Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ferris Wheel Park at the 1200 block of N. Clark St. (today, 2600 block of N. Clark St.), in Chicago, Illinois. (1896-1903)

Click the picture for a full-size image.
Though the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition closed on November 1, 1893, the Observation [Ferris] Wheel stood idle on the Midway until April 29, 1894, when a new site was found. It took 86 days and cost $14,833 (today $445,000) to dismantle it.

In 1895, the Wheel's inventor, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., found a new site for the observation wheel on Chicago's North Side, in the Park West neighborhood of the Lincoln Park community and named it "Ferris Wheel Park." It was at Clark Street and Wrightwood Avenue, only 20 minutes by public transportation from the city's principal hotels and railway stations. There were very few motor vehicles during these early years.

The Directors sold bonds hoping to landscape the grounds, build a restaurant, a beer garden, a bandshell, a Vaudeville theater, and paint the wheel of its cars. Ferris' partner in the plan was Charles T. Yerkes, Jr. (whose involvement with the park is debatable), the transit magnate who owned streetcar lines adjacent to the site.

The Duryea brothers created their first gasoline-powered "horseless carriage" in 1893. America's First Automobile Race took place in Chicago in 1895. 

Ferris chose the location of the “end of the line” and car barn (called the “Limits”) at Clark and Wrightwood exclusively to serve his proposed Ferris Wheel Amusement Park.
However, resistance to the project arose from the community and delayed but did not preclude its opening in the fall of that year. The community, nonetheless, could vote for the area closed to the sale of liquor, which doomed the planned beer garden.
Construction of the Ferris Wheel. The Second Church of Christ Scientist still stands at 2700 N Pine Grove Ave, Chicago.
An admission ticket for the ride confirms that a vaudeville program had been introduced as part of the attraction. Additionally, a photograph shows a sign advertising vaudeville shows. The address on the ticket, 1288 North Clark Street, is misleading on two counts regarding where the Wheel was actually located. 
In 1909, the city of Chicago undertook a street renaming and renumbering project. For instance, many of Hyde Park's streets obtained their modern names during this time. In this case, the street number "1288 North Clark" from the year 1896 translates to a location on the northeast side of the 2600 block of North Clark Street, near Wrightwood Avenue, after the renumbering process. 
Indeed, the whole strip of land from what is now 2619 to 2665 N. Clark was to be devoted to the enterprise.
Amazing footage of the Ferris Wheel running in 1896 at Clark and Wrightwood in Lincoln Park, Chicago. The vantage point here is looking from the southwest corner of Wrightwood, northeast across Clark Street. Filmed by the Lumiere Brothers and is one of the first films ever shot in Chicago.
The ride, which some have jocularly claimed drew more complaints and lawsuits than patrons, experienced financial problems and was seized by the Cook County Sheriff in November 1896, just before 37-year-old George Washington Gale Ferris' death from tuberculosis in November. Ferris Wheel Park continued to remain open for business. 
As a result, the community of Lake View lost the opportunity to the Park West neighborhood of the Lincoln Park community. Shortly thereafter, and with vocal citizen opposition from a newly formed civic group called the Improvement and Protection Organization (IPO), the owners of the new park, which was in receivership, had to file for bankruptcy in 1900 due to a lack of local community support and general city patronage.
One non-stop revolution at 2.5 mph took approximately 2 minutes.
The lack of support for the park was due to its location within a residential subdivision, and the residents of both communities of Lincoln Park and Lake View were not fans of the new owner of the park, Charles Tyson Yerkes, Jr., who owned the Chicago Electric Street Railway that owned and operated streetcars on Evanston Avenue (now Broadway) and Clark Street. 

For years, Mr. Yerkes tried to circumvent property owners by trying, through the city government, to acquire property for his company without due process. 
Imagine trying to locate a Six Flags amusement park in the middle of an urban residential street. 

The wheel remained until 1903 when it was dismantled and transported to the site of what would be its last hurrah. The Ferris wheel was brought to St. Louis, Missouri, for the 1904 World's Fair. "The Louisiana Purchase Exposition" at the St. Louis World's Fair was opened to the public on April 30, 1904. 
View looking northwest from the lakefront at Fullerton, Chicago. 1895
After the St. Louis Fair, the Ferris wheel was sold for scrap when a sale to Coney Island amusement park failed to materialize. It was destroyed with 100 pounds of dynamite (after several attempts), and the parts were taken away for salvage. Local legend says the Ferris Wheel's axle was buried with the rest of the fair's rubble in makeshift landfills in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. I was born near the Midway and learned to ice skate there. I read The Devil in the White City and learned about this Ferris Wheel in that book. This is absolutely fascinating and the Lumier film is a treasure.

  2. Thank you for sharing this fascinating slice of Chicago history. The Ferris Wheel story is one that deserves more attention than it gets. The planners of the World's Fair needed something to demonstrate that America (and Chicago in particular) could build something even larger and more flamboyant than the Eiffel Tower, which had been the centerpiece of the previous World's Fair in Paris. The wheel remains one of the great engineering feats in all of history, but met a sad and inglorious end.

  3. What an interesting article! Is the 8th photograph down taken on Drummond looking East? If so, the building with the arched windows is still there.

  4. Complete joy to read. Thank you for this awesome piece of history. I’m ten years new to the Chicago area and find its history fascinating.

  5. Amazing. To have actual film footage from then is so very special. My grandfather was a conductor on the Clark street cars during that time.


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