by Hank Morris
Around 1835 when Philip Leonard Rogers arrived in the area that would bear his name, he wanted to establish a profitable trading post with the indians. Pottawattomie, Chippewa and Ottawa tribes lived in the area before Europeans arrived. Rogers built a log cabin right near the intersection of what is now Lunt Avenue and the Indian Boundary Line, a territorial boundary established by the Treaty of 1816 between the Pottawattomie Indians and the U.S. government. The boundary line, which ran through the land that is now the park, remained in effect only through 1833, when the Pottawattomies were forced entirely from the area in the face of white settlement.
In 1896, West Ridge voters approved a petition to establish the Ridge Avenue Park District,which served as the first of Chicago’s small park organizations in newly developing outlying neighborhoods. As West Ridge was rural and sparsely settled at that time, the five-member park district board was initially charged with improving and maintaining Ridge Avenue as a boulevard. Land was not acquired for park purposes until 1912, when the Commissioners secured title to the first lot of what was to become Morse Park at Morse and Ridge Avenues.
Over the next nineteen years, the Ridge Avenue Park District created four small parks, ranging in size from about a half acre to 13 acres. The shift in focus from boulevard maintenance to park creation was due to the area’s rapid residential development which began in the 1910s.
The formerly rural character of West Ridge was quickly transformed by the erection of large apartment buildings, two- and three-flats, and bungalows, built largely in the 1920s. The new residents were mainly of German, Swedish or other northern European heritage.
Indian Boundary Park was conceived in September 13, 1915, as the centerpiece of the Ridge Avenue Park District with the purchase of a plot of land in West Ridge. Subsequent purchases of land, at the cost of $3,000 an acre, expanded the area until by September 15, 1922, it reached its current size of 13.06 acres. The park was so named as it runs along the northern boundary of an 1816 Indian treaty ceding the Chicago area to the federal government. Land for the 13-acre site of Indian Boundary Park—bounded by Estes Avenue on the north, Lunt Avenue on the south, Artesian Avenue on the east, and Rockwell Avenue on the west.
The landscape was designed by Richard F. Gloede, a landscape architect from Evanston, who participated in the Ridge Avenue Park District meetings as early as 1915. He presented a landscape plan to the park district at that time, and also offered to recommend nurseries for the purchase of plantings, to inspect the stock, and to supervise the planting of the trees and shrubs himself. Park improvement work was started in 1918 when poplar trees, shrubs and plants were planted. Tennis courts were constructed in 1924 and a small portable shelter was installed for the comfort of the skaters near the current children’s playground.
During the 1920s, animal lovers from the area decided that a zoo should be established featuring small animals and contributions of goats, raccoons, monkeys, Easter chicks, and ducks became the original habitants of the small zoo.
The pond was always there, naturally, as a marshy water run-off. At one time, it was used as a wading pool. When two wading pools were added to the park, the pond was improved into a lagoon which housed ducks and swans.
In 1929, the fieldhouse, designed by architect Clarence Hatzfeld (1873-1943), was erected and playground facilities were added. Clarence Hatzfeld was one of Chicago’s most prominent architects of fieldhouse buildings during the 1920s. Hatzfeld’s numerous fieldhouses, mainly built in Chicago’s North Side parks, were extremely functional and solidly constructed buildings. Hatzfeld’s versatility as an architect is demonstrated by the wide variety of styles he used in his fieldhouse designs, including Prairie, Georgian Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival. The Indian Boundary Park Fieldhouse, with its Native American imagery, is the most unusual of Hatzfeld’s Tudor Revival designs.
Tudor Revival elements include dramatic gables with broad, shed-roofed dormers; a profusion of half timbering; casement windows with multi-paned glazing arranged in groups; and a window bay topped by stone battlements. Excellent design and craftsmanship in detailing and materials is exhibited by such elements as the Indian head sculpture located above the main entrance and the entrance pylons topped by stone lions. The building’s main corridor and Assembly Hall interiors feature wood beamed ceilings as well as distinctive lighting fixtures and sculpture featuring Native American motifs.
Indian Boundary Park also retains its original entrance pylons (see photo), which pre-date the 1929 fieldhouse. Standing about five feet in height, the two slightly tapered rough rock pylons are located along Lunt Avenue near the fieldhouse, close to the southeastern corner of the park.
In 1934, all neighborhood parks were incorporated into the Chicago Park District and the Lincoln Park Zoo took over the management of the Indian Boundary Park Zoo and additional animal stock and variety were added.
In 1920, several large apartment houses were built next to the park. Indian Boundary Park is unusual in that its eastern lawn flows seamlessly into the front yards of these neighboring apartment buildings. This park feature was so well-received that in the 1960s the Chicago Park District closed off part of adjacent Estes Avenue as well.
In August 1985, a $300,000 remodeling project was completed. The old zoo cages were removed and replaced by natural habitat barriers for the animals. At present, the zoo consists of goats, sheep, chickens and ducks.
There are currently five stone monuments throughout the park commemorating various historic dates.
November 4, 2004, saw the fieldhouse, now called the Indian Boundary Park Cultural Center approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks as a “Primary Landmark.” The Commission on Chicago Landmarks, whose nine members are appointed by the Mayor and City Council, was established in 1968 by city ordinance. The Commission is responsible for recommending to the City Council which individual buildings, sites, objects, or districts should be designated as Chicago Landmarks, which protects them by law.
The landmark designation process begins with a staff study and a preliminary summary of information related to the potential designation criteria. The next step is a preliminary vote by the landmarks commission as to whether the proposed landmark is worthy of consideration. This vote not only initiates the formal designation process, but it places the review of city permits for the property under the jurisdiction of the Commission until a final landmark recommendation is acted on by the City Council.
The fieldhouse was designated as a landmark by the City of Chicago in 2005 and is also listed in the National Register of Historical Places.