Outdoor History Trail Opens at Chicago History Museum

The Chicago History Museum opened the new Richard M. and Shirley H. Jaffee History Trail, a self-guided walking tour that transforms the park behind the museum into an educational history experience.

The path features nine trail markers that celebrate the City’s rich history through brief introductions to its indigenous people and plants, its commitment to diverse neighborhoods, its natural resources and its development as a transportation hub.

Each marker along the trail begins with “Chicago is…” and includes a word like “Natural”, “Connected”, “Resilient” or “Curious”; the accompanying text provides insight into related historical events, people, or places. Most of the markers also include thought-provoking questions or small challenges meant to engage participants. At the “Chicago is Resilient” marker, guests will also find a large chunk of melted metal, a remnant left by the historic Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

Chicago Scenic’s team created the aluminum markers and installed them in concrete pilings (provided by Poblacki signs) in the trail’s grassy areas. Most of the signs include photographs or graphics to augment the educational text.

The History Trail also features 12 metal weathervanes designed and sculpted by local artist Bernard Williams, and installed by Chicago Scenic. Each weathervane marker includes a sentence that begins with “Community Is…” and includes words and accompanying cultural centers that embody the word, such as “Music” (Marquette Park Cultural Center and South Shore Cultural Center), “Dance” (Austin Town Hall Cultural Center and Douglass Park Cultural Center) or “Heritage” (Piotroski Park Cultural Center).

According to Chicago Scenic’s project director, Ross Hamilton, Chicago Scenic’s Project Director, Chicago’s weather presented one of the project’s biggest challenges. The weathervanes, as originally conceived, required reinforcement to withstand often stiff and windy weather conditions. Chicago Scenic and the artist collaborated to make minor modifications in order to ensure the weathervanes continue to work reliably.

The History Trail was designed by Andy Anway, principal of Amaze Design, who also designed the American Writer’s Museum—another project fabricated and installed by Chicago Scenic. Ross Hamilton said that the Chicago Scenic team was eager to work with Andy’s group again, along with the project’s general contractor Featherstone and the Chicago History Museum duo of Kris Nesbitt and Tamara Biggs.

Planning to be visiting the area? The History Trail is open for visitors! It’s located behind the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark, and bordered on the north by LaSalle Street, on the east by Lake Shore Drive, on the south by North Avenue and on the west by Clark Street.

Photo credit: Luiz Magaña, Chicago History Museum

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