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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Chicago History Museum Breaks Ground On Educational Trail, Plaza Renovation

The project will transform the 4.5 acres behind the museum by building an educational history trail and weatherproofing a public plaza.

A final conceptual drawing of the Chicago History Museum's plaza renovation.
Provided/Chicago History Museum
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LINCOLN PARK — The Chicago History Museum started construction this month on a project that will overhaul 4.5 acres of space behind the museum.

Work on the Jaffee History Trail, named after long-time museum supporters Richard M. and Shirley H. Jaffee, started in early March and is expected to wrap up this fall, museum officials said. The trail is a partnership between the museum and Chicago Park District. Construction will include overhauling the museum’s rear plaza.

“We are honored to work with the Chicago Park District to make this interpretive path come to life, and we are incredibly thankful to our supporters, community partners and neighborhood residents for their ongoing support and guidance,” said John Russick, senior vice president for the museum.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The Chicago History Museum plaza under construction as part of the $10 million park beautification project, seen on March 22, 2021.

The Jaffee History Trail will feature eight stops that tell stories about Chicago while highlighting the city’s resilience and complexity.

It will incorporate existing features, like the Chicago Fire Relic, a hunk of molten metal from the 1871 Great Chicago Fire; and the Couch Tomb, a small building and one of the last reminders the area once housed the Chicago City Cemetery. But leaders will also create attractions, like a native plant garden.

Additional stops along the trail will feature a collection of weathervanes designed by local artist Bernard Williams and the Park District’s 15 cultural centers, as well as an open pedestal where visitors can “consider what leadership means and what they stand for,” according to a museum news release.

The plan includes putting in 150 trees and beds of native plants, officials said.

“Enhancing park spaces for Chicagoans to enjoy and learn something new is the epitome of what the Chicago Park District seeks to support,” said Park District CEO Michael Kelly.

Credit: Provided/Chicago History Museum
A rendering shows what the entry to the Chicago History Museum’s Jaffee Trail will look like.
Credit: Provided/Chicago History Museum
The renovated plaza will feature a pedestal encouraging visitors to reflect on leadership and their values.
Credit: Provided/Chicago History Museum
One of the Jaffee Trail’s eight stops will be a native species garden.

During a November community meeting about the project, museum officials said the construction will include a massive renovation of the museum’s back plaza, which had been leaking water into the museum’s archival storage facility.

The plaza was installed 30 years ago as the roof of the museum’s east basement, but the structure has worn down over time, causing water to trickle underground after rain or snow.

“Making the plaza waterproof has been the genesis for the project in the first place because it currently leaks,” said Andy Anway, founder of Amaze Design, a Boston-based design firm working on the project.

The Chicago History Museum is holding a virtual town hall about the project 5:30 p.m. April 13.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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