Joseph D. Kearney and Thomas W. Merrill on Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago

  • 07/15/2021
  • 6:30 PM
  • 7/15/2021 6:30 PM CT/7:30 PM ET Via Zoom. Advance registration required via website.


Registration is closed

July Evening Program

Presented by the Caxton Club, Chicago Collections Consortium, and the Union League Club of Chicago


Joseph D. Kearney

Thomas W. Merrill

Note that registering for the event will provide you with the opportunity to purchase copies of Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago for $29 including tax, shipping, and a bookplate signed by the authors.

How did Chicago, a city known for commerce, come to have such a splendid public waterfront–its most treasured asset? The product of two decades of research, Lakefront sets forth the social, political, and legal conflict in which private and public rights clashed repeatedly over time, only to produce, as a kind of miracle, a generally happy ending. It is an extraordinary story.

Joseph D. Kearney and Thomas W. Merrill study the lakefront's evolution from the middle of the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Their findings have significance for understanding not only Chicago's history but also the law's part in determining the future of significant urban resources such as waterfronts. 

The Chicago lakefront is where the American public trust doctrine, holding certain public resources off limits to private development, was born. This book describes the circumstances that gave rise to the doctrine and its fluctuating importance over time, and reveals how it was resurrected in the later twentieth century to become the primary principle for mediating clashes between public and private lakefront rights. Lakefront compares the effectiveness of the public trust idea to other property doctrines, and assesses the role of the law as compared to more institutional developments, such as the emergence of sanitary commissions and park districts, in securing the protection of the lakefront for public uses.

Joseph D. Kearney is Dean and Professor of Law at Marquette University. Thomas W. Merrill is the Charles Evans Hughes Professor of Law at Columbia University. Before entering academe, both authors clerked at the US Supreme Court and lived for many years in Chicago, where they practiced law and became captivated by the history of the city’s lakefront.

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