Picture Perfect Place – Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

On hearing that a picture I took at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool will be part of a traveling exhibit hosted by the Chicago Park District, I decided to make the lily pool my next “Picture Perfect Place”. I was made aware of this quaint nature spot in the middle of the city about 3 years ago. Before that, I never knew it existed, even though I had past it every time I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

An excerpt from Chicago Gardens written by Cathy Jean Maloney

Alfred Caldwell designed the Lily Pool in the late 1930s as a refuge from the city. With his signature prairie style, acquired through mentorships with Jens Jensen and Frank Lloyd Wright, Caldwell redeveloped an old Victorian pond to one and one-half acres of naturalistic sanctuary. In the years between Caldwell’s creation and his visit sixty years later, the original Lily Pool design had degraded. Historically insensitive updates to the landscape and a general lack of maintenance caused overgrown trees, inappropriate architecture, and poor water quality in the pond. The bones of Caldwell’s original design, however, held together over the years. His plan included a lagoon, made to look like a prairie river cut through limestone bedrock. Inviting stonework paths circled the lagoon, and a council ring was sited on a hill, providing views to both the Lily Pool below and glimpses of Lake Michigan to the east. The strong inward orientation of the site encourages personal reflection and relaxation, despite the hectic pace of its urban surroundings.

But Caldwell would be pleased today upon seeing the spectacular rehabilitation of his Lily Pool, wrought through the combined efforts of the Chicago Park District and local community groups. Interested parties included birdwatchers, preservation advocates, local governments, and common citizens.”

I have had the pleasure of visiting the Lily Pool in summer and fall. It is open from May thru October, from 7:30am to 7:30pm. I have had numerous photo sessions there, but have also taken the kids for a few visits. It’s one of those places that can easily be visited over and over again.

Located just north of the Lincoln Park Zoo, on Fullerton Ave., just west of Cannon Drive, it is truly a serene location. On many occasions, I have enjoyed the lily pool by myself and whomever I happen to be visiting with. It is a tranquil place, that takes you out of the chaotic city life and places you in the middle of a midwest prairie. In 1942, Caldwell called the pool “a hidden garden for the people of Megalopolis,” pointing out its importance as a place where Chicagoans could go to rest and unwind after a long day in the big city.

You never know what kind of wildlife you’ll encounter on your visit. Over 200 species of birds have been documented at the site by members of the local audubon group. You may also find dragonflies, butterflies, frogs, and turtles. I haven’t photographed any birds yet, but I have had my share of butterflies and strange looking bugs in front of the camera. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt every time I walk through the front gate.

On November 6, 2002, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool was designated a Chicago Landmark. It is comforting to know that people will have the opportunity to visit this garden for years and years to come. I urge you to take some time out of your busy schedule to enjoy and appreciate the beauty that hides so secretly in our city. You will find yourself making a point to go back again and again. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a peaceful sanctuary that is absolutely free to all that encounter its breathtaking views.

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