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Hyde Park's 'early' days: Geology underfoot and as revealed in buildings and walkways

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Preservation and Development task force, and the HPKCC website, www.hydepark.org. Help support our program: Join the Conference!

Coming next January 14- The Purloined Bug: Finding the Exotic in Plain Sight in Hyde Park

If you are knowledgeable in architectural geology, geography/ geomorphology or ecological morphology by all means submit your findings or tour for our website--and volunteer to help the Hyde Park Historical Society map Hyde Park and Kenwood in four dimensions! hpkcc@aol.com attn: Gary Ossewaarde or HPHS Preservation chair Jack Spicer.

What we saw...or can extrapolate in one corner of the neighborhood

The Metra embankment walls are not made of Carboniferous period limestone from the Joliet area but of look-alike earlier, Silurian-age (c. 420 mya) dolostone (used to be called dolomite and named for a French scientific explorer in 18th century Italy). This is the main bedrock in this area beneath the 60-80 foot thick overburden of post-glacial Lake Michigan deposit (and moraines in other parts of the metro area). How can you tell? The magnesium carbonate doesn't fizz with hydrochloric acid.

The rebar in the viaduct columns slowly rust from within spalling off slabs of concrete.

The lovely yellow building with carved and molded Masonic and Sullivanesque designs at the southeast corner of 55th and Cornell is not granite but "sgraffitoed" terra cotta.

The first house south of 55th on Cornell is a grand brownstone of Baythford or Janesville sandstone. The troubles with sandstone, evident here, are that it darkens, erodes and crumbles and that mosses grow into it.

The 1600 block of 55th, and the Parkshore at 1755-65 are of fine-stratified Bedford, Indiana grey limestone. Some of the fossils are several inches long. (Some of the wild decoration at the Parkshore is actually concrete.)

5490 South Shore--was one of the grandest buildings in Hyde Park--was one of the early buildings on what had been the lake--and was at the shore into the 1920s. The curbing on 55th is of 2 billion year old quartzite from Bariboo, Wisconsin--one of the great quarries along an ancient continental collision. In quartzite the sandstone has been metamorphosized under great temperature and/or pressure until the grains fuse into one mass-changed but not melted, vs granite where you see many crystals of distinct colors. As one of the hardest rocks on earth, quartzite has long been popular for streets because it could resist metal tire rims, vs. say marble. North America was formed of a series of continental collisions. The main fusion of the Midwest to the Canadian Shield occurred between 1.8 and 2.1 bya. Above igneous rock of that age is a succession of mountain-deposited sandstones and shales especially of Cambrian (600 mya and quite prevalent at the surface in Wisconsin) and Ordovician (c550-450 mya) ages.

The main upper bedrock here is from the next age, Niagara dolostone that forms a circular rim at "surface" around the Great Lakes excluding Lake Ontario. The parent material is largely eroded coral reef--the first true-coral reefs formed in a shallow tropical sea and other associate fossils (Illinois was then where northwest Brazil is today). To the east was a softer rock, shale of the next, Devonian age--east of Hyde Park this was scraped away by the glaciers as it served as an easier path for them. On the other hand, off the north part of Hyde Park is Morgan Shoal, a dolostone coral reef that was high and was not dislodged by the glaciers. Today it is barely under the 580' above sea level mean Lake Michigan datum.

The 55th Street underpass facing is formed of the Joliet limestone of still later, Mississippian age, whose surface weathers a yellow tan due to iron inclusion. The capstones are of another stone-Bedford limestone?

The Wallach Memorial Fountain is of polished darkish granite containing much feldspar, biolite, hornblende, and mica formed 1.9 bya in continental collision.

Along the south circular walk is a granite glacial erratic, about 2 billion years old and brought down to Illinois by a glacier. It was somehow sold by a farmer or construction firm and placed on the Point, likely by Alfred Caldwell, the Point's designer. It shows spiral weather-spalling.

The council rings set up by Caldwell use the Silurian Niagara dolostone (reset or replaced in 1990). The castle like fieldhouse put up c. 1936-7 by E.V. Buchsbaum is made of Niagara dolostone from Lannon, Wisconsin--as is the same-era replacement 'Iowa' comfort station at 56th west of the Drive. Both buildings were WPA projects.

