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The Sheep of Washington Park

People are seen walking among the sheep in Washington Park in the early 1900s.
Postcard provided by the Newberry Library in Chicago.
Publisher is unknown.


Counting sheep to fall asleep can be difficult for some people, but a visit to Washington Park in the early part of the 20th century helped make the task simple. The 380-acre park, at the 5500 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, once had a herd of sheep there to graze and keep the grass short in a meadow area. 

Several postcards were printed at the time showing sheep grazing and people walking among them. The park district took the sheep out of the park in 1920. The park was built around 1880 and designed by famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

Sheep graze in Washington Park.
Postcard Published by  S.M. Knox & Co, Germany.
The designers wanted to preserve some of the open space there to include a prairie-based design. The sheep grazing area was called the South Open Greens.

Other parts of the park had more trees and shrubs. The park had many special amenities like a large conservatory building and even a small zoo with alligators. The park also had row boats, gardens, cricket grounds, toboggan slides and a band shell.

The treasured conservatory building, however, was demolished in the 1930s during the Great Depression to save the district money. The beautiful administrative fieldhouses still remain and now house the DuSable Museum of African American History. The park was also the proposed site for the city’s failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

Other postcards of the park showcase the conservatory, the lagoon and monuments. But next time you can’t fall sleep, just think about the postcard of the sheep grazing in the park.



A monument at the entrance of Washington Park.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc. 



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