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Two Miles – Eighteen Bridges

A walk along the Chicago River

By
James S. Phillips

©2008 James S. Phillips


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Acknowledgments

This project began one summer morning in 2006 at the Prairie Avenue Bookshop on

Wabash Avenue. Thanks to an offhand remark by the clerk, the seed was planted.

Turning an idea into a finished written product is not easy as I'm sure anyone who has

accomplished it knows. It requires support and encouragement from family, friends, and

colleagues.

Some special thanks are in order for those organizations who were kind enough to provide

input and encouragement. The Chicago Department of Transportation, Engineering Division

opened up their archives. Data from Bridge Operations; the Chicago Film Commission; and the

CTA was essential to the effort. The good nature and assistance of the personnel in the Chicago

History Museum Research Center were a great help as well.

Many thanks to Jill Gansen and Carl Bickford who braved through an early draft. Their

comments and suggestions were invaluable, as was Gerald Williams' encouragement at key

moments in the process.

And finally to my wife Pat. She has served as editor, proofreader, critic, coach, and

sounding board. Without her support and encouragement, this would still be just an idea.
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Contents

Introduction........................................................................................................... 6
A Word About Touring........................................................................................... 9

A Brief History......................................................................................................13
The Beginnings.......................................................................................................13
The Early River Crossings 1829-1840....................................................................16
Movable Bridges I: 1840-1854 Pontoon Swing Bridges........................................18
Movable Bridges II: 1854-1890 Center Pier Swing Bridges..................................20
The Search for a New Type Bridge 1890-1900......................................................21
The Development of the Chicago Type Bascule Bridge.........................................27
The Current Bridges................................................................................................30
Etcetera...................................................................................................................31
Conclusion..............................................................................................................46

Engineering...........................................................................................................48
The Basic Definitions and Concepts.......................................................................49
Design Specifications/Bridge Classification..........................................................60
First Generation Bridges 1900-1910......................................................................61
Second Generation Bridges 1910-1930..................................................................63
Third Generation Bridges Depression Era-1930....................................................69
Fourth Generation Bridges – Post WWII...............................................................70
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Contents

The Bridges............................................................................................................72
North Lake Shore Drive Bridge..............................................................................80
North Columbus Drive Bridge................................................................................85
North Michigan Avenue Bridge..............................................................................90
North Wabash Avenue Bridge.................................................................................98
North State Street Bridge........................................................................................103
North Dearborn Street Bridge.................................................................................108
North Clark Street Bridge.......................................................................................112
North La Salle Street Bridge...................................................................................117
North Wells Street Bridge.......................................................................................121
North Franklin-Orleans Street Bridge....................................................................126
West Lake Street Bridge.........................................................................................130
West Randolph Street Bridge..................................................................................134
West Washington Boulevard Bridge.......................................................................137
West Madison Street Bridge...................................................................................143
West Monroe Street Bridge.....................................................................................147
West Adams Street Bridge......................................................................................151
West Jackson Boulevard Bridge.............................................................................155
West Van Buren Street Bridge................................................................................159
Conclusion...............................................................................................................163
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Contents

Bibliography..........................................................................................................164
Bridge Data.............................................................................................................164
Bridge History........................................................................................................164
Bridge Patents.........................................................................................................168
Chicago Data..........................................................................................................168
Chicago History......................................................................................................169
Engineering Biographical Data...............................................................................172
Introduction 6

I originally came up with the idea for this project in the Summer of 2006. I had just
finished a morning walk up Wacker Drive from North Lake Shore Drive, at the mouth of
the Chicago River, to West Van Buren Street on the South Branch of the Chicago River.
It was a beautiful summer morning with crowds of people making their way to work. I
found myself captivated by the variety of styles and ages of the eighteen bridges on this
route. In addition to the beauty I saw in these structures, I could feel an energy flowing
across them into the city. At the North Wells and West Lake street bridges I saw the El,
pedestrians, and cars flowing. At the Lyric Opera Bridge (West Madison Street), I
looked south along the river and saw the Monroe, Adams, and Jackson bridges teeming
with cars and pedestrians making their way from Union Station and elsewhere.
My engineering background probably explains my enthusiasm for the mechanical
nature of these structures. Although there seemed to be more going on this particular
morning. I found myself more curious about the history of these bridges and their
impact on the city.
In any event, I took several pictures of each bridge and at the completion of my
walk, I decided to visit the Chicago Architecture Foundation Store on Michigan Avenue
to see if there were any books summarizing basic facts, history, social impact, etc. of the
bridges I had just seen. There weren't any. I was directed to the Prairie Avenue
Bookshop on Wabash Avenue. Again, nothing specifically on the bridges, though the
clerk thought she had seen something written in the 1980's. And then, she remarked:
“You need to write one.”
That was the genesis of this book. On the way back to my apartment, I stopped by
the Harold Washington Branch of the Chicago Public Library and started my research.
Since that time, I have made several more visits to the library and the Chicago Historical
Society Research Center; searched through Chicago Tribune articles spanning the years
from 1849 until today; and spent countless hours on the internet gathering data. And for
Introduction 7

good measure, I have repeated the initial walk several times, taken a number of
water taxi rides, and taken many more photographs.
I have limited the scope of the project to the eighteen bridges I saw on my
initial walk. The sketch of the river in Illustration 1 shows the locations of the
bridges. My research started with a look at 19th Century Chicago in the context of
the river crossings. I was looking for the when, why, what, and how of these early
crossings. Chicago bridge evolution, including the changing requirements of the
city, the engineering basics, and a biographical look at some key engineers was
also explored. The development of the Chicago Type bascule bridge and the
significance of each bridge within this group was studied. And, for lack of a better
term, cultural trivia (news stories, movies, art, etc.) related to the current bridges
was noted as well.
Introduction 8

3 2 1
10 9 8 7 6 5
4
11
12
13
14

15
16

17
18

Illustration 1: The Location of the Eighteen Bridges Discussed in this Book


1. N Lake Shore Dr 7. N Clark St 13. W Washington Blvd
2. N Columbus Dr 8. N LaSalle St 14. W Madison St
3. N Michigan Ave 9. N Wells St 15. W Monroe St
4. N Wabash Ave 10. N Franklin-Orleans St 16. W Adams St
5. N State St 11. W Lake St 17. W Jackson Blvd
6. N Dearborn St 12. W Randolph St 18. W Van Buren St

I have organized this material in such a way as to make it an easy reference to


use on a tour of the bridges, or as an enjoyable and informative read at home. In
addition, I have created a complementary web site entitled Chicago Loop Bridges
(http://www.chicagoloopbridges.com) which supplements the tour information
provided in this book.
The chapter entitled “A Brief History,” summarizes the early development of
Introduction 9

Chicago with a slant toward river crossings. This includes the evolution of the
bridges used and the historical details behind the development of the Chicago Type
bascule bridge, as well as some information on the engineers involved.

The chapter entitled “Engineering” presents a more technical discussion of the


bridges in place today. The basic engineering concepts , as well as the evolution of
the Chicago Type bascule bridge from 1900 to 1984 is discussed.
The “The Bridges” chapter of the book explores the eighteen river crossings
individually in the order shown on the map in Illustration 1. I have included a
summary of the crossing from the first crossing (ferry, tunnel, or bridge) to the
current bridge; where possible, I have included a description of what I considered
to be the significant events in the history of the current bridge; and I have provided
descriptions and photographs of the architectural and engineering features
including operating equipment (as available).
My sources are listed in the “Bibliography” section at the end of the book.
These references are categorized as Bridge Data; Bridge History; Bridge Patents;
Chicago Data; Chicago History; and Engineering Biographical Data. In addition
to the normal bibliographic information, web addresses are provided, where
available/applicable.
A Word About Touring
The first touring option is to walk along Wacker Drive. Wacker Drive is
interesting because it is a multilevel street that runs both East-West and North-
South. With the one exception noted below, stay on the upper level of this street as
you walk.
My favorite route is to start at the Monument to the Millennium at the mouth of
the Chicago River and travel west along the south bank of the river. This is the
Introduction 10

beginning of the city's riverwalk trail that parallels Lower Wacker Drive.
Currently this trail extends from Lake Michigan to the State Street bridge. At this
bridge, use the stairway to access Upper Wacker Drive. From this point, you can
walk west along Upper Wacker, using stairways at most bridges to access river
level.
The city of Chicago has long-term plans for a continuous riverwalk trail along
the south bank of the Chicago River from Lake Michigan to the bridge at West
Lake Street. The newest section of this trail under the Michigan Avenue and
Wabash Avenue bridges was completed in July 2009.
As you make the turn from West Wacker to North Wacker at Lake Street, you
will notice that the river is no longer next to the street. After you have explored the
West Lake Street bridge, continue south on Wacker to Randolph Street. Walk west
on Randolph, over the bridge. From this point, you can travel south along the river
bank to the West Jackson Boulevard bridge. Note that while there is free
pedestrian access along the stretch of river, all of the property between streets is
privately owned and controlled. Taking photographs from these private property
areas may be questioned by building security personnel.
Walking provides the “top side” view for all the bridges, as well as the shore
view of many of the bridges. The primary benefit of the walking tour is the
flexibility to explore many different components of each bridge based on your
interest level. Walking will also allow for side trips to other attractions along the
river. The obvious disadvantage of walking is the amount of time involved. Plan
for three to four hours for the one-way trip.
The second touring option is to ride a water taxi. Currently, there are two water
taxi companies: Shoreline Cruises and Wendella Boats. The Shoreline taxi runs
Introduction 11