The Point revetment is of Mississippian age (c. 360 mya) Limestone from the Bedford, Indiana area. It has been show to be highly durable despite some blocks having large colonies of fossils.

If you continue south under the new 57th underpass, you come to the replacement Iowa building. The original from before the Columbian Exposition stood at the shore, which was in the middle of the modern Lake Shore Drive-- see more in Jackson Park Timeline, Burnham Park Timeline, and pages on the Granite-paved Beach and Iowa Buildings. Before the shore was extended and stabilized with stone paved beach the lake actually turned southwest at that point and embayed across the modern Museum footprint to form pre-North Pond (Columbia Basin). Around the Iowa building is a bluestone plaza--not slate or it would have stood up to construction equipment better. This sand-clay material was laid down in thin layers in a quiet sea edge. One variety of this rock often used for flagstones is Goethelite. Age is about 385 mya or Devonian.

The eastern third or so of Jackson park was under Lake Michigan through much of the 19th century—in fact most of the Columbia basin and east wing of the Museum of Science and Industry were. At the end of the most recent glaciation about 10,000 years ago, Ancient Lake Chicago’s level was 60 feet higher than modern mean. There are no glacial moraine deposits in the area, only 60 to 80 feet of lake deposits from the high-water era that overlay the bedrock in our area, with exceptions such as Morgan Shoals by 50th Street where bedrock reaches the surface.

Eventually the trapped water cut its way out as the land rebounded from the weight of mile-thick ice. Later, lake level was lower than today and you could walk several miles out on what is now lake bottom. The clay and sand layers under the park are quite waterlogged--the Museum has very strong deep foundations and tall buildings in Hyde Park and Kenwood have to be anchored to bedrock (as they are downtown). The surface nominally drains to Lake Michigan; some drains and part of the Lake water now drain to the Mississippi; this used to go just to the Atlantic by way of the St. Lawrence. Surface in the 19th century was a series of north-south sandbars that oaks preferred, alternating with swampy ground, with sand spits along the lakeshore resembling miniature Cape Cods. All these suggested to Olmsted the shape and character of the park he was asked in 1869-71 to design.

To visualize the topography before the glaciations, go to the hilly, relatively high Galena area of northwest Illinois. The current shore in Jackson Park was first stabilized with sloped granite-block pavers and a series of groins and piers in the 1880s. To the north of Jackson, seawalls at first succeeded groins, then the land was extended nearly a half-mile out at points and girded with step-stone seawall. On parkland in much of Burnham and Jackson Parks, below a few inches of imported loam is a mix of imported and lake deposit sand that does not support plants well.

Remember that the upper Niagara bedrock is nearly 80 feet down. The formation is best seen at Thornton Quarry/I-80. Where is later stone? It was carved and carried off by multiple glaciations that came down where Lake Michigan is now—that was a line of least resistance because the bedrock there was a later shale, which is softer. The new edge-stone along the Columbia Basin and parts of the lagoons are of the same rock--they came from the Lily Pond in Lincoln Park. But--just a guess without research--may be from Lannon, Wisconsin like the Iowa and Point fieldhouse since Alfred Caldwell also did the Pond.

See some rock of later age along the Sanitary and Ship canal (where our Mississippi-age Joliet or Lemont building limestone abounds, iron-weathered into yellow-tan), the Mississippi, in southern Indiana where our gray Bedford building limestone (Mississippian)comes from, or at the coalfields of Braidwood (Pennsylvania--actually lots of different rock types alternating during an age of glaciations and mountain building as Africa and North America collided). Still later rocks of the ages of dinosaurs and mammals are gone from the Chicago region altogether. Below the Silurian dolostone is various sandstones etc. up to at least 600 million years ago. Below this is igneous melt-cooled stone of a billion and much more years ago.

Just as fascinating is the story of these vastly older igneous and metamorphic rocks that were brought into Jackson Park by various designers. Some were erratics from states to the north and from Canada deposited by glaciers in later fields, et al, later sold to park developers or contractors. Some were strategically obtained and placed because of special spiritual associations, as in Osaka Japanese Garden by Sadafumiu Uchiyama and earlier garden designers.

