Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Chicago, Illinois (IL)

The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool: a ‘Prairie School’ oasis of tuneful birdsong, cascading waterfalls, and unmatched beauty.

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The Entrance to the Lily Pool - Monica Armendaris Photography

Discover the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

A cool, refreshing, clear place of trees and stones and running water.

Alfred Caldwell, Landscape Architect

Fullerton gate, on the outskirts of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, acts as a portal to the secret and heavenly sanctuary that is: the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. Within these gates, the Lily Pool provides food, water, and shelter for many species of birds, dragonflies, butterflies, frogs, and turtles.

The area was originally built in 1889 as a Victorian-style garden that nurtured the growth of tropical lilies. But from 1936 to 1938 it was redesigned in a ‘Prairie School’ fashion by Caldwell, to keep up with the changing popularity of contemporary gardens.

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The Flat Lines of 'Prairie School' Architecture - Charles Jurries

Designing the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

‘Prairie School’ architecture sought to commemorate the natural definitions of an indigenous Midwestern landscape. Based upon works by Jens Jensen, of whom Caldwell was a former student, the intricate details of the Lily Pool conspire to highlight the natural essence of the Prairie style.

An extensive and diverse array of flora native to the Midwest was planted in the garden. Winding flagstone pathways encircle the Lily Pool, and the classic horizontal lines of a ‘Prairie School’ style are echoed in the flatness of the stone outcroppings. A circular stone bench – a council ring – is also an important feature and symbolises the council fires of the Native People in North America.

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The Flagstone Walkways and Council Ring - Charles Jurries

The Lily Pool itself is an imitation of a river formed by a melting glacial flow. A waterfall at the northern end of the pool represents the source of this river and the flat-roofed pavilion has clear ‘Prairie School’ accents in its design.

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The Flat-Roofed Pavilion - Charles Jurries

The Rookery at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

By the 1950s, the Lily Pool had deteriorated and was loaned to the Lincoln Park Zoo as an avian exhibit: “The Rookery.” The exhibit featured exotic birds and waterfowl but overgrazing by zoo birds had a disastrous effect on the lilypond. Alongside this, plants were introduced that proved harmful to the existing lilies.

Lacking in efficient management the Lily Pool suffered further deterioration until it became as Caldwell described it in 1990: “a dead world”. Eventually, the Zoo ceased the loan and the Chicago Park District closed it down.

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- Charles Jurries

Maintenance and Restoration of the Lily Pool

For many years the site remained closed to the public, until the Lincoln Park Conservancy came to its rescue. After raising the funds, both privately and via the Chicago Park District’s capital budget, a $2.4 million restoration project was conducted at the Lily Pool.

Upon its completion in spring 2002, the Lily Pool – riddled with weedy trees and shrubs, broken stonework, rotten wildflowers, and a debris-filled pool – was restored. In addition to the aforementioned issues the restoration efforts also extended to the pavilion and the installation of accessible ramps and pathways.

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Over-Grown Pathways - Charles Jurries

On 6th November 2002 it became a designated Chicago Landmark. And on 17th February 2006 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark. Today only tuneful birdsong and the gentle sound of the waterfall breaking, disrupts the peaceful haven that is once more, everything Caldwell envisioned.

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Historic Landmark Status - Monica Armendaris Photography

Our thoughts…

Thanks to the restoration efforts and the hard-working volunteers that maintain the site today; the Lily Pool is generally considered Alfred Caldwell’s masterpiece and one of the most historic landscapes in Chicago.

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- Monica Armendaris Photography

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Chicago Scavenger Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Chicago and beyond!

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