from Navy Pier to West Jackson Boulevard. Wendella taxis run from North
Michigan Avenue to West Madison Street. Both companies operate during the
summer tourist season with some overlap into Fall and Spring. Their schedules
can be found on the web.
The water taxi is the quickest and least physically demanding of the two
options and provides the unique view of the bridges from the water. The
disadvantages of the water taxi tour are that the bridge is only viewed from one
perspective and there is little time to appreciate the subtle features of each bridge
(a one-way water taxi ride from Navy Pier to West Jackson Blvd is about twenty
minutes). Plan for one to two hours for this tour option.
A tour that combines a walk along Wacker Drive, with a water taxi ride back to
Navy Pier or Michigan Avenue, combines the best of both touring methods.
Regardless of the touring option chosen, the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago
River museum in the southwest bridge tender house at the North Michigan Avenue
bridge is a must see.
If you are interested in watching these bridges operate, the Chicago
Department of Transportation (CDOT) maintains scheduled bridge lifts for the
movement of sail boats to (late April to June) and from (September to early
November) Lake Michigan. This schedule is posted on the CDOT website, and
chicagoloopbridges.com during the lift season.
I can say from personal experience that, whatever your interest level, watching
one of these bridges operate is an amazing sight. For a look at the inner workings
of an operating bridge, the McCormick Bridgehouse Museum allows patrons to
watch the machinery as the bridge lifts. In addition, a great view of the rack and
pinion during bridge operation can be had at the west end of the Lake Street
Introduction 12

bridge.
It is well worth the effort to visit the Chicago River during one of the CDOT
scheduled lifts. If, like me, you feel the need to see them all operate, plan to spend
about four hours and be prepared for a mixture of inactivity and quick movement
between bridges.
However you choose to use this book, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I
have enjoyed writing it.
A Brief History 13

Introduction
The history provided in this chapter is not an all-inclusive retelling of Chicago
history. Instead, it is an attempt to provide a historical context for the eighteen river
crossings between North Lake Shore Drive and West Van Buren Street. The narrative
pieced together here is a description of the evolution of these river crossings from ferries
to the bascule bridges in place today. It is also a description of the evolution of the city
and the impact that these bridges have had on its development and their continued
impact. The information was taken from the general histories listed in the bibliography
at the end of the book. What has been included, and omitted, in this narrative is based
on the interests and objectives of this author. The reader is encouraged to explore
Chicago history in more depth because it is a fascinating story.
The Beginnings
Good transportation systems are essential to functioning societies. They provide
communication, economic, and security links between population centers. Communities
on key transportation routes or at the junction of routes will grow and flourish. This was
evident in the heyday of the railroads and is true of today's interstate highways as well.
Navigable waterways were the superhighways of seventeenth and eighteenth century
North America. Chicago's geography ensured that it would play a key role in this early
transportation system. And it is Chicago's role in this system that helped ensure its place
in the transportation systems that followed.
The Chicago area was a large wetland created by the retreat of the last glacier in the
Lake Michigan basin. As a result of soil conditions, the landscape consisted of bogs,
swamps, residual lakes, and sloughs. This soggy landscape provided a relatively easy
portage from Lake Michigan via the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River. Once on
the Des Plaines River, a boat could travel to the Mississippi River via the Illinois River.
While American Indians had used this route extensively for transportation and
trading purposes, French explorers Pere Marquette and Louis Jolliet are credited with its
A Brief History 14

“discovery” in 1673. Within ten years of this discovery, it became the primary
route for European explorers to travel from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi
River.
The portage was a relatively short distance of about six miles. In very wet
weather, no portage was necessary as the distance between the Chicago and Des
Plaines rivers was covered with a shallow lake. European explorers recognized
early on that there would be great economic and military benefits of a canal at this
location.
The Chicago area remained unsettled, though not unused, for the next one
hundred years. The area was primarily a transit and temporary trade zone.
Occasionally, groups would winter over or use the region as a staging area, but
most often they would just pass through. The late eighteenth century saw the
beginnings of settlement when, in 1779, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable established a
trading post on the north bank of the Chicago River near the present day location
of the North Michigan Avenue bridge.
In 1803, Fort Dearborn was established on the south bank of the Chicago River
across the river from du Sable's settlement. This fort helped provide stability and
security in the area. This stability was interrupted in 1812 when the fort was
evacuated as a result of the war with the British. Settlers, concerned for their
safety, fled the area with the soldiers. During this evacuation, the settlers were
ambushed by unfriendly Indians and about two-thirds of them were killed. The
fort was destroyed as well. This event, known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre, is
depicted in a bas relief panel on the southwest bridge tender house of the Michigan
Avenue bridge.
Three developments set the stage for the start of the city of Chicago. The first
A Brief History 15

was the rebuilding of Fort Dearborn in 1816 which helped to restore security to the
area. Secondly, the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 significantly increased
maritime traffic through the Chicago area. Finally, the end of the Black Hawk War
in 1832 forced the remaining unfriendly Indian tribes west across the Mississippi
River.
The combination of security and the increase in commerce (as many as 100,000
passengers passed through the area in 1833) allowed Chicago to incorporate as a
town of 350 in 1833. Over the next four years Chicago's population grew twelve-
fold, fueled by continued traffic from the east as well as wild land speculation due
to the initial stages of the construction of the Illinois-Michigan canal (built
between 1836 and 1848). In 1837, Chicago incorporated as a city of 4,170.
This navigable link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River was the
reason for Chicago's birth. A key component of this link was the Chicago River
and its capability to carry maritime traffic unimpeded. As the city grew, it would
become harder to balance the need for continuous river traffic with land based
traffic and the need to cross the river. The plat from 1830 (Illustration 1) shows the
layout of early Chicago and the developing need for river crossings. For the next
century, Chicago would strive to find the best engineering solution to these
competing interests.
A Brief History 16

F B F
1F
2B

Illustration 1: The 1830 Plat of Chicago (Chicago Historical Society, ICHi-34284).


Early crossings and primary direction of river traffic shown in red.

The Early River Crossings 1829-1840


Chicago in the 1820's consisted primarily of two population centers. The first,
near Fort Dearborn, consisted of about ten cabins. Most of these were on the south
side of the Chicago River. Settlers made their living by trading and providing
services to soldiers at the fort and travelers passing through the area.
The second population grouping was close to where the Chicago River
branches at Wolf Point (now the parking lot on the river side of the Chicago Sun
Times building). Here, cabins were located on both sides of the North Branch.
The post office/general store, and taverns were located on both sides of the South
Branch in this area as well.
During the 1830's these two population centers started to slowly grow into one.
By 1832, most of the buildings were on the south bank of the Chicago River along
South Water Street (now West Wacker Drive) between State and Wells. As time
went on, more buildings appeared on Lake Street. Most notable of these were the
A Brief History 17

Sauganash Hotel (Market and Lake streets) and the Green Tree Tavern (Lake and
Canal streets).
According to interviews conducted in the 1880's with early residents, Lake
Street was the primary land route to the west and Clark Street was the principal
north-south highway. So it is not surprising that the initial river crossings for
young Chicago would be built near these roads.
The first river crossings for Chicago were done in row boats or canoes. By
June of 1829, a ferry crossing was established at Wolf Point (West Lake Street
crossing – “1F” on Illustration 1). This location allowed passengers to cross from
the south side to either the north side of the Chicago River or west side of the
South Branch. Later, in the 1830's, ferries began operating at North Clark and
North State across the Chicago River (also noted on Illustration 1 - “F”).
As far as early bridges are concerned, a primitive bridge was reportedly built
across the South Branch in 1832 near Randolph Street (marked “2B” on
Illustration 1). According to accounts of the time, the bridge was built by Anson H
Taylor (who ran a tailor's shop) and his brother Charles (who was the landlord at
the Wolf Tavern) with assistance of the militia stationed at Fort Dearborn. The
reported cost was $486.20 and was paid for by settlers and Potawatomi Indians in
the area. Reportedly, this was only bridge sturdy enough to carry teams of horses.
The first movable bridge in Chicago was built over the Chicago River at
Dearborn Street in 1834 (“B” on Illustration 1). The bridge was built by
shipwright Nelson R. Norton. It was a simple double-leaf castle type draw bridge
lifted by chains, providing a sixty foot passage for marine traffic. While this
bridge was a harbinger of the type of movable bridge Chicago would ultimately
choose, limitations in technology of the times and poor execution made it
A Brief History 18

unreliable and unpopular.


