In 1869, after several years of lobbying by prominent south-siders, the Illinois State Legislature established the South Park Commission. The newly appointed Board of Commissioners identified more than 1,000 acres of land just south of Chicago for a large park and boulevards that would connect it with downtown and the West Park System. Originally called South Park, the property was composed of eastern and western divisions, now Jackson and Washington Parks and the Midway Plaisance. The commissioners hired Frederick Law Olmsted, the "father of American landscape architecture," and his partner Calvert Vaux to create the original plan for South Park.
Olmsted and Vaux published their ambitious plan in 1871. The destruction of tax rolls and other documents in Chicago's Great Fire that year delayed construction. In 1872, the South Park Commission hired Horace W. S. Cleveland, who had previously worked for Olmsted, to oversee improvements to the park. Construction began on the western division, which was renamed in 1881 to honor George Washington (1732-1799), first president of the United States. One of the earliest improvements was the "South Open Green," a pastoral meadow with grazing sheep, also used as a ball field. Architect Daniel H. Burnham's firm designed several buildings in the park. These include the 1880 limestone round stables, the 1881 refectory, and the 1910 administrative headquarters for the South Park Commission. Today, the administrative building houses DuSable Museum of African-American History.