Exploring Chicago Neighborhoods,  museums,  random adventures

secret gardens of chicago – part 1 – alfred caldwell lily pool

This is a first in a series of posts about the secret gardens in Chicago waiting for us after it is deemed safe. I hope everyone is well & staying safe.

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This post is in honor of this year’s Mother’s Day. Normally I would go to my Mom’s to clean out the garden, move some plants around and plant some fresh annuals but didn’t make it this year because of the pandemic. Feeling a bit under the weather I didn’t want to expose anyone if I had anything. Better safe than sorry.

alfred caldwell lily pool

One of my favorite escapes from the hectic, urban jungle is the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (aka Lincoln Park Lily Pool). It is a serene, outdoor oasis located in the south section of the Lincoln Park Zoo (Cannon & Fullerton). 

Originally part of a Victorian Garden built in 1889, it fell out of popularity and into disrepair until 1936. Alfred Caldwell redesigned the pool and surrounding area in the Prairie School landscape architectural style (think Frank Lloyd Wright). It definitely has a very zen feel to it.

The Lincoln Park Conservancy & Chicago Park district collaborated on a master plan to restore this historic landscape and improve accessibility in 1997. The $2.4 million project began in 2000 and opened to the public in 2002. The renovation has earned this hidden gem both the National Historic Landmark and Chicago Historical Landmark status.

This lovely 2.7 acre garden is free and open every day (365 days a year) from 7:30 am – 7 pm (same as the Lincoln Park Zoo). Free street parking is available on Stockton Drive and a little further north on Cannon Drive. A couple of parking lots are available nearby as well. 

nature museum

While you are here, I suggest you walk north toward Cannon Drive and circle around North Pond. You’ll pass the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum operated by the Chicago Academy of Sciences. They focus on the natural history of the Chicago region and offer educational programs for children and adults. Known for their amazing butterfly house, it also has a lab which teaches about the local butterfly population.

north pond casting pier

Heading north, to the left of the museum, you’ll come across an interesting plus-shaped concrete walkway in the south end of the pond. This is a casting pier that has been here since the late 1800s. 

The current North Pond casting pier was constructed in 1946 by the Lincoln Park Casting Club, know today as the Chicago Angling & Casting Club. A popular venue for birders and nature lovers alike, this structure is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art and sport of bait, spin and fly casting – while in a natural environment within the City of Chicago.

The North Pond casting pier has been the site of multiple national and regional casting competitions and introduced thousands of Chicagoans, young and old to the art and sport of casting – a tradition that continues today.

The Chicago Angling & Casting Club with support from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Anglers’ Club of Chicago, Elliott Donnelley Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters maintains this pier for the enjoyment and teaching of the art of casting. Stemming from one of the oldest organized casting clubs in the world, the Chicago Angling & Casting Club traces is roots back to the founding in 1891 of the Chicago Fly Casting club, which hosted the world’s first international casting tournament at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 at what is now the Museum of Science & Industry.quoted from a nearby sign

urbs in horto

Continue strolling north and you’ll pass by one of a few natural prairie gardens with an abundance of wildlife. They have planted the area with the native vegetation of prairies, savannas, wetlands and woodlands. These plants in turn support and shelter all kinds of living things. Look for the turtles sunning themselves, ducks gliding in for a smooth landing and a variety of happy birds in the bird garden. 

north pond cafe

On the north end of the pond sits an arts & crafts style building which is the locally renowned North Pond Cafe. While it has been a consistently excellent dining experience for many years, the structure originally was a warming house for ice skaters. 

Continuing around the pond you’ll wind up back at Fullerton. Follow Stockton south and you’ll pass the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo. The Conservatory is a year-round respite for Chicagoans and was built around 1875. You can enter the zoo here or continue through the park to the main entrance at Stockton & Webster. This is one of the oldest, free zoos in the country that started with two pairs of swans from New York’s Central Park in 1868. It is open every day and they host a variety of year-round activities like summer concerts & ZooLights in the winter.

As you continue strolling south, you will pass Cafe Brauer, Farm in the Zoo and the South Pond Nature Walk. Look for the Lincoln Park Zoo Board Walk Pavilion designed by Studio Gang (our top female architect Jeanne Gang) and the Ulysses S. Grant Monument. Not only is there a statue of Grant in Lincoln Park, there’s a statue of Lincoln in Grant Park!

On the right side of the park you’ll see where the Green City farmers market takes place on Wednesday & Saturday mornings. Veer to the left and you’ll be heading toward North Avenue beach or veer to the right and you’ll be in Old Town, another great neighborhood to explore. We end up here on my North Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast & Old Town neighborhood route. Click here & search for Mimi in Chicago.

living on the lakefront

This was my front yard for many years when I owned a condo in the Marlborough, a lovely old hotel from the 1920s. When I moved in, I remember my Mom saying she could sit in the lobby all day and people watch. 

Living so close to the park and lake I would often hang out & relax either by the lily pond or north pond. Biking & running was a daily activity as well and I was lucky enough to have a friend who had a boat docked just steps away at Diversey harbor. 

One of my fondest memories is rolling out of bed, coffee in hand, heading out to cheer on the first marathon participants running past on Cannon Drive. I may just move back when I’m retired.

If you are interested in checking this area out, it is one of the stops on my Chicago Highlights tour by car route. With a car & driver we are able to see the city in 4 hours and cover a lot more ground than by foot. I could also create a custom walking tour of this area as well. 

I hope you enjoyed discovering a secret garden in Chicago & would love to show you my beautiful city. Click here & search for Mimi in Chicago.

Are you ready for an urban adventure? *sigh* I sure am.


  • Beth Elkassih

    I’m so glad I read this blog about Chicago’s secret garden. Can’t wait to get back to this find city and discover. Thanks for sharing.

  • mimi

    Thanks for finding me & your kind comment!

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