The Nature Center is often described as a hidden gem in the city. But this site was well known to generations before us, and clues to how people used the land can be found here. The wild onion and wild leek growing in wet woods here inspired American Indians to name this area the “land of the stinking onion” which was translated to “Chicago” by European settlers. In the early 1800s, farmers drained the wet areas to plant crops. And in the late 1800s, a tree nursery was established under the ownership of Norwegian immigrant Pehr Petersen. The very successful Mr. Peterson provided all the trees and shrubs for the World’s Fair in 1893, most of the trees in Lincoln Park and up to seven-eighths of all the trees planted in Chicago’s parkways and boulevards by 1910.
In 1911, Chicago acquired the land from Peterson’s family and used 158 acres to create the Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. This buffer of nature was used to prevent the disease from spreading, and to heal the patients admitted here. Portions of the land were changed into paths, gardens for growing food, fields to play and a pond for recreation. The building that would become the Nature Center was originally the Sanitarium’s dispensary, where certain patients could come to get their medications. Patients were here into the 1970s when the Sanitarium was closed.
In the 1980s, plans were to raze the land and construct strip malls and condominiums. However, community activists rallied against these plans, ushering in the preservation of North Park Village. In 1989, an easement was enacted to prohibit any development of this property and to define how it was to be maintained as a natural area for 75 years. Efforts are being made by today’s community activists to extend this protection into perpetuity.
Now, in a short stroll, visitors can experience a forest, a prairie, wetland and oak savanna. And in the 1980s, a sweet new tradition was begun: the Maple Syrup Festival, which taps into the very trees that Pehr Peterson planted more than a century ago. Eventually, programming and visits to the Nature Center grew with additional events such as the Harvest Festival, Winter Solstice, and City Wilds Fest.
On April 1, 2004 the Nature Center became part of the Chicago Park District. Whether you seek serenity, a place to spot a rare bird, or a place to volunteer your time and talent, visit this oasis of nature in the city – this hidden gem.
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I took Prelude Number 8533 on November 10, 2013 at 03:34PM
and processed it in my digital darkroom on December 26, 2013 at 11:19PM