Robert Cavelier de La Salle Monument, 1889
Count Jacques de La Laing
East of North Clark Street and north of North LaSalle Drive
A French explorer who claimed the Mississippi basin for France on April 9, 1682 and named the region Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687) also explored the Great Lakes region and eventually secured a monopoly on fur trade in the Mississippi Valley. While serving as governor of Louisiana, he led an expedition seeking to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi, approaching it from the Gulf of Mexico. After several mishaps, members of the crew mutinied and La Salle was assassinated.
The idea for a monument to La Salle came from circuit court judge Lambert Tree (1832-1910) who believed that La Salle’s important contributions to American history had been overlooked. Tree was a prominent Chicago philanthropist who funded the Lambert Tree Awards for heroism by Chicago police and fireman and established the Tree Studios on North State Street, offering inexpensive housing and studios for artists. After being appointed minister to Belgium by President Grover Cleveland, Tree commissioned Belgian sculptor Count Jacques de la Laing to execute the figure. It was cast in Belgium and shipped to Chicago to be placed in a triangular lawn area in the center of West Stockton Drive in Lincoln Park. The monument was unveiled on October 12, 1889 but was strongly criticized. Although viewers will notice that the leggings have missing straps and broken buckles, indicating the rough paths taken by La Salle during his journeys, critics have complained that the static portrayal lacks any reference to the heroism and strength of character that the patron had hoped to emphasize.
By the mid-1920s, the monument had become an impediment to traffic and was moved to an area east of North Clark. In the 1990s, when the Chicago History Museum built an underground parking structure in the area, it was moved to its current, more prominent, location, facing the street that bears the explorer’s name.