Outside Osaka Garden on Wooded Island is a large stone with the Garden's identifying and dedicatory plaque. The stone is a glacial erratic, brought down by a glacier in the ice age from Canada, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or the Green Bay area. It is of rhyolite, a granite-like but extruded igneous rock, quartz-rich, fine-grained and light-colored, from the time of joining of the Midwest to Canada, 1.8-2.1 billion years ago. One approaches the garden on a gravel path lined with igneous granite curb-blocks, and then crosses a threshold-stone of the local Silurian Age dolostone.

One continues through the Garden on paths of mixed gravel and purple-red "wasted granite" weathered out of bedrock at Wisconsin quarries. The path is curbed with blocks of quartzite, anciently metamophosized from sandstone until the grains fused under great pressure--if from the Bariboo, Wisconsin area then 2 billion years old, from that continental collision that formed the Bariboo quartzite used for curbing at 5490 South Shore Drive.

At Osaka’s Moon Bridge and lower pond are large, irregular blocks (“moonstones”), composed of gneiss, and formed in the Morton, Minnesota area in a metamorphic event 3.6 billion years ago—maybe the oldest rocks residing in this area. Gneiss’ marker is linear bands of dark and light minerals. The parent formation is the second oldest rock at surface in what is now the United States. To the left is a glacial erratic that has an inclusion: another kind of rock fell into the cooling melt and was altered but not consumed.

Further on along the southern path is a greenstone (metamorphosized volcanic basalt) boulder last changed in a volcanic event 2.6 billion years ago.

The wonderful stone lanterns are of Barre, Vermont granite, a popular stone throughout the States. The stone is fine-grained and light gray with flecks of black, pink, and glittering mica. It’s from one of the continental mountain-building collisions and separations of the past few hundred million years with first Europe then Africa.

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Report in the October 20, 2004 Tribune, on the Geology Underfoot tour by Hyde Park Historical Society October 10 and 17

CITY WATCH



Tour leaves no stones unturned
In the "Geology Underfoot in Hyde Park" lecture and walking tour, one can find hints that indicate a turbulent natural history for the area--much of it underwater

By Jon Anderson
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 20, 2004

For the 30 people walking the leafy streets of Hyde Park, it was a time to think back. Like, maybe, 2 billion years?For geologist Ray Wiggers, leading the group along the railroad embankment near East 55th Street, it was time to whip out a vial of hydrochloric acid. "See if this fizzes," he said, spraying some of the liquid on the rocky wall.

It was, in a sense, a Hyde Park moment. Academic, with a splash of danger.

Along with peering at boulders carried south two millenniums or more ago by glaciers working their way down from eastern Canada, Sunday's outing--known formally as "Geology Underfoot in Hyde Park"--was a bit of a quiz on Know Your Rocks and What They Can Be Used For.

Included in the three-hour lecture and walking tour were thoughts on the nature of granite, marble, quartzite, sandstone and limestone.

Limestone, it turns out, is not what lines the railroad embankment. It didn't fizz, in reaction with the acid.

"If you want to be a geologist know-it-all, call it dolomite," Wiggers said, briefly describing the work of the pioneering 18th Century French geologist Deodat Guy Silvain Trancrete Gratet de Dolomieu, for whom dolomite and the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy are named.

Across the street, the University National Bank is clad in glazed terra cotta from local clay pits, not granite as it might seem from afar.

Several blocks away, the rock hounds paused outside 5490 South Shore Drive, using magnifying glasses to study reddish rocks bordering a flower bed.

"Quartzite," they were told, a stone so tough it was favored over marble by road building ancients, because it didn't wear into ruts.

"Hyde Parkers are, um, very busy. Very interested in their history," noted one tour member, Frances Vandervoort, a retired science teacher. "It's another way to see the world we're in," added Jill Riddell who, with her husband, recently won a preservation award for work on their Kenwood house.

"There is, in fact, very little topography in Chicago," Riddell added, noting the city's flatness. "It's minimalist, hard to detect."

Yet there are more than enough hints, if one knows where and how to look, to indicate a turbulent natural history, much of it underwater.

Lake Michigan, for example, was once 60 feet higher than its present level of 580 feet above sea level. That put about 20 feet of water above what is now O'Hare International Airport. In another era, levels were so low that one could walk a dozen miles east of Hyde Park and not get wet.

