Columbus Park

Designers: Jens Jensen | City: Chicago, IL | Project Type: prairie style, large parks
Date Visited: 10.26.12

Location: 500 S. Central Ave, Chicago, IL, 60644
Size: 144-acres
Official Opening Date: 1920

Designed between 1915 and 1920, landscape architect Jen Jensen’s Columbus Park epitomizes the Prairie Style. Located seven miles from downtown Chicago with an expansive 144-acres in size, the park includes “a meandering lagoon designed to emulate a prairie river, complete with cascades and gentle waterfalls constructed of stratified stone” as well as his signature council ring, a circular stone bench.

An impressive sight of wildflowers and tall grasses, waterfalls and a prairie river, this is no accident of nature. Though Jensen drew from the natural history and topography of the site, much of the site–the cleared prairies, meandering lagoons, and waterfalls–were of his own invention. At the completion of the project, Jensen asserted that his design for Columbus Park was “”as complete an interpretation of the native landscape” as anything he had ever done.”

Convinced that the site was also an ancient beach from the existing sand dunes, Jensen also designed a series of earth berms like glacial ridges, encircling the flat interior part of the park.

Jensen’s original plan for Columbus Park. Image Credit: nps.gov

Since I visited in late October, however, I wasn’t able to see Jensen’s design at its peak. Waterfalls had already been shut off for winter, herbaceous plants had gone dormant and dry, and most of the trees had lost their autumn foliage. Still, I really enjoyed walking along the rolling lawns and the long lagoons flanked by willow trees and tall grasses. My favorite part of the park was the use of stratified, stacked stone in creating retaining walls and walkways as well as defining waterfalls.

One Response to “Columbus Park”

  1. Lisa C. says:

    Thank you for these pics. I grew up in the 60’s, and lived practically across the street from Columbus park, on VanBuren & Central. I attended Chicago Park District Day Camp there. Your pictures brought back so many wonderful memories.

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