From about 1835 until 1840, the North and South sides of the Chicago River
waged a “bridge war” concerning a new bridge across the river. The nature of the
dispute was related to the large numbers of wagons bringing produce from the
Wabash country of Indiana into Chicago. On the return trip, these same wagons
carried supplies purchased in Chicago. Most warehouses where farmers sold their
crops were located on the north side of the river. Merchants on the south side
wanted to keep these farmers and their business on the south side of the river.
When the Dearborn Street bridge was demolished, and only ferries were available
to cross the river, a major traffic jam at the ferry terminals was produced. This
drastically reduced business for the north side merchants.
These north side merchants began a major push to build a new bridge at Clark
Street. South side merchants were opposed to the bridge and the city council was
evenly split. A compromise was reached when two prominent north side
businessmen, William Ogden and Walter Newberry, donated the land for the Holy
Name Cathedral on the north side. This donation favorably influenced Chicago
Catholics and their influence helped move the city council to vote in favor of the
bridge. This compromise effectively ended the “bridge war” between the north and
south sides and helped to develop a favorable climate for the construction of
bridges across the Chicago River in this area.
Movable Bridges I: 1840-1854 Pontoon Swing Bridges
As a result of the settlement of the “bridge war,” the next decade saw a number
of bridges built across the river. The first bridge at North Clark street was built in
1840. This bridge was a wooden floating pontoon swing bridge. Because this type
of bridge floats, it can be moved into and out of position, allowing river traffic to
A Brief History 19

pass.
Between 1840 and 1845 population within the Loop increased by 169%.
During this same time period, population in the near north side increased by 137%.
More importantly, prominent families were beginning to build homes on the near
north side. Coupled with the increase in population was an increase of business
establishments on the Chicago River as well. Both of these factors led to an
additional wooden floating pontoon bridge, of the Clark Street design, across the
river at North Wells Street.
The pontoon design used on these earlier bridges was improved in 1847 by
using boiler-iron drums as pontoons instead of logs. These iron drums provided
more buoyancy and did not become waterlogged like the wooden pontoons did.
This design was used on a replacement bridge at North Wells Street.
In addition to the increasing population throughout the area, manufacturing
(lumber, steel, furniture, meatpacking, agriculture machinery, wholesale trade, etc.)
was also becoming important for Chicago. Some of these manufacturing
establishments were beginning to congregate along the South Branch of the river.
Iron barrel pontoon bridges at West Madison and West Randolph Streets were in
place by the end of 1847.
Another major development during this era was the completion of the Illinois
and Michigan Canal in 1848. This canal created a new transportation corridor that
took travelers from the east coast through the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then on the
Great Lakes to Chicago and beyond. The resulting large volume of traffic
increased the pressure on the city to maintain and improve the navigability of the
Chicago River.
On March 12, 1849, a major flood swept through Chicago washing out all of
A Brief History 20

the bridges, wrecking ships at anchor and damaging wharves. In typical Chicago
fashion, these bridges were quickly replaced with temporary ferries at West
Randolph, West Lake, and North Clark streets supplementing the existing ferry at
North State street. By the end of 1849, bridges were again open at West Madison,
North Clark, North Wells, and West Randolph. In addition, a new bridge was
opened at West Van Buren street. In 1853, a new bridge at West Lake Street was
added, making a total of six bridges and one ferry crossing from North State to
West Van Buren streets by the end of this era.
Movable Bridges II: 1854-1890 Center Pier Swing Bridges
Shipping and marine interests were a large part of Chicago's economy and had
a significant influence on city bridge decisions. These interests were unhappy with
any obstructions to river traffic, but they were particularly concerned about the
floating bridges. They were slow to open, took up valuable river space, and as
seen in the flood of 1849, could be a nuisance during flooding. In the early 1850's,
engineers were commissioned by the shipping and marine interests to develop an
improved design.
The new bridge design chosen was the center pier swing bridge. This type of
bridge rests on a pier in the middle of the river. When open, the centerline of the
bridge is parallel with the river, leaving space on either side of the pier/bridge for
river traffic to pass. The most significant improvement over the floating swing
bridge is faster speed with which the bridge can be opened.
The first wooden center pier swing bridge in Chicago was built at North Clark
Street in 1854. In about a year both ends of the bridge sagged. This weakness was
repaired by reinforcing the wooden bridge trusses with iron. By 1856, iron
reinforced center pier swing bridges had been built at West Madison, North Wells,
A Brief History 21

and West Randolph streets.


By 1870, center pier swing bridges were at nine locations from West Van Buren
to North State streets. These bridges were built of a combination of wooden
braces and iron chords. Four of these crossings were on the Chicago River (North
State, North Clark, North Wells, and North Rush streets). The other five crossings
were on the South Branch (West Madison, West Lake, West Randolph, West
Adams, and West Van Buren streets).
The Great Fire of 1871 destroyed the central portion of Chicago including all
the bridges on the Chicago River, and bridges at West Van Buren and West Adams
Streets on the South Branch. Remarkably, all of these bridges were rebuilt by the
end of 1872. These new center pier swing bridges were of more substantial
construction and considered fire-proof.
The Search for A New Type of Bridge 1890-1900
While the center pier swing bridges were an improvement over the floating
bridges they replaced, the center pier was still an obstruction to navigation. This
was especially true because the vessels were growing in size. Relatively small
sailing ships were being replaced by larger steam powered freighters which
required greater channel widths. These larger vessels also had greater difficulty
navigating the relatively sharp bend in the Chicago River when turning onto the
South Branch. The need for more room in the river channel made the shipping and
marine interests push Chicago and its engineers to develop a more navigation-
friendly bridge.
In the early 1890's, the U.S. Congress gave the War Department, through the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the authority to approve new construction and seek
alteration to any bridge deemed to interfere with navigation. In 1892, the Corps
A Brief History 22

exercised this authority and ordered the removal of the center pier swing bridge at
the Canal Street crossing on the North Branch.
Anticipating an overall ban on center pier swing span bridges, Chicago
engineers began a search for a movable bridge that would satisfy the primary
requirements - quick operation for minimal interference with land based traffic, an
unobstructed channel with adequate width for water borne traffic, and economy in
construction, operation and maintenance. Three bridge designs provided adequate
channel width, with varying degrees of success on the other criteria. These were
the folding-lift bridge, the vertical lift span, and the rolling lift bascule bridge.
Each of these designs was patented by their respective designers: the folding-lift
by Captain William Harman; the vertical lift span by J. A. L. Waddell; and the
rolling lift bascule by William and Albert Scherzer.
The folding-lift bridge had a dual action. It lifted vertically then folded mid-
leaf to allow for a fairly wide clear span (see Illustration 2). This particular
concept proved too complex and troublesome to operate and maintain. Only two
of these bridges were built in the 1890's. They were at Canal and Weed Streets.
The Canal Street bridge was replaced with a rolling lift bridge in 1903 and the
Weed Street bridge was removed in 1905.
The vertical lift span bridge had all or a portion of the river span lift up via
hoists and cables, similar to an elevator car. This bridge, while effective, was
expensive to build and maintain and it was considered to be less than attractive by
some. Illustration 3 shows the drawing of this type of bridge as shown in the 1893
patent. No vertical lift bridges were built between North Lake Shore Drive and
West Van Buren Street. (Today, a vertical lift railroad bridge can be seen crossing
the South Branch near Canal Street.)
A Brief History 23

Of these three concepts, the most promising was the rolling lift bascule bridge.
This concept best met all of the design criteria - relatively simple operation,
relative ease to build, and low construction cost. The rolling lift bridge opens by
rotating vertically on the river bank. A large counterweight on the shore end of the
bridge aids the lifting process as the bridge leaf rotates upward. The bridge is not
tied to a single rotation point, so the center of gravity of the leaf rolls back over a
distance of twenty to thirty feet on track girders (see Illustration 4). This amount
of movement means that the foundation has to be designed over an area large
enough to handle the weight of the rotating leaf.
Of the bridges along Wacker Drive, rolling lift bridges were constructed at
West Van Buren Street (1894), North State Street (1902), and North Dearborn
Street (1907). Each of these bridges remained in service for at least 50 years
before they were replaced with the current bridges. (Today, a rolling lift bridge can
be seen where Cermak Road crosses the South Branch).
A Brief History 24

Bridge up
Leaf folded at hinge Bridge Down

Span hinge

About the Bridge and Its Designer

The folding lift bridge had a dual action. It lifted vertically, then folded mid-leaf to
allow for a relatively wide opening. Two of these bridges were built at Canal and Weed
streets in the 1890's.

The designer of this bridge was William Harman. He was born in New York in 1833 and
died in Chicago on August 7, 1917.

During the late 1880's and early 1890's, Mr. Harman was the superintendent of the
Chicago Towing Company. He was concerned about navigation issues on the Chicago
River and his solution to the growing conflict of waterborne and land traffic was the
Harman Folding Bridge.

Unlike the other individuals searching for the better bridge, Mr. Harman was not trained
as an engineer. He approached the problem from that as a user of the river.

Illustration 2: The Harman Folding Lift Bridge (drawing taken from the original 1888 patent)
A Brief History 25

Bridge up

Bridge down

About the Bridge and Its Designer

The vertical lift bridge has all or a portion of the river span lift via hoists and cables, similar to an
elevator car. Several of these bridges were built around the world. The aesthetics of this bridge type
was considered to be incompatible with the objectives of the City Beautiful Movement, so none were
built in the Loop area of Chicago.

The designer of this bridge was J. A. L. Waddell. Mr. Waddell was born in Port Hope Ontario, Canada
in 1854. He became a renowned civil engineer with degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and
McGill University. He taught at Renssalaer and the University of Tokyo and was a founding member
of the Waddell and Hardesty engineering firm (now Hardesty and Hanover). Mr. Waddell died in 1938.

