Public parks: their effects upon the moral, physical and sanitary condition of the inhabitants of large cities; with special reference to the city of Chicago [book]

John Henry Rauch
1869 unpublished
In compliance with the resohition of the Academy, I propose this evening to call your attention to the question of Public Parks, and their influence upon the moral, physical, and sanitary condition of the inhabitants of great cities. The benefits resulting from such dedications to public uses, have been known and appreciated by all civilized nations. And in this connection I trust that it will not be deemed out of place, if I give a brief sketch of what has been done in other cities, both
more » ... t and modern, both at home and abroad, with a view of adornment, and of affording to the inhabitants, not only agreeable places of resort, but pi^oving efficient aids in promoting public health. At no period in the history of this city has this question excited so much attention as at the present time ; and it is with feelings of the deepest responsibility that I enter upon the consideration of the subject, not alone as a member of this Academy, but as the representative of the Board of Health, and as a private citizen, deeply interested in the future growth and welfare of Chicago. In treating of this subject, I lay no special claim to originality, but I shall simply state facts, allowing you to draw your own conclusions ; while, at the same time, I shall apply well-established laws and principles, which are necessary to the proper elucidation of this question in connection with the climate, topography, and diseases of this city. The necessit}^f or creating public parks, and on a scale commensurate with the prospective greatness of the city, is recognized by all classes of our citizens, and it is to be hoped that the action of those who are charged with the responsibility of selecting the locations, devising the plans, and providing the means for securing these results, may prove wise and judicious, and thus receive the commendations of posterity. " Best is Pelasgicura empty," was wisely expressed by the Pythian oracle, thereby denoting that every large and populous city, as well as Athens, should have its 6 Public Parks. * Pelasgicum,or vacant pieces of ground, serving as so many reser\^oirs of pure air, for counteracting the contaminating atmospheric influences incident to cities, and the effect of epidemics and contagions. In order more thoroughly to appreciate the full import of these words, it may be proper to refer to the circumstances from vs^hich they derive their origin. According to Pausanius, Pelasgicum was the name given to the most ancient part of the fortifications of the Acropolis at Athens, from having been constructed by the Pelasgii, (or "wall builders," as they were called,) who, in the course of their migi'ations, settled in Attica, and were employed by the Athenians in the erection of these walls. The rampart raised by this people, often mentioned in the history of Athens, included a portion of the ground below the wall, at the foot of the rock of Acropolis. This had been allotted to the Pelasgii while they resided at Athens, and owing to the conspiracy formed by them against the Athenians, they were banished ; and such was the abhorrence with which this conspiracy was regarded, that an execration was pronounced on any who should build houses on this ground. In consequence of this execration, it was not built upon ; and thus being necessarily left vacant, the beneficial effects of this open space in the course of time became so apparent that the Pythian oracle uttered, " Best is Pelasgicum empty;" and what was supposed, at the time, to have been a great curse, proved ultimately to be a blessing in disguise. May not such be the case with regard to our own city? We have already built up its surface from a morass, thus securing a welldevised system of drainage, and it is believed, and I think I am not stating too much, that, by making use of our local topography, we can create parks which shall become the ornament of the city, and a blessing to its inhabitants. Parks have been aptly termed "the lungs of a city." They are emphatically the people's gardens,places to which the overtasked laborer and mechanic of the overcrowded city can, with his wife and children, resort to breathe the breath of God's pure air, inhale the odors of fresh, blooming flowers, and enjoy the pleasures of a rural retreat on a larger scale, amid far richer vegetable forms, than in the gardens created by mere private opulence. That the people of this country have a keen love of nature, and of the beautiful in art, is evidenced by the general interest taken in this Public Parks. 7 subject, and the success which has attended the laying out of the Central, Fairmomit, Prospect, Druid Hill, and other parks in this country. This feeling is extending, and as the squares which are found in nearly all our cities no longer satisfy the longings of the inhabitants, who now demand the laying out of hundi'eds of acres in a style proportionate to the hopes and expectations of the future of the locality. The immense throng that daily resort to such places, not simply the millionaire, or the aristocratic merchant, but the laborer, the mechanic, and those from the humblest walks of life, coupled with the decorousness of their behaviour, and their cheerful compliance with the necessary regulations,all attest the popularity and beneficial influence of such dedications. Can we not have such resorts in Chicago ? It is true that we have not that relief and depression of soil, of ledgy rock and deep valley, which are to be found in the Central and other parks of this country ; but we can have ample drives, graveled walks, fountains, lakes, and all the forms of vegetable and animal life which have been acclimated in our latitude. We can have parks which shall be the ornament and pride of the city ; where, by easy access, our people can enjoy the beauties of nature, and all the pleasures of landscape gardening. 