Before human hunters wiped them out, starting about 12,000 years ago, the area was alive with mastodons, giant sloths and relatives of the wooly mammoth. There were also many short-faced bears, "best seen from a great distance through powerful binoculars," said Wiggers, a lecturer at Lake Forest College whose book, "Geology Under Foot in Illinois" is described on his Web site, www.raymondwiggers.com.

Organized by the Hyde Park Historical Society, whose headquarters is in a former cable-car station at 5529 S. Lake Park Ave., the geological outing also focused attention on one of the society's major current causes, "Save The Point."

That refers to the society's efforts to beat back a city plan to restore the crumbling lakefront edges of Promontory Point, off 55th Street, using cement instead of replacing the existing limestone blocks. Cement, as geologist Wiggers put it diplomatically, "is less interesting, both geologically and aesthetically."

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Report from the Chicago Maroon, October 22

Geological tour dug into Hyde Park's history

by Zachary Binney

The Hyde Park Historical Society (HPHS) conducted a tour through time Sunday afternoon in one of Chicago's most geologically famous neighborhoods. Raymond Wiggers, a Professor in the Departments of Biology and Environmental Sciences at Lake forest College, escorted about thirty fellow science and architecture enthusiasts through the area around the University [sic?], revealing interesting geological tidbits at every turn.

The program started with a 45-minute crash-course on Chicago-area geology, followed by a two and a half hour walk through Hyde Park from the Metra tracks to the Point and down to Jackson Pak.

Wiggers incorporated both classical and architectural geology into the tour. He tackled topics ranging from tricks of modern architecture to rocks older than the earliest life forms [sic!] "It turns out geology is even in the buildings and bridges. Geology isn't just about rocks, it's about processes and cycles in the earth's history..all different things you can see on the surface," Wiggers said.

The journey began with an explanation of the flaking concrete columns under the 55th Street Metra tracks. Metal rebar, which reinforces the concrete from the inside, actually rusts over time and causes chemical weathering . This results in chunks of concrete periodically falling off the columns.

Wiggers continued with a history lesson. The quartzite blocks lining the sidewalks next to several buildings in Hyde Park are the same type of stones used for centuries to pave cobblestone streets. Quartzite is one of the hardest stones on earth and was ideal to resist grooving from steel-rimmed wagon wheels.

The trek also included a lesson in urban ecology. Indiana limestone, of which numerous buildings in the neighborhood are made, is remarkably resistant to aging. However, the great amount of emissions generated in Chicago causes even limestone structure to appear tarnished and sooty.

Wiggers ended the tour on a different note, pointing out a 3.6 billion-year-old stone situated near the crescent bride in the Japanese Garden south of the Museum of Science and industry.

Throughout the afternoon, however, Wiggers provided the group with lessons about how a geologist looks at the area. "What I see as a geologist is basically a three-dimensional construct. Geologists have a tendency to look thousands of feet underground," he said. "The rock underneath can tell us a lot about what ancient Hyde Park was like. Wiggers also delved into a geologist's methods: Not sure if a wal is made of limestone or the more locally common dolomite? Spray it with hydrochloric acid. If it fizzes, it is limestone. He demonstrated by permanently scarring several structures along the route.

He also destroyed a myth about a beautiful ["granite"] building on 55th Street: It's just plain old terra cotta. ...

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Jackson Park plays host to some very old residents indeed!

Essay by Gary Ossewaarde for the JPAC Newsletter

Last month we began an occasional series on Jackson Park history with some thoughts on the Columbus connection [see in Jackson Park History]. Today we go way back beyond the start of the park to earlier settings and to the stories told by rocks placed in the park after its establishment.

The eastern third or so of the park was under Lake Michigan through much of the 19th century—in fact most of the Columbia basin and east wing of the Museum of Science and Industry were. At the end of the most recent glaciation about 10,000 years ago, Ancient Lake Chicago’s level was 60 feet higher than modern mean. There are no glacial moraine deposits in the area, only 60 to 80 feet of lake deposits from the high-water era that overlay the bedrock in our area, with exceptions such as Morgan Shoals by 50th Street where bedrock reaches the surface.