Illustration 3: The Waddell Vertical Lift Bridge (drawing taken from the original 1893 patent)
A Brief History 26

Bridge “Rocker”

Track

Illustration 4: The Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge (drawings taken from the 1893 and 1903
patents)

About the Bridge and Its Designers


The Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge rolls back on tracks as it lifts
vertically. Of interest here is the fact that rolling lift bridges were
built at West Van Buren (1894), North State (1902), and North
Dearborn (1907) streets. Even though each of these bridges were in
service for approximately 50 years, Chicago city engineers felt that
foundation problems and royalty fees were too costly to deal with.

William Scherzer was the designer. He was born in 1858 in Peru, IL.
He was educated at the Polytechnium in Zurich Switzerland. Prior to
Bridge
opening up his own firm, his career focused on bridge design for
“Rocker”
railroads. Unfortunately he died of “brain fever” approximately five
months before his patent was approved in 1893 (see patent drawing
above).
Track

Upon William's death, his younger brother, Albert, took over


management of the bridge firm. Albert received his technical Counterweight
education from the Technical High School of Zurich. In 1892, Albert
received a law degree from the Union College of Law in Chicago.

Under Albert's leadership, the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company improved the original design (see patent drawing to the right) and was a
successful firm. Albert was a strong advocate for his design and argued with city engineers about the suitability of the design throughout the first

decade of the 20th Century. He eventually lost his battle with the Chicago city engineers, though this design was used at many locations around
the world.

Reportedly despondent about his business, Albert Scherzer leapt to his death in an elevator shaft of the Monadnock Building on January 28,
1916.
A Brief History 27

The Development of the Chicago Type Bascule Bridge


While the rolling lift bridge was the superior bridge design of the three bridge
types examined in the 1890's, John Ericson (Chicago City Engineer) was
convinced that the rolling lift bridge was an unsatisfactory solution to the city's
bridge problems.
Two technical issues emerged from the city's experience with the early rolling
lift bridges. The first involved the relatively fast degradation of the track girders.
This degradation meant that the city faced a long-term, high-cost maintenance item
on these bridges. The second issue was in the bridge foundation. The early
foundations did not adequately support the bridge through the full range of
movement of the bridge leaf. Proper foundation design would increase the initial
cost of the bridge, partially erasing its low-cost advantage.
The most serious problem with the rolling lift bridge, however, was the fact
that it was patented. Each time one of these bridges were built, the Scherzer
Rolling Lift Bridge Company received a royalty. These royalty fees were
unpopular to the citizenry as well as a hardship on an already cash-strapped city
budget.
In 1899, Ericson's engineers performed a literature review of bridge designs
used in the U.S. and Europe. The goal was to find a bridge design that would
satisfy the design criteria and not have the added cost of royalty fees.
The study results, presented in 1900, concluded that the best bridge for
Chicago was the fixed trunnion bascule bridge. The operation of this bridge is
similar to the rolling lift bridge. It opens by rotating vertically on the river bank
assisted by a large counterweight on the shore end of the bridge. The major
differences between the two bridges is that the fixed trunnion bridge rotates about
A Brief History 28

axles (trunnions) rather than rolling over an area and instead of a track for the
bridge to roll on, a rack and pinion gearing system is employed to raise and lower
the bridge. Illustration 5 (from the 1911 patent of Alexander von Babo) shows the
major elements of the fixed trunnion bascule bridge as implemented by the
Chicago engineering department.

Rack

Counterweight
Trunnion

Pinion

Tail Pit

Illustration 5: Fixed Trunnion Bascule Bridge (drawing from Patent 1,001,800; 1911)

Chicago engineers adapted the concepts of the 1894 Tower Bridge of London
to their situation. The most favorable features of this bridge type were the
relatively simple operating machinery, it was patent-free and thus no royalty-fee,
and the foundation design would be more suited to the subsurface conditions in the
Chicago area because the point of rotation is fixed (unlike the rolling lift design).

The Bridge Division recommended a design that has since been referred to as
A Brief History 29

the Chicago Type bascule bridge. The initial design was not the final word,
however. Many improvements and modifications were made over the next thirty to
forty years. Some changes were made for technical reasons and others due to legal
reasons.
The beginning of the twentieth century was an era of heightened competition
between bridge engineers. There was much to be gained in developing and
patenting successful designs of movable bridges that could be installed at
numerous locations across the country. Understandably, engineers who had
patented designs were eager to have them used. These same engineers were
watchful to ensure that when their designs were used, they received adequate
compensation. Two main legal issues concerning Chicago bridges played out in
the first two decades of the twentieth century.
The first legal issue was raised by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company.
As mentioned above, city engineers determined that the fixed trunnion bascule
bridge was the best choice for Chicago. To no one's surprise, the Scherzer Bridge
Company did not agree with this conclusion and continued to submit bids for
bridge projects. The attractive feature of the early rolling lift bridge was its low
construction cost, generally making it the lowest bid. Once the foundation
problems of the earlier rolling lift bridges were identified, city engineers modified
bridge specifications to address the issue. The Scherzer Bridge Company
submitted a series of bids for projects which ignored these changed specifications.
The city engineering department rejected these low bids as non-compliant and
subsequently built fixed trunnion bridges. The Scherzer Bridge Company sued on
projects in 1905 and 1906 maintaining that their bridges should be built because
they were the lowest bid. The issue was settled after the city engineering
A Brief History 30

department effectively argued their point concerning the deterioration of the tracks
and the expense in maintaining them in the 1906 annual report. The Scherzer
Bridge Company withdrew their suit, although they continued to criticize the city
and its fixed trunnion bascule bridges.
The second legal issue involved a design of the support system of the
trunnions. The trunnion support had to be robust enough to support the bridge leaf
and provide enough room between the trunnions to accommodate the large
counterweight. In 1905, Joseph Strauss patented a design for a trunnion support
that was used on bridges built by the Strauss Bascule Bridge company. The city of
Chicago used a “similar” system patented by one of its own engineers on bridges
built between 1908 and 1922. In 1913, Strauss sued the city for patent
infringement on this design on the West Washington Boulevard bridge. The city
eventually lost the suit in 1920 and, as a result, developed a unique (non patented)
design of their own that was first used in 1927. Ironically, Strauss sued the city of
Seattle in 1929 over the same issue and lost.
The Current Bridges
A discussion of early twentieth century Chicago and its built environment must
include mention of The Chicago Plan published in 1909. The Plan was a long-
range view of what the city could become. It had its roots in the City Beautiful
Movement and the 1893 World's fair held in Chicago. The Commercial Club of
Chicago was the driving force behind the Plan and architect Daniel Burnham was
the mastermind. The focus of the Plan was to create a city that would be free of
the strangling effects of congestion to aid in the conduct of industry and business
while creating a pleasant environment for the residents for the city. The impact of
the Plan on bridges was in two areas. First, their location and design needed to
A Brief History 31

ensure efficient movement of people and goods into and out of Chicago's Loop.
Second, the bridges needed to accomplish their primary objective with a design
that complemented the beauty of the city. While there were some architectural
considerations in the bridge components themselves, most of the architectural
attention was focused on the bridge tender houses, abutments, staircases, and
railings.
An example of the concern for the aesthetics of the bridges is evident in a
statement made by James W. Pattison in 1911. Mr. Pattison, secretary of the
Municipal Art League, said: “The whole trouble with Chicago bridges is that they
are all stock pieces of engineering. It never seemed to occur to anybody to
ornament them. A bridge which is at once sturdy and staunch and beautiful to boot
is what we want here – something graceful in shape and form and which is strong
and useful as if built in the old methodical way. There ought to be some art
deliberately thrust upon Chicago. Chicago can have fine bridges if she will pay for
them. They're expensive, we admit, but they're certainly worthwhile.”1
For the West Washington and West Jackson bridges (the oldest of this group),
the price tag of these architectural features was roughly seven to ten percent of the
total cost. On the bridges that followed, these costs were not publicized separately,
leading to the conclusion that the sentiments expressed by Mr. Pattison were taken
to heart.
Etcetera
One of the early objectives of this chapter was to document, for each of the
bridges, why the bridge is where it is, why it was built when it was built, what
groups influenced these decisions, and what the social impact was on both sides of
the river as a result of the bridge. This objective could not be wholly satisfied.
1 “Want Grace in New Bridges,” Chicago Tribune, May 7, 1911.
A Brief History 32

While documentation of these socio political aspects existed for some of the
bridges, complete documentation for all of the bridges was lacking. There are
some general conclusions that can be inferred from the early histories, particularly
those of Andreas and Pierce. These pieces of information didn't fit nicely into the
earlier prose, so they are now presented as answers to a series of general questions
related to the bridges.
Why are the bridges where they are and how were they paid for?

