1130 Midway Plaisance North
Chicago, IL 60637
In 1871, the South Parks Commission hired landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to layout a 1055-acre park that would be named South Park. The designers envisioned two separate parks, later named Jackson Park and Washington Park, connected to each other by a long canal and boulevard, known as the Midway Plaisance. Financing problems arose following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, forcing the designers to abandon their original vision and the Venetian-style canal was never constructed.
In 1890, Jackson Park was selected as the site for the World's Columbian Exposition. Fair officials decided that the Midway Plaisance was an ideal location for restaurants, concessions, foreign villages, and ethnological exhibits. However, the most popular attraction on the Plaisance was a 264-foot wheel designed by George Washington Gale Ferris.
After the close of the Fair, the South Parks Commission hired Olmsted’s firm to transform the fair site back to a park. Once again, Olmsted petitioned to install a canal through the Midway Plaisance. Although the plan was approved, the canal project was again put on hold as the Commission opted to install sewers, walks, bridle paths, and plant rows of elm trees along the drive.
By 1900, the Plaisance had become a popular location for walking, cycling, ice skating, and sledding, as the newly founded University of Chicago (1890) brought a population of young academics to the area. In 1908, sculptor Lorado Taft once again suggested the implementation of a canal along the Midway Plaisance. He envisioned the waterway covered by three sculptured bridges and punctuated by two monumental fountains. Although Taft’s proposal was never approved, he was commissioned by the Art Institute to create the Fountain of Time, a reflecting pool and massive monument depicting Father Time watching over a procession of 100 human figures.
In the later part of the 20th Century, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago began working together to maintain and develop the Plaisance. Recent projects have included the creation of the Winter and Readers Gardens, the construction of a skating rink and the restoration of the Fountain of Time provides a scenic route for walkers, joggers, and cyclists.