8 Public Parks. which has never been surpassed.trees of noblest kind, amid which stood the " Tree of Life," " High, eininent, blooming ambrosial fruits of vegetable gold ; " fresh fountains, watering with many a rill, flowers worthy of Paradise, and " Rolling on Orient pearl ; " groves whose trees wept odorous gums and balms ; lawns, and palmy hillocks, and flocks grazing the herb ; and " Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose ; " umbrageous grottos, and caves of cool recess, o'erarched with mantling vine ; murmuring waters falling down the hill-slope, with banks myrtle-crowned ; birds making vocal the woods ; and vernal air breathing the smell of field and grove. Such was deemed the fit residence of our great progenitors before the Fall. The Elysium of the ancients was a union of leafy bowers, flowery meads, and murmuring brooks, fanned by a genial air, and lighted by another sun and other stars. Mahomet, while creating a voluptuous paradise, has brought in as accessories, groves, fountains, and rivers of bliss ; and Christian congregations do not hesitate to join with fervor in singing that beautiful hymn, " Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, Stand dressed in living green." These examples show how intimately the forms of external nature are associated, not only with our happiness here, but hereafter ; and how deeply they are impressed upon man, whether in a savage or civilized state. From the earliest period of history, a love of nature and landscape gardening has been fostered and encouraged in the same ratio as civilization has advanced. The Jews and Egyptians had their gardens ; and Nebuchadnezzar, to gratify his wife Amytis, a daughter of the king of Medea, who was home-sick, and longed for the picturesque scenery and mountains of her native land, constructed the famous hanging gardens of Babylon. The captive Jews, Phoenicians, Syrians, and Egyptians were engaged for years in building such works ; and, according to Diodorus and Strabo, nothing had been attempted prior to their time to compare, in magnificence and grandeur, with what was then accomplished. Among the ruins of Ninevah, Layard found traces of gardens ; also, a large tree, which, from its surroundings, he inferred had been an object of adoration. Public Parks. 9 The Chinese paid considerable attention to the ornamenting of their gardens, and at one time their attempts at landscape gardening were more successful than those of any other nation. To them may be traced what is now called the natural system, so much in vogue in England, and which has been generally adopted in this country. A deep love of nature pervaded the minds of the Hindoos, as is manifest in their public grounds and gai"dens. There was nothing striking in the gardens of the Persians, no doubt owing to the want of grand and natural scenery. They were regarded as places of luxurious repose, and were constructed wholly in reference to this end. Trees were planted in rows, in order that the wind might draw its currents through them ; fountains were interposed, and streams ran through them to increase the sensation of coolness. Flowers were cultivated for perfume and beauty, with here and there a terebinthinate evergreen, which was regarded by them as a great luxury. These gardens were genei'ally surrounded by an enclosure. " The Greeks," according to Humboldt, " regarded the vegetable world as standing in a manifold and mythical relation to heroes and to the gods, who were supposed to avenge every injury inflicted on the ti'ees and plants sacred to them. Pliny delighted in descriptions of nature ; and in the poetic works of Virgil, Horace, and Tibullus, frequent allusions to natural scenery occur. Lucan gives an admirable description of the desti-uction of a Druidic forest on the now treeless shores of Marseilles. Rome, *" Cosmos." lo Public Parks. when in her glory, was proud of her rural retreats and .. pleasure grounds, which were laid out with walks and drives for chariot and horseback exercises, with enclosures for wild beasts, apiaries, flowergardens, and fountains flowing from marble vases. The park proper, in the immediate vicinity of the houses, was formal and symmetrical with the architecture, and the walls were lined with box and plane trees, sheared to the shape of the walls. From the description of the younger Pliny of his Tusculan villa, we are led to infer that the principal object of Roman landscape gardening was its effect upon the perspective ; as here everything was arranged with reference to the best distant views of the Campagna. In fact the same is the case with the grounds and gardens of Italy at the present day, the artistic preponderating over the natural. The Arabs, when at the height of power and civilization, paid some attention to landscape gardening, and carried w^ith them their tastes into Spain. This is shown by the fact that the Caliph Ab durrahman I, himself laid out a botanical garden at Cordova, a;nd caused rare seeds to be collected by his own travelers in Syria and other countries of Asia. He planted, near the palace of Rissafah, the first date-tree known in Spain, and sang its praises in a poem, expressive of plaintive longing for his native Damascus. Prescott, in his "Conquest of Mexico," says, "There is no doubt, from the accordant testimonies of Hernan Cortes, in his reports to the Emperor Charles V., of Bernal Diaz, Gomara Ovieda, and Hernandez, that at the time of the conquest of Montezuma's Empire there were no menageries and botanic gardens In any part of Europe, which could be compared with these of Huaztepec, Chepultepec, Iztapalapan, and Tezuco." Humboldt saw two trees ( Taxodiutn disticha -Linn.) near Chepultepec, which he supposed to be the remnants of an ancient garden or pleasure-ground of Montezuma's, which measured thirty-eight feet In circumference. In France, Germany, and England, landscape gardening received but little attention for many years, and their imitations of the Roman and Italian styles were poor, leaving but little of the artistic. The Dutch school at one time was foremost. It was a revival of the ancient or geometric style, in which statues, vases, and busts were interspersed with fountains, and the various forms of the vegetable kingdom. Landscape gardening is a word of modern coinage, first used by the poet Shenstone. In England but little attention was paid to the Public Parks, ii art of gardening until the time of Addison, when Bridgeman, the court gardener, in the palace grounds at Kensington, acted upon the suggestions received from the descriptions of travelers of the imitations of nature w^hich the Chinese made use of in their gardens. Pope, in his garden at Twickenham, laid aside formality, imitating the natural. Addison's garden at Rugby was informal without being picturesque. " Kent was the first man who really formed a landscape, sweeping away the rubbish which represented the ancient st3de. He undertook the creation of scenery upon the ground at his command, on the same principles that he would select a subject in nature for his canvas. The radical change which followed witnessed the destruction of noble avenues and terraces by the imitators of Kent, in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the ground, and landscape gardening soon became a mechanical business instead of an art, which Kent had made it." *
doi:10.5962/bhl.title.37178 fatcat:t67ihciqszagfnbue6lkr5mzd4