Early in Chicago's history, river crossings were constructed close to where


people lived. This was near where the North Branch and the South Branch join
(near the Franklin-Orleans Bridge) and near the location of Fort Dearborn
(currently North Michigan and East Wacker). The earliest crossings were in
canoes and obviously required little “engineering.” Later, as the community grew,
there were ferries and small bridges added. These were built by individuals with
the can-do pioneer attitude driven by a combination of entrepreneurial and civic
spirit financed to some extent by the pooled resources of those residents most
affected.
When Chicago incorporated as a town in 1833 and later as a city in 1837, the
process became more formal. The charter of incorporation gave the city trustees
the right and responsibility to build and maintain bridges and license ferries. The
city made the decisions on where formal river crossings were, guided, no doubt, by
citizen input. Not surprisingly, the more prominent citizens had the greatest
influence in these decisions.
Up until 1856, bridges were financed by assessments on those property owners
directly impacted by the bridge. This was not altogether satisfactory for the
property owners because there were a number of property owners who chose not to
A Brief History 33

pay the initial assessment. From the record, it appears that the delinquent funds
were divided among those property owners who had already paid their share.
While there is no specific documentation available, it makes sense that property
owners near the river grew weary of footing the construction bill for bridges that
benefited most or all the citizens of the city. In 1856, the city decided to use
municipal funds to pay for the construction of bridges and all but one bridge since
has been funded in this manner.
Are there examples of “horse-trading” politics?

There were two documented cases of the “horse trading” variety of politics.
The first case was early in the city's history and mentioned earlier. To recap, it
occurred during the late 1830's. The residents of the near north side and the loop
were in disagreement about the need for a bridge in the area near Clark Street.
With the city council evenly divided, the dispute was resolved when two prominent
citizens donated the land to build a Catholic cathedral. The Catholics were
favorably impressed and swayed the city council to support to the building of the
bridge at North Clark Street in 1840.
The second came much later in the construction of the bridge at East Monroe
Street around 1915. The Chicago Plan originally called for Union railway station
to be located near Roosevelt Road (then 12th Street) and the South Branch.
Business and railroad interests opposed the location, fearing a location this far
south would adversely effect businesses in the Loop. The city and the railroads
reached a compromise solution. The city agreed to the current location of Union
Station between West Adams Street and West Jackson Boulevard on the west bank
of the South Branch. In exchange, the railroads, through the Union Station
Company, agreed to pay for the design and construction of a new bridge at West
A Brief History 34

Monroe Street. This is the only “modern” bridge on the Chicago River to have
been built entirely with private funding.
Any evidence of citizen groups influencing the location of bridges?

Citizen lobbying efforts were clearly a part of the bridge story. In newspaper
accounts many groups were named. These groups included The Wabash Bridge
Association, Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, North Clark Street
Improvement Association, La Salle Street Improvement Association, Chicago
Association of Commerce, Franklin-Orleans Bridge Association, The Chicago City
Club, The West Central Association, The Near West Side Business Mens
Association and The West Side Property Owners. It is obvious by their name that
some of these groups were formed for a specific project and once the goals were
accomplished, they no longer needed to exist. The objectives of the other groups
were more general. Documentation of the workings of these groups was
incomplete at best. There were two published accounts that are indicative of the
influence such groups had in matter of bridges.
In 1884, the Committee on Bridges and Street Railways of the Citizen's
Association of Chicago prepared a report which observed “The obstructions to
street traffic caused by the bridges, has also become a question of momentous, if
not of paramount importance to the business interests of the city.”2 Included were
recommendations backed up with traffic counts and documentation of bridge
delays at key bridges of the day. It is not clear what type of action was taken as a
result of this report. However, it seems reasonable to assume this was a group of
influential citizens.
The City Club of Chicago hosted a discussion about a bond issue for bridges at

2 Citizens Association of Chicago, Report of the Committees on Bridges and Street Railways, Geo. K. Hazlitt & Co.,
September 1884.
A Brief History 35

a meeting on March 31, 1911. The primary objective of the meeting was to focus
public attention “toward the important measure.”3 It is unknown what influence
this meeting had on the outcome of the bond election held April 4, 1911, but the
bond was approved by a three to one margin.
What are the socio economic impacts of the bridges?

Social impacts of these bridges may be gaged in economic and cultural terms.
Economic terms are reasonably obvious. A bridge opens up both sides of the
crossing to growth. New routes for commuters opens up the areas to commerce
and residential development. In the case of Michigan Avenue, a graphic published
in the Chicago Tribune4 described the economic impact in terms of the number of
new sky scrapers built within fifteen years of its opening. A total of thirty-three
buildings were built from 1919 to 1935 along Michigan Avenue between Randolph
and Oak streets. Included in these buildings are The Wrigley Building (1920), The
Tribune Tower (1925), the Drake Hotel (1920), the WGN Studio (1935), and Saks
Fifth Avenue (1929).
A more recent example of an impact of a new bridge would be the North
Columbus Drive bridge opened in 1982. A newspaper article5 observed the
growth of the Near North Side that resulted from not only the Michigan Avenue
bridge but also the Clark and Dearborn bridges. It then discussed the possible
effects of the then yet to open Columbus Drive bridge. A comparison of a map of
1982 with one of 2007 shows a significant change of the area bounded by East
Randolph on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, North Michigan Avenue on the
west and East Ontario on the north. While it may be inaccurate to credit this
bridge with all the growth and change that has occurred in this area, it seems clear
3 City Club of Chicago, The City Club Bulletin, Vol IV. Number 6, April 12, 1911.
4 “What a Bridge Can Do,” The Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1937.
5 “When bridges open gateway, development sure to follow,” The Chicago Tribune, May 9, 1982.
A Brief History 36

that this bridge has had an impact.


The separation of social and economic impacts may be somewhat problematic.
However, there are some impacts that can be separated. The impact of the variety
of bridge styles on the ambiance of the Chicago River between Lake Shore Drive
and the Franklin-Orleans bridges is somewhat intangible and hard to quantify, but
it is real.
How many people have,
as their first (and maybe most
endearing) image of Chicago,
the aerial view of the bridges
and the surrounding skyline
(similar to Illustration 6)?
Seven of these bridges have
been featured in thirteen
recent movies (1996-2007).
Illustration 6: An aerial view of the bridges on the Chicago River. (Jet T.
Carl Sandburg wrote a poem Lowe photographer 1999. P&P,HAER,ILL,16-CHIG,137-12)

entitled “The Clark Street Bridge.” The West Madison Street bridge was renamed
the “Lyric Opera Bridge” in honor of the Lyric Opera's 35th season. The Clark
street bridge became a percussion instrument in 2007 as a part of the artists in
Chicago celebration. The Chicago River bridges adorn posters and t-shirts. They
are icons of the city, a part of the fabric of Chicago culture.
Why did Chicago's Bridges have to be movable?

Navigable rivers may be bridged by two different methods. The first is to build
a fixed bridge high enough above the water to allow vessels to pass underneath
unimpeded. This solution has the benefit of relative low maintenance and
A Brief History 37

operational costs. It is a good choice when the river is low relative to the
surrounding land. The second option is to build a lower (relative to the water
surface) bridge that can be moved to allow waterborne traffic to pass.
Chicago was located in a swamp. The river and surrounding land were at
essentially the same elevation. While there have been many interesting
engineering projects in Chicago (reversing the flow of the Chicago River, raising
the elevation of the town between six and ten feet, and the muti-level street
system), using “high” bridges to cross the river while doable, was not feasible.
Therefore, movable bridges were the best solution for Chicago.
As time passed and the commercial Chicago River traffic waned, the number of
lifts has been reduced. A good example of the river traffic reduction can be found
in the annual number of lifts of the North Michigan Avenue bridge. In 1920, its
first year of operation, the Michigan Avenue Bridge was raised 3,377 times. This
number stayed greater than 1,000 through the 1930's. In the 1960's the number
dropped into the hundreds and in 2006, the number was less than 60.
The feasibility of replacing movable bridges with fixed bridges was studied
between 1923 and 1925. A recommendation of this study was to stop building
movable bridges after 1930. In addition, it recommended that fixed bridges should
be 16.5 feet above the river surface.
While these recommendations may have been viable to some, a majority of
interests came out against the notion. A meeting chaired by the US Army Corps of
Engineers in February 1926 provided a forum for public comment. Those opposed
to the notion included railroads, the Chicago Association of Commerce, the Lake
Carriers association, and American Sand and Gravel. At the conclusion of the
public meeting, the presiding officer concluded that “for the present, at least,
A Brief History 38

movable bridges would remain over the Chicago River.”6


As a part of the testimony at this meeting, The Department of Public Works
representative observed that “...loss to land transportation due to traffic jams
caused by opening the present movable bridges is not equal to the loss in land
values of abandoned wharves and water trade incident to building fixed
bridges. ...perhaps in fifteen years.”
Thankfully for this bridge enthusiast, that “fifteen years” is eighty-three years
and counting.
Who were some of the key engineers who helped develop the Chicago Type bridge?

