopold and the Forest Preserves

On the short list of great environmental thinkers, Aldo Leopold is near the top, next to John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Leopold’s famous collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac, is heralded today as one of the seminal texts of twentieth century conservation. Less well known is that Leopold formed personal and professional relationships with Cook County forest preserve staff during the last decade of his life and had a direct influence on the structure and philosophy of the Forest Preserve District. Leopold passed away in 1948 and A Sand County Almanac was published posthumously in 1949.  

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Centennial History Series: First Catch — Initial Fish & Water Management in the Forest Preserves

Fishing, ca. 1930s-1940s by Natalie Bump Vena   The Forest Preserve District’s early leaders viewed fishing as a key way to introduce urban residents to Cook County’s plentiful open land. But they faced some obstacles in bringing their vision to life. The streams that flowed through the holdings were polluted and the forest preserves lacked fishable ponds and lakes. In a series of projects aimed to protect public health and facilitate transportation, District administrators partnered with state and municipal governments to clean streams and create lakes in the forest preserves. Beginning in the late 1930s, District staff also received assistance from the Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois Department of Conservation to stock those bodies of water with desirable species of game fish.

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Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County