Logan Square has a way of drawing people in like a magnet on summer weekends. Residents and visitors blend together as they move along the boulevard looking for brunch or carrying fresh veggies from the farmer’s market. At the center of this activity stands a marble pillar called the Illinois Centennial Monument, but many neighbors refer to it as the Logan Square Monument. Any passerby notices the eagle perched above the tree line, but many may not be aware of its architecture and history.
History and Location
Part of the Illinois Centennial Monument’s history is its connection to the Chicago Boulevard System. The greenery surrounding it serves as an extension of Logan Boulevard on the east and Kedzie Boulevard on the south. The area forms the northwest corner of Chicago’s 28-mile boulevard system.
A sign at the north entrance of the park explains how this system was envisioned by Chicago developer John S. Wright in 1849: “Of these parks I have a vision. They are all improved and connected with a wide avenue extending to and along the Lake shore on the north and south, and so surrounding the city with a magnificent chain of parks and parkways that have not their equal in the World.”
Built in the 19th century, Wright’s system was showcased during the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition. Today, it surrounds the heart of the city from Diversey Avenue on the north to 67th Street on the south, Hamlin Boulevard on the west and Lake Michigan on the east.
Dedicated in 1918, after the end of World War 1, this Monument is one of eleven situated along the boulevard system. This roots the Illinois Centennial Monument, and the Logan Square neighborhood, in the history of the city.
The pillar itself commemorates the 100th anniversary of Illinois’ statehood with an inscription on its north side: “To commemorate the centenary of the admission of Illinois as a sovereign state of the American union December third MDCCCXVIII.”
As visitors approach the monument, they must ascend a three-step platform that provides a convenient public meeting space. The pillar base sits on top of this platform which is unfortunately covered in graffiti (a 21-year-old man was recently caught tagging its west side, DNAinfo reports).
Beneath the graffiti, the base contains two sets of reliefs depicting the rapid changes in Illinois’ first 100 years of statehood. On the west side there are Native Americans next to Jesuit missionary Pere Marquette and Pioneers Robert de LaSalle and William Clark. On the east side are allegorical figures that symbolize fine arts, agriculture, labor, and developing transportation.
On the base sits a pillar designed by Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The pillar is of the Doric Greek Order and built in the same proportions as the Colonnade of the Parthenon, connecting the Illinois Centennial Monument with the world’s first true democracy. Since it is widely-known that the Greeks stole their architecture from Egypt and the ancient Near East, the monument is, in a way, also anchored in broader world history.
The eagle sitting on top of the column is a reference to the Illinois State flag. It and the reliefs on the base were designed by Evelyn Longman, the first woman to be elected into the National Academy of Design. Perhaps it is significant, then, that Longman & Eagle (@longmanandeagle, 2657 N. Kedzie Ave.), has taken its name from the Monument and its sculptor, connecting the historical Logan Square with the “new” one we live in, almost 100 years later.
Visiting The Monument
While reading about the Monument is wonderful, it is no substitute for viewing it in person. On your next visit to the Square, head to the park area beneath the Monument. Take a few minutes to read over the sign there and learn about Chicago’s boulevard system. Then have a look at the Monument itself. Read the inscriptions.
After all, this monument is in the center of our neighborhood, and it connects Logan Square to the history of our city, state, county, and the world. It is a reminder that, for good or ill, we stand on the past, even as we enjoy the new things happening in Logan Square now and anticipate more in the future.
For more background information on the monument, read coverage over at Connecting the Windy City.