This group of engineers is the author's choice as having the most influence in
the development and early refinement of the Chicago Type bascule bridge.
John E. Ericson, Chicago Bridge Engineer
John Ernst Ericson was born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 21, 1858. He
received his training in civil engineering from the Royal Polytechnic Institute in
Stockholm in 1880 and immigrated to the United States in 1881. He worked in
several areas of civil engineering before becoming the Chicago city engineer in
1897.
Mr. Ericson was instrumental in the process that led to the Chicago-type
bascule bridge. Under Ericson's leadership the engineering department conducted
the search that identified the fixed-trunnion bascule bridge as the best bridge type
for the Chicago River.
As city engineer, Mr. Ericson's name appeared regularly in the Chicago
Tribune. In 19057, he resigned, asking for a leave of absence “to recover his

6 Griffenhagen and Associates, Summary and Outline of the Report on the Chicago River Bridge Survey on the Question
of fixed vs Movable Bridges 1923-1925, Fred J. Ringley Co. Printers, 1925
7 “City Engineer Asks Rest,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 1, 1905
A Brief History 39

health.” In 19068, while still on leave, Mr. Ericson appeared before the Cullerton
graft committee, to defend himself against accusations of graft in a construction
project.
Back in the City Engineer's job in 1908, Ericson was courted by his home town
of Stockholm. He was offered the job of Director of Public Works. Ericson was
“undecided” but that “Because of his thorough Americanization he now fears that
he would not be satisfied with European methods.”9 He did not take the job.
By the time 1910 rolled around, he may have wished he had moved to
Stockholm. It was in January of that year that a scandal concerning the Rogers
Park water plant broke. In a span of eight months, Mr. Ericson was: angrily
confronted the mayor; indicted by a grand jury; took another leave of absence, and
hit by a street car. Ultimately, he was found not guilty on the charges brought
against him, and reinstated in the City Engineer position by the end of that eventful
year.
He continued to have an interesting relationship with the pols in city hall. He
had conflicts in 1914 and 1919. The conflict in 1919 led to his dismissal.
However, he was again appointed City Engineer in 1923, when the current resident
(Alexander Murdoch) of that office fell out of favor with the public works
commissioner.10 He served in the position until his death on April 16, 1927. In a
dedication in 1933, a memorial commemorating Ericson's service, stated that he
was city engineer from 1897-1927, “with the exception of four years in a
consulting capacity.”
John Ericson's name appears on the bridge plaques at West Lake Street, North

8 “Hot Reply by Ericson,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 23, 1906


9 “Stockholm Asks For Ericson,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1908
10 Chicago Tribune Articles: “Engineers Face Fire of Council,” November 15, 1914; “John Ericson Put on Skids by City Hall,”
June 21, 1919; “Sprague Ousts City Engineer After Clash,” May 19, 1923; and “”City to Honor Pioneer Water Builders,”
June 11, 1933.
A Brief History 40

Franklin-Orleans Street, North Wells Street, and West Madison street.


Joseph B. Strauss, Bridge Engineer
Joseph B. Strauss was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on January 1, 1870. He
received his training at the University of Cincinnati, graduating in 1892. In his
early career, he worked for New Jersey Iron and Steel and the Chicago Public
Works department. In 1902, he opened his own firm.
His early consulting work focused on the improvement of bascule bridges. On
September 20, 1911 he was granted Patent No. 995,813. This documented the
design details for the support of the trunnions. Disagreement about the originality
of this detail would ultimately result in a lawsuit with the city of Chicago.
Joseph Strauss and his company built many bridges, but he is most famous as
the lead engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Mr. Strauss died on
May 16, 1938.
Mr. Strauss's engineering firm worked on two of the current bridges along
Wacker Drive. These are at North Lake Shore Drive and West Jackson Boulevard.
Alexander F. Von Babo, Chicago Bridge Engineer
Mr. Von Babo was born on May 27, 1854 in Heidelberg, Germany and he died
in Chicago on April 28, 1920. He immigrated to the United States in 1886. The
first Chicago reference for Mr. Von Babo appears in the Chicago Tribune in 1892.
It appears that his employer, Siemans and Halske, was trying to find space at the
1893 World's Fair for a display and he was involved in that process. Mr. Von Babo
is described as “the American representative of the firm at New York.”11
Newspaper articles from 1894-95 imply that Mr. Von Babo moved to Chicago
at some point. His name doesn't appear in a technical context. Instead, he is listed
as a guest at the wedding of the German Consul, a member of the Germania
11 “Has Had No Success,” Chicago Tribune dated February 10, 1892.
A Brief History 41

Maennerchor, and an attendee at a Western Engineers banquet.12


Mr. von Babo was involved in the effort that identified the fixed trunnion
bascule bridge as “Chicago's bridge” in 1900. And on August 29, 1911, he was
granted patent No. 1,001,800. This patent was significant because it moved the
rack from the outside of the bridge trusses to the inside. Illustration 7 shows von
Babo's patent drawings of the original Chicago-type bridge configuration (right
hand side) and von Babo's innovation (left hand side). This innovation paved the
way for the use of more attractive and varied trusses on the second generation
bridges. He worked for the city until 1915.

Rack

Pinion

Illustration 7: Alexander von Babo's Major Contribution to the Chicago Type Bascule Bridge (drawing
taken from the 1911 patent)

He worked directly on the West Washington Boulevard bridge and his name
appears on the bridge plaque on the West Lake Street bridge. However, the impact
12 “Miss Vocke Weds a Vice Consul,” Chicago Tribune, September 18, 1894; “Men Fromm the Rhine,” Chicago Tribune,
November 25, 1894; and “All Known by Work,” Chicago tribune, January 3, 1895.
A Brief History 42

of his design innovation is much wider than his connection to specific bridges.
Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Chicago Bridge Engineer
Thomas G. Pihlfeldt was born on October 11, 1858 in Vadso, Norway. He
received his engineering training in Germany. Pihlfeldt immigrated to the United
States on August 25, 1879. His first jobs in the Chicago area were as a draftsman
in Chicago engineering firms. In 1889 he began work for the Chicago Bureau of
Maps. Pihlfeldt transferred to the Division of Bridges in 1894. He became an
Assistant Engineer of Bridges in 1896 and was promoted to Engineer of Bridges in
1901. He was awarded the Order of St. Olaf by the King of Norway in 1932. He
worked in the bridge division until his death on January 23, 1941.
Mr. Pihlfeldt's impact can be observed by the number of bridge plaques around
the city that bear his name. Of the bridges along Wacker Drive, nine plaques
(Washington; Lake; Michigan; Franklin-Orleans; Wells; Madison; Adams; La
Salle; Clark; and Wabash) bear his name.
Probably his most innovative work came in the replacement of the double deck
center pier swing bridges at West Lake and North Wells streets. Both bridges
carried a large volume of train traffic on their upper deck. It was important to the
economy of the city that this train traffic not be interrupted for an inordinate period
of time. His solution was to maintain train traffic on the elevated tracks on the old
swing bridge while the bascule bridge leaves were constructed in the vertical
position. When the bascule bridge was completed, the old swing bridge was
rotated open, cut up and removed via the river and the bascule bridge was lowered.
The decking on the upper deck was then installed. On his first try at the West Lake
Street bridge, traffic was interrupted for seven days. On his second try at North
Wells, the break in train service was only three days.
A Brief History 43

Pihlfeldt did not escape political troubles in his tenure. In 1920, he was fired
(along with Hugh Young) for what today would be called a “conflict of interest.”
He was the president of the “Chicago Bascule Bridge Company” and he was
accused of using city property and personnel in his private business. The Chicago
chapter of the American Association of Engineers came to Mr. Pihlfeldt's defense,
with little apparent success. After about a year, Mr. Pihlfeldt was reinstated after
apologizing to the commissioner of public works.13
Edward H. Bennett, Chicago Architect
Edward Bennett was born in Wiltshire, England on May 12, 1874. He received
his architectural education at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1903 he joined
forces with Daniel Burnham in a design competition for West Point. Although
their design for West Point was not chosen, a professional bond was formed. Their
most significant collaboration for Chicago was the Plan of Chicago of 1909.
The primary focus of Bennett's long career was city planning. As a strong
proponent of the City Beautiful Movement and as a result of his training in Paris, he
worked to soften the hard edges of the city in the attempt to produce a more
humane environment. In addition to the Chicago Plan, he developed plans for
Detroit, Minneapolis, and Portland, Oregon, among others. He died in Tryon, New
York on October 15, 1954.
Bennett worked as a consultant with the Chicago Plan Commission until his
position was eliminated in 1930. His impact on the bridges along Wacker Drive is
most obvious in the architectural details of the bridge tender houses, foundation
facades, railings, and staircases. Although the bridges were designed and
continually improved by the engineers, Mr. Bennett's contributions visually
13 Chicago Tribune articles: “Francis Tells Why He Fired City Engineers,: May 1, 1920; “Demand mayor Oust Francis, Merit
Board,” August 7, 1920; “Francis Claims Engineers Took City's Best Men,” August 8, 1920; “Hurl Charges of 'Frameup' in
Pihlfeldt Case,”August 9, 1920; T. G. Pihlfeldt Opens Fight to Regain City Job,” September 1, 1920; and “Pihlfeldt Gets His
Job as Bridge Engineer,” April 30, 1921.
A Brief History 44

softened the utilitarian nature of the structures. He worked on ten of the bridges
along Wacker Drive (Washington, Jackson, Lake, Monroe, Michigan, Franklin-
Orleans, Wells, Madison, Adams, and La Salle).
Hugh E. Young, Chicago Bridge Engineer
Hugh Young was associated with ten of the bridges along Wacker Drive (Lake,
Monroe, Franklin-Orleans, Michigan, Madison, Wells, La Salle, Clark, Wabash,
and Lake Shore). Even so, there is very limited information available about him.
He was born in 1883 and died in 1951. His first association with a bridge along
Wacker Drive was in 1916 when the bridge at West Lake Street was built. He
worked for the city bridge engineering department and the Chicago Plan
Commission during his career. Judging from the information on the bridge
plaques, he transferred to the plan commission in 1928. He became more
influential in bridge issues when Edward Bennett's position was eliminated in
1930. One of his first decisions following the departure of Bennett was to
“modernize” the original design on the bridge tender houses of the North Lake
Shore Drive bridge.
Donald N Becker, Chicago Bridge Engineer
Donald Becker was born in Ithaca, NY on March 25, 1888. He received his
engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1908. His early career
included time as an instructor at Rensselaer and as a draftsman in Chicago
engineering firms. He joined the Chicago Bridge Engineering Department in 1912
and worked there until 1943. He died in California in December of 1977.
Mr. Becker was, no doubt, a competent and gifted engineer. However, his most
significant contribution to the Chicago bridge story was his paper entitled
“Development of the Chicago Type Bridge” published in the February 1943
A Brief History 45

Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers. This well-written history


is a valuable resource. Mr. Becker's name appears on bridge plaques on the
Adams, La Salle, Clark, and Wabash street bridges.
A Word About Safety

Illustration 8: The North La Salle Street Bridge Raised

The primary motivating factor in the development of the Chicago Type Bascule
bridge was opening the Chicago River channel for navigation. However, crossing
safety was a major side benefit of the bascule bridge. The leaf of a bascule bridge,
when raised, provides a barrier to land based traffic – a fairly obvious indication
that the bridge is drawn (an example is shown in Illustration 8)
The center pier swing bridges had no such barrier. In fact, accounts of the
period indicate that it was standard practice for pedestrians and wagons to ride the
bridge as it swung into the open position. Stories of impatient pedestrians leaping
onto the bridge as it began to open and unfortunate souls driving their wagons into
A Brief History 46

the river because they failed to observe the open bridge are easy to find in
newspapers of the mid 1800's. Gates were installed at these bridges, but they did
not provide the same degree of protection as a several hundred ton bridge leaf.
This is not to say that the bascule bridges are without their safety issues. There
are stories of mishaps, but their number is greatly reduced from the center pier
swing bridge era.
Conclusion
The primary driving force that led to the development of the movable bridges
in downtown Chicago is gone. Most commercial waterborne traffic now enters the
Illinois waterway through Calumet Harbor. The boat traffic on the Chicago River
consists of pleasure craft and a few barges. The large cargo vessels of yesterday
have given way to daily summer traffic of water taxis, tour boats, and private
motor boats. Most of these vessels do not need bridge lifts. Bridge openings, once
a daily nuisance, are now scheduled to aid in the seasonal movement of sailboats,
providing an indication of the onset of summer or fall, rather than bustling
commerce.
These bridges are monuments to eras gone by. A reminder of the earliest
beginnings of Chicago and all of the challenges the city has had and has met.
These working sculptures have stories to tell. They are functional, certainly, but
there is beauty in their form, not unlike classic automobiles. They are industrial
art. They conjure up images of times past and an appreciation of the ingenuity of
their designers.
These bridges are also key components to the transportation system of a
modern city. Next time you are near one of these river crossings at rush hour, stop
and look at all the people crossing the bridges on foot and in vehicles. Now,
A Brief History 47

imagine the city without these bridges.


The City of Chicago has done an excellent job in maintaining and updating
these bridges. I'm sure if you cross one of these bridges daily, it has faded into the
background - the white noise of your day. But, as a number of these second
generation bridges approach their one hundredth year of service, take a fresh look
at these old friends. We all know that nothing lasts forever. One day these bridges
will be replaced, possibly by fixed bridges. Take some time now to marvel at their
length of service, appreciate their beauty, and reflect upon the changes they have
seen in this city as well as the future that lay ahead.
Engineering 48

Introduction
Merriam-Webster defines an engineer as: “ a person who carries through an
enterprise by skillful or artful contrivance.” There are the tangible aspects of being an
engineer such as successfully acquiring the skill and training necessary to earn the title
of engineer. A natural curiosity as to how things work and the ability to effectively solve
problems are also important. This problem solving can involve new and untried
approaches as well as adaptation of existing solutions to the current problem. It is also
important to appreciate and understand the history of engineering projects to avoid past
mistakes. Exercising the judgment necessary to achieve the balance between “pushing
the envelope” and the reluctance to “reinvent the wheel” within the economic constraints
is the key to a successful design. For the most part, these attributes can be acquired
through education and experience.
However, there are also some intangible qualities that separate the good from the
elite. In engineering, adjectives such as invention and art also enter the definition.
Invention, is the ability “to produce (as something useful) for the first time through the
use of the imagination or of ingenious thinking and experiment.” Art, is “skill acquired
by experience, study, or observation”; “the conscious use of skill and creative
imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.”
Today's technology-obsessed society may have the perception that engineering
advances and designs are made along clearly defined theoretical paths, prescribed by
almost “cook-book” procedures, and made fail-safe by technology. While engineering
has progressed to a more advanced state than existed in the nineteenth century, there is
still a significant amount of “art” involved in the process. All of the sophisticated tools
of our current era may help fine-tune some of the details, but they will not mitigate the
need for the intangible aspect of “art” or judgment in the design process.
The development of the Chicago Type bascule bridge is a good example of evolution
of an engineering solution. A need was identified – a means to cross the Chicago River
Engineering 49

that was a reasonable compromise between the competing interests of waterborne


and land based transportation. Had there only been the need for a single crossing,
the process would have involved much less development. However, the need for
many crossings in a relatively short distance of river necessitated the search for a
more general solution. A solution that could take advantage of the economies of
scale in construction, operation, and maintenance.
As discussed in the last chapter, there were several approaches over
approximately sixty-six years (1834 to 1900). These involved ferries, floating
draw bridges, tunnels, center pier swing bridges, lift span bridges, rolling lift
bascule bridges, and finally fixed trunnion bascule bridges. Each subsequent
solution was an improvement on the earlier one.
The Chicago Type bascule bridges that are found along Wacker Drive today are
the result of modernization and perfection of an idea borne in the Middle Ages.
From the earliest in this group built in 1913 at West Washington Boulevard, to the
last one built at West Randolph Street in 1984, there has been a constant
improvement on the basic concept.
The goal for the development of the Chicago Type bascule bridge was to have a
general patent-free design that could be specialized for the conditions at a
particular location. Cost was the primary motivator, but it seems analogous to the
spirit in the open-source software community today. The notion that sharing ideas
and allowing the technical community to modify and improve aspects of the design
ultimately leads to a better overall product. This was the case for the Chicago
Type bascule bridge.
The Basic Definitions and Concepts
All eighteen of these bridges were built between 1913 and 1984. Every bridge
Engineering 50

in this group is described as a: Chicago Type, Fixed Trunnion, Double Leaf,


Bascule. While quite a mouthful, this description can be broken down as follows:
✗ Chicago Type means that the design evolved from research done in the late
1890's by the Chicago Bridge Department;
✗ These bridges rotate vertically about fixed axles or trunnions on the river
bank;
✗ A leaf is the portion of the bridge deck that spans half of the river - thus
Double Leaf;
✗ Bascule describes a family of draw bridges that use counterweights to assist
in the vertical movement of bridge leaf.
Other descriptive terms used are:
✔ Bridge tenders house is the structure at the entrance to the bridge that
houses the control equipment to raise the bridge. There may be as many as
four, or only one on a bridge.
✔ Rack and pinion is the gearing system that moves the bridge. The pinion is
a round gear driven by an electric motor. This gear is meshed in a toothed
track (rack) attached to the bridge leaf. As the pinion is rotated by the
motor, it moves the track which in turn raises or lowers the bridge leaf.
✔ Deck is the horizontal surface that carries the traffic over the river. A double
deck bridge carries two levels of traffic over the river.
✔ Tail pit is the area below the road surface at the rivers' edge. It
accommodates the counterweight and lifting machinery of the bridge.
✔ Counterweight is a mass of material that aids in the rotation of the leaf.
✔ “Beaux-Arts style” is often used to describe the bridge tender houses of
these Second Generation bridges. This term is used to describe architectural
Engineering 51

design features characteristic of concepts taught at the Ecole de Beaux Arts


in Paris.
The operation of a fixed trunnion bascule bridge is modeled after a balanced
seesaw. On the playground, a balanced seesaw has both the weights and the
distances (arms) from the pivot point equal (W = CW and d = dCW in Ill. 1).
However, for a bridge, having the length of the arm on the counterweight side of
the pivot point equal in length to the bridge leaf is impractical.