Eventually the trapped water cut its way out as the land rebounded from the weight of mile-thick ice. Later, lake level was lower than today and you could walk several miles out on what is now lake bottom. The clay and sand layers under the park are quite waterlogged. The surface nominally drains to Lake Michigan; some drains and part of the Lake water now drain to the Mississippi; this used to go just to the Atlantic by way of the St. Lawrence. Surface in the 19th century was a series of north-south sandbars that oaks preferred, alternating with swampy ground, with sand spits along the lakeshore resembling miniature Cape Cods. All these suggested to Olmsted the shape and character of the park he was asked in 1869-71 to design. To visualize the topography before the glaciations, go to the hilly, relatively high Galena area of northwest Illinois. The current shore was first stabilized with sloped granite-block pavers and a series of groins and piers in the 1880s. On land, below a few inches of imported loam is a mix of imported and lake deposit sand that does not support plants well.

The upper bedrock under the park is what we’re now supposed to call dolostone to distinguish it from the magnesium carbonate mineral of which the rock is largely composed. (Distinguish it from limestone by splashing on hydrochloric acid—dolostone won’t fizz.) The Niagara dolostone was formed in a shallow, rather salty tropical sea in the Silurian period, about 420 million years ago, when Jackson Park was where northwest Brazil is now. The Niagara forms nearly a complete circle from Ohio around the west and north edges of lakes Michigan and Huron, and southeast to Niagara and the Erie Canal. The dolostone was largely eroded off one of the world’s first coral-formed reefs in the shallow sea. The formation is best seen at Thornton Quarry/I-80. Where is later stone? It was carved and carried off by multiple glaciations that came down where Lake Michigan is now—that was a line of least resistance because the bedrock there was a later shale, which is softer. See some rock of later age at the coalfields of Braidwood, along the Sanitary and Ship canal (where our Joliet building limestone abounds, iron weathering in yellow-tan), the Mississippi, or in southern Indiana where our gray Bedford building limestone comes from. Below the Silurian dolostone is various sandstones etc. up to about 600 million years ago. Below this is igneous melt-cooled stone of a billion and much more years ago.

Several structures in the park are of the dolostone, either from local quarries or Lannon, Wisconsin (the ‘Iowa’ building at 56th and Lake Shore Drive, 1930s) or the later Indiana limestone (Museum of Science and Industry.) Look for fossils in the stone walls. The bluestone flagstone plaza at the Iowa building looks like slate but is a much softer layered stone from about 385 million years ago (Devonian).

Just as fascinating is the story of vastly older rocks that were brought into the park by various designers. Some were erratics from states to the north and Canada deposited by glaciers in later fields, et al, later sold to park developers or contractors. Some were strategically obtained and placed because of special spiritual associations, as in Osaka Japanese Garden by Sudafumiu Uchyama and earlier garden designers.

Outside the Garden is a large stone with an identifying plaque. The stone is a glacial erratic, brought down by a glacier in the ice age from Canada, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or the Green Bay area. It is of rhyolite, a granite-like but extruded igneous rock, quartz-rich, fine-grained and light-colored, from the time of joining of the Midwest to Canada, 1.8-2.1 billion years ago. One approaches the garden on a gravel path lined with igneous granite curb-blocks, and then crosses a threshold-stone of the local Silurian Age dolostone.

One continues through the Garden on paths of mixed gravel and purple-red "wasted granite" weathered out of bedrock at Wisconsin quarries. The path is curbed with blocks of quartzite, anciently metamophosized from sandstone until the grains fused under great pressure--if from the Bariboo, Wisconsin area then 2 billion years old, from another early continental collision.

At Osaka’s Moon Bridge and lower pond are large, irregular blocks (“moonstones”), composed of gneiss, and formed in the Morton, Minnesota area in a metamorphic event 3.6 billion years ago—maybe the oldest rocks residing in the area. Gneiss’ marker is linear bands of dark and light minerals. The parent formation is the second oldest rock at surface in what is now the United States. To the left is a glacial erratic that has an inclusion: another kind of rock fell into the cooling melt and was altered but not consumed.

Further on is a greenstone (metamorphosized volcanic basalt) boulder last changed in a volcanic event 2.6 billion years ago. The wonderful stone lanterns are of Barre, Vermont granite, a popular stone throughout the States. The stone is fine-grained and light gray with flecks of black, pink, and glittering mica. It’s from one of the continental mountain-building collisions and separations of the past few hundred million years.