Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Chicago IL

Herons, Liverworts, and Lilies/Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
Gavin Van Horn and Liam Heneghan
Written By Gavin Van Horn and Liam Heneghan

Exploring Chicagoland nature by foot, artfully & thoughtfully. Interested? Let's walk.

Sanctuary in the City

The lily pool reflects an interesting history of shifting preferences for “natural” design. The initial intention for the pool was the cultivation of exotic tropical lilies. However, this pocket park has been redesigned over the years to reflect many elements of the “Prairie School” of landscape design, mimicking natural Midwestern landscapes by including plantings of native species, open views, and limestone blocks that accompany the water elements.

The Lily Pool’s namesake, Alfred Caldwell (1903-1998), worked under the famous Prairie School landscaper Jens Jensen (1860-1951). Caldwell redesigned the pool in the late 1930s, adding many features that are characteristic of the Prairie School: native plants, winding pathways, the circular limestone council ring bench. Council rings like the one near the lily pool can be found throughout the Chicago region, and they reflect the ideal of equal status between people, invite conversation and storytelling, and beckon people to slow down.

One of the great advances in health psychology in recent years is the emergence of concrete evidence that nature heals. The initial experiments verifying this showed that post-operative patients heal faster when they have access to views of nature. More recently, scientific studies have elaborated upon the ways in which nature can reduce stress and calm frayed nerves. One study showed that students who go outside before exams earn higher scores. I (Liam) have begun to bring my students to the Lily Pool to introduce them to this magical place. I suspect that it not only nudges their grades up but makes them aware of this prettiest respite from the metropolis that surrounds them.

It’s your turn to enjoy this place. Perhaps take a seat on the council ring bench, close your eyes, and reflect on the journey you’ve just taken. What surprised you? What most drew your attention? Has your perspective on the relationship between nature and the city changed? If so, how?

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