Leaf Side d CW Counterweight


d
Side

W CW

System Center of Gravity


(pivot point)
Illustration 1: Balanced Seesaw with Equal Weights and
Distances

The concept of torque can be used to modify the design of the seesaw in
Illustration 1. Using a wrench to loosen a nut is a good example of torque. The
force applied at the end of the wrench results in rotational force (torque) applied to
the nut. If you have had to loosen a particularly stubborn nut, you have no doubt
noticed that a longer wrench is more effective than a shorter one. This is because
the amount of torque is calculated by multiplying the applied force by its distance
from the pivot point. Equivalent torques can be produced by either changing the
amount of force applied or by modifying distance from the force to the pivot point.
In the playground seesaw shown above with everything being equal, the
torques are also equal. To maintain a balanced seesaw with different arm lengths,
the weights will have to change accordingly. In the example in Illustration 2,
reducing the counterweight arm by one-fourth, requires that the weight of the
counterweight be increased by a factor of four. The seesaw of Illustration 2
Engineering 52

represents the bridge leaf of the fixed trunnion bascule bridge.

d/4
d
Leaf Side Counterweight
CW = 4W Side
W

System Center of Gravity


(pivot point)

Illustration 2: Balanced Seesaw with Unequal Weights and


Distances

In Illustrations 1 and 2, the pivot point is also labeled the center of gravity.
The center of gravity is an imaginary point on a structure where the total weight of
the individual members of the structure can be assumed to act. For a leaf in a fixed
trunnion bascule bridge, the center of gravity and pivot point (trunnion) of the leaf
are roughly in the same location. Illustration 3 is a photograph of one of the
trunnions on the North Michigan Avenue bridge.
Engineering 53

Trunnion

Illustration 3: A Trunnion at the North Michigan


Avenue Bridge (HAER ILL, 16-CHIG, 129-16)

The fact that the bridge leaves are balanced about the trunnion means that a
relatively small amount of energy is necessary to raise and lower the bridge. For
example, the North Michigan Avenue bridge leaf which weighs approximately
4,000 tons is opened using by an electric motor rated at about 125 horsepower (or
about the size of the engine in the subcompact Honda Fit). The drawing of the
lifting mechanism on the West Jackson Boulevard Bridge is shown in Illustration
4.
Engineering 54

Trunnion
Rack

Leaf

Motor

Pinion

Illustration 4: Drawing of the Lifting Mechanism of the


West Jackson Boulevard Bridge (Courtesy of the Chicago
Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering)

Sixteen of these bridges use trusses to support the bridge leaf. A truss is a
structural element consisting of an upper and a lower horizontal member (the
chords) separated by a number of short pieces formed into combinations of
triangular shapes. The truss was a medieval idea that was adapted by U. S.
engineers for bridge construction in the 1800's. The truss is a strong, relatively
light, quick to fabricate, and inexpensive alternative to beams when spanning
relatively long distances. These features were all important to the railroads
crossing the country. This widespread use made the truss the primary structural
element type for bridges.
There are four truss configurations used on these bridges: through, deck, pony,
and rail-height. The choice of configuration is based on a compromise of
aesthetics and practicality. In general, a bridge with all its support below the deck
is considered to be the most attractive. Whether this is possible is dependent upon
the truss depth necessary to support the bridge loads. If there is enough room
Engineering 55

between the bridge deck and the water surface, the truss could be installed below
the deck. If, on the other hand, the bridge deck is near the water surface, the truss
may have to be built above the deck.
A through truss has the road deck resting on the bottom chord of the truss.
Bracing above the roadway holds the two trusses together and traffic passes
through the trusses. This configuration is generally considered to be the least

Illustration 5: An Example of a Through Truss - North Wells Stree Bridge


attractive of the four types. The North Wells Street (Illustration 5) and West Lake
Street bridges are the only through truss bridges of the eighteen discussed here.
A deck truss has the road deck on the top chord of the truss. The West Jackson
Boulevard (shown in Illustration 6) is an example of a deck truss bridge. In

Illustration 6: An Example of a Deck Truss - West Jackson Boulevard Bridge


Engineering 56

addition to the West Jackson Boulevard bridge, deck trusses are used at West
Adams Street, North Lake Shore Drive, and North Michigan Avenue.
The pony truss has the road deck neither on top of the trusses nor at the base of
the trusses. The truss is visible from the road surface but there are no overhead
supports connecting the trusses. This truss type was used as a compromise
between function and aesthetics. Looking at the five bridges that use pony trusses,
it is easy to see an evolution from primarily function in the earliest bridge
(Washington Boulevard) to the graceful lines of the later bridges. The Franklin-
Orleans Street Bridge (Illustration 7) is a good example of the graceful

Illustration 7: An Example of a Pony Truss - North franklin-Orleans Street Bridge


implementation of this type of truss. In addition to the bridge at North Franklin-
Orleans Street, bridges at North La Salle Street, North Clark Street, West
Washington Boulevard, and West Monroe Street use pony trusses.
The rail-height truss was a clever implementation of the pony truss. The truss
top is above the road surface, but by only about three feet (the height of the
handrails). This gives the bridge the appearance of deck truss from afar and does
not block the view from the bridge deck as much as either the pony or through
trusses do. Illustration 8 shows a view along the deck of the bridge at West
Madison street as an example. In addition to the bridge at West Madison Street,
the bridges at North Dearborn Street, North State Street, North Wabash Street, and
Engineering 57

West Van Buren Street use rail-height trusses.

Rail Height Truss

Illustration 8: An Example of a Rail Height Truss - West Madison Street Bridge

The newest bridges use box girders instead of trusses. The hollow girders for
the bridges at North Columbus and West Randolph Street are fabricated from four
pieces of steel. Illustration 9 provides a view of the girders on the West Randolph
Street Bridge.

Illustration 9: Box Girders used to support the West Randolph Street Bridge
Engineering 58

The top-side elements (leaf, counterweight, rack and pinion, bridge tender
house, etc.) of the bridge make up the superstructure of the bridge. This
superstructure is supported by an equally important substructure made up of the
abutment and tail pit. These components, at the West Washington Boulevard
bridge, are shown in Illustration 10. (Also note the location of the counterweight
on this drawing.)
The least visible, and maybe the most important, component of the bridge is the
foundation. The foundation is the underlying support system that transmits the
weight of the bridge to the underlying geological material.

Leaf Up
Bridge Tender House

Trunnion

Leaf Down

Counter Weight
(leaf down)

Abutment
Tail Pit
Counter Weight
(leaf up)

Pier Pier

Illustration 10: Drawing Showing the Substructure of the West Washington Boulevard
Bridge (Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering)
Engineering 59

A successful foundation provides adequate support for a structure with little


settlement and no differential settlement. Generally, there will be some settlement
after a new structure is completed. Uniform settlement, where all parts of the
structure move the same amount, is not usually a problem. Differential settlement,
where one part of the structure is subjected to more than another part, is a problem.
This is the type of settlement that causes the cracks in the load bearing walls of a
home.
Foundations are classified as either shallow or deep. Shallow foundations are
used when the near surface soils are strong enough to support the structure. These
foundations are commonly used on smaller structures such as single family homes.
For more massive structures, deep foundations are used. The function of the deep
foundation is to transmit the structural loading to a lower subsurface material,
usually rock, that is strong enough to support the weight.

As noted in the previous chapter, the Chicago area is an old lake bed
underlying the surface soils which are a mixture of glacial and lake deposits
resulting in ground that is generally wet, unstable, and weak. Therefore, Chicago
bridges use deep foundations consisting of piles or piers. In Chicago, these
foundations range from 40 to 120 feet below the surface and are founded in either
hard clay or rock. The bridges in this group use piers to transmit structural loads to
bedrock. These piers are spanned by the bridge abutment structure as shown in
Illustration 10.
Engineering 60

Design Specifications/Bridge Classification


The basic design specifications for these bridges are deceptively simple. The
bridge leaves need to rotate out of the channel far enough to let ships pass, or about
80°. Under ideal weather conditions, the bridge is designed to open in about one
minute. In high-wind conditions, the bridges open in about two and a half minutes.
These requirements were factored into the first design (1900) and maintained in
all subsequent designs. How these requirements were achieved varied some over
the period of time that these bridges were designed and built. In the discussion that
follows, bridge classification systems used by architectural historian Joan Draper
(1984) and Chicago engineer Donald Becker (1943) are combined.
Draper divided the Chicago Type bridges into four distinct eras. First
Generation bridges were built from 1902 to 1910. Bridges built during this era
were somewhere between prototype and final product. Second Generation bridges
were built between 1910 and 1930. Becker divided the Second Generation into
two sub-eras. Bridges designed between 1910 and 1923 are considered to be in the
improvement phase or phase one. In phase one, experience with the First
Generation bridges was used to modify and improve (“fix”) the shortcomings of
the initial basic design. Bridges designed after 1923 are considered to be in the
refinement phase or phase two. Phase two bridges were characterized by design
modifications that improved the basic design beyond the basic “fix-it” stage as
well as eliminating any patented features. Third Generation bridges were
designed during the depression years (1930-1939). Bridges built after World War
II are considered to be Fourth Generation bridges. Even though refinements
continued during these last two periods, the basic design had been well-tested and
established by the end of the 1920's.
Engineering 61

First Generation Bridges 1902-1910


There are no first generation
bridges built along Wacker Drive,
Racks
but from an evolutionary point of
view, it is of interest to include
them in our discussion. A good
example of the first generation
bridge is located at the West
Cortland Street crossing of the
North Branch of the Chicago
Illustration 11: First Generation Chicago-type bascule Bridge built
River (Illustration 11). This at West Cortland Avenue. