HP Chamber Speak: Park hopping in Hyde Park

By JoAnn Fastoff Blackman

Ever wonder who or what the many parks in Hyde Park were named for and why? Hope the following helps.

Jackson Park is named for President Andrew Jackson, and is one of two Chicago parks with the name “Jackson”. The other is Mahalia Jackson Park on the far south side of Chicago. In 1899 Jackson Park featured the first public golf course west of the Alleghenies. The Cold War (the era of the threat of Soviet attack) prompted the creation of several U.S. Weapon sites and Jackson Park contained a Nike Surface to Air Missile. The nearby “Point” was used as its radar station. In 1972 Jackson Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harold Washington Park is one of 40 Chicago Park District parks named after influential African Americans. The land was originally gifted to the city in 1906 by Paul Cornell, a Chicago real estate magnate and founder of Hyde Park. At the time it was called East End Park. The park district renamed it Harold Washington Park in 1992. The park is best known for its South American Monk Parakeet nests.

Washington Park is named for President George Washington and was also conceived by Paul Cornell who hired Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux, to lay out the park in the 1870s. After examining the property the plan called for sheep to graze as a means of keeping the grass short. The blueprints however were destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. Washington Park Racetrack operated at 61st & Cottage for over two decades and was one of the largest and grandest horse racetracks of its time until Illinois outlawed gambling.

Both Spruce & Elm Parks were two of a number of sites named for trees and plants in the 1960’s. The Chicago Park District developed these parks as part of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Urban Renewal Project. Elm Park contains a community garden and a gazebo.

Nichols Park is a multiple award-winning park that honors artist and urban planner John Fountain Nichols, a life-long resident of Hyde Park and architectural draftsman. Nichols participated in the Federal Artists’ Project during the Great Depression while a student of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Kenwood & Kennicott Parks

A native New Yorker, Dr. John A. Kennicott graduated from Chicago’s Rush Medical College in 1843 and practiced dentistry in Milwaukee for several years before returning to Chicago. When he built his family estate south of 43rd Street in 1856, he named it “Kenwood” for his mother’s birthplace in Scotland. After Kenwood’s annexation to Chicago in 1889, the city’s upper crust flowed into the neighborhood, building substantial, well-designed homes.

Bixler Park

After earning a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, Chicago educator Ray Bixler began his career in the Chicago school system in 1925, teaching chemistry and other science classes at Harper, Hirsch, and Tilden High Schools. In 1935, he became principal of Ray School, serving there until 1947, the year of his death.

Butternut Park

Lots of controversy over its name because various spokespersons felt that neighborhood children could best relate to park names chosen from nature. The butternut tree is prized for its beauty and was fashioned into elegant carriage interiors in prior centuries. The butternut produces thick-hulled nuts enclosed in sticky, spiny husks. These husks yield a yellow dye that was used by Confederate soldiers to dye their homespun uniforms. The southern troops thus gained the nickname “Butternuts.”

Florence Stout Park

The park district acquired the site in 1967 and its’ life began as a playlot. Florence Stout who lived across the street from the site, was a leading force behind the park’s creation. She became active in community affairs, serving on the planning committee and the Board of Directors of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. As a leader of the local block club she diligently monitored the community to prevent litter and crime problems. The park district officially named this playlot in her honor in 1998.

Jackson Bark is a community dog park located in Jackson Park. Built over four abandoned tennis courts with over 90% recycled materials, the Bark is the largest 100% enclosed dog park in the city. The Bark is completely funded and maintained by the community and charges no entrance fee. With over 20 dog parks in Chicago, Jackson Bark was named one of the best dog parks in the city by numerous entities. The fate of Jackson Bark is uncertain despite all the dog park’s honors and awards because the Tiger Woods Designed golf course proposes to expand the Golf Driving Range to the north where Jackson Bark currently resides. A final plan is still in development.