The Story of McKinley Park
The McKinley Park community area has been known as a working-class community throughout its history. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Irish workers first settled the area. The community grew as railroads were built, and the area became home to steelworkers and stockyard workers.
Watch: McKinley Park
With Union Stock Yard and meatpacking plants nearby, waste and runoff became a huge source of water pollution. So much waste was dumped into the South Branch of the Chicago River that it earned the nickname “Bubbly Creek.” The fork, which borders McKinley Park and Bridgeport, became so dirty that local lore said a person could actually stand on a layer of stockyard fat and bone without falling into the water. Today, its waters aren’t nearly that bad, but there are still efforts to continue cleaning and revitalizing that stretch of the river.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a park named for President William McKinley was built (read more below) and gave the community its name. As of 2019 data, the neighborhood was 60 percent Latinx, 20 percent Asian, and 17 percent white.
Neighborhood Spotlight: McKinley Park
The community area’s namesake park spans 71 acres and is part of the city’s boulevard system. The park was officially named in October 1901, one month after the assassination of President William McKinley.
The park was part of a nationwide effort to provide open spaces in American cities that had become dirty and overcrowded, since most parks were outside city centers. So in 1901, the city’s park commission set aside land not far from the Union Stock Yards at the former site of the Brighton Park Race Track as an experiment.
According to the neighborhood website, some 10,000 people showed up for the park’s dedication in 1902, and it became so popular that it expanded four years later, doubling in size. Today, the park has a lagoon, swimming pool, athletic fields, an ice rink, tennis courts, and biking and walking trails.
Things to Do
After strolling around the lagoon at McKinley Park, grab Mexican-style seafood at La Palapa on 34th Street.