Known originally as Lake Park, Lincoln Park began with the transformation of a 60-acre portion of unburied public cemetery in 1860. The park was named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and four years later, its management shifted from the City of Chicago to the newly created Lincoln Park Commission.
At that time, the site’s boundaries extended from Diversey Parkway to North Avenue. The commissioners began planning the first stretch of Lake Shore Drive, which served as a boulevard along the lake’s edge in the early 1870s. By the end of the following decade, property owners who lived near Lake Michigan south of Lincoln Park asked the commissioners to consider extending Lake Shore Drive south from Oak Street to Ohio Street. They agreed to give up their riparian rights (the right to use the water adjacent to their property) and to help pay for the landfill extension. which included a breakwater to protect the lakeshore and roadway from erosion.
Constructed in the 1890s, the project included a fifty-foot wide roadway as well as an extensive granite-paved beach, stone sidewalks, bicycle path, bridle path, broad stretches of lawn and double rows of elm trees on each side of the roadway.
Soon after the turn of the 20th century, officials of the City of Chicago suggested elaborate plans for building a bathing beach at Ohio Street, but the Lincoln Park Commission initially rejected this scheme. By 1913, Mayor Carter Harrison had the city’s Special Park Commission create a small sand beach at the foot of Ohio Street. The city installed dressing rooms with lockers, provided bathing suits to men, and assigned a policeman to the beach. Apparently, this small beach was considered temporary, and it only operated for a couple of years. The paved promenade between Oak Street and Ohio Street was maintained throughout the period.
By the early 1920s, Lincoln Park’s adjacent, but small, Oak Street Beach attracted increasingly large numbers of bathers. To alleviate crowding, citizens requested the creation of a permanent sand beach at Ohio Street. In 1923, City Council appropriated $25, 000 to create the facility. There were concerns, however, that the angular configuration of the new beach might limit the movement of water and cause public health problems. Studies conducted by the city engineers suggested that the beach configuration should not cause problems, but the project did not move forward at that time. The City made improvements to Lake Shore Drive just north of Ohio Street in 1931, and turned over the ownership of the area to the Lincoln Park Commission at that time.
The Lincoln Park Commission became part of the Chicago Park District in 1934. Improvements to Lake Shore Drive were made in the late 1930s and early 1940s included the long promenade on the east side stretching between Oak Street and Ohio Street. At that time, there was also a small triangular beach at the southern end of the promenade. The Chicago Park District continued to operate the small Ohio Street Beach until 1958, when it was closed during the construction of the city’s new central filtration plant on a manmade peninsula just north of Navy Pier. Completed in 1965, the project resulted in a 10-acre park that was later named for African-American war hero Milton Olive, III as well as an enlarged Ohio Street Beach.