The quarry opened in 1836 by the Illinois Stone and Lime Company. A few years later one of the partners in the company, Marcus Cicero Stearns, took over operations and named the rapidly growing hole in the ground his company was digging after himself.
Stearns quarry provided much of the stone for downtown and the nearby Illinois and Michigan Canal. Stearns died in 1890 but the quarry continued to operate for another 80 years. By then enough limestone had been excavated that, at its lowest point, the hole reached 380 feet below street level and covered 27 acres.
After 1970, Stearns Quarry was used as a dumping ground for clean construction waste - wood, brick and other stone materials and ash. This continued until 1999, when the city decided they should probably make something worthwhile of the giant hole. Proposals were submitted by various city departments and the Chicago Park District's plan to fill the quarry and transform it into a nature park was approved.
The City approved the Park District's plan in 2004 and the District selected Site Design Group to enact the plan.
The park opened in 2009 as Site 39 (Stearns Quarry) Park and was rededicated in November of 2010 after Henry C. Palmisano (1951-2006), a Bridgeport resident who served as a member of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s fishing advisory committee and was an advocate and supporter of urban fishing. Palmisano's family ran an outdoor shop in the eastern edge of the neighborhood.
Over 40,000 square feet of topsoil was trucked in to cover the debris and be sculpted into what you see at the park today. "Because the Illinois EPA declared the quarry a closed landfill, nothing could be removed," said Malick. At its highest point, the park rises 33 feet above street level, giving visitors a beautiful view of the downtown skyline and surrounding neighborhoods.
The walkway runs 1.7 miles, including catwalks and a quarter-mile running track surrounding a soccer field at the southwest corner of the park, give visitors some incline for exercise.
At the northwest corner of the park the limestone walls serve as a backdrop for a retention pond stocked with goldfish, bluegill, large mouth bass and green sunfish. Fishing in the retention pond is catch and release only.
|The Stearns Quarry Fountain was installed in 2009.|
The hill has become popular among locals for sledding in winter, but the landscape architects incorporated the concrete barriers from the quarry's years as a landfill as barriers, so sledding is discouraged.
Visitors who walk in the park find themselves becoming disconnected from the street bustle along Halsted the deeper they go. By the time they reach the retention pond 40 feet below street level, the noise from Halsted Street can hardly be heard. It truly is an oasis in the middle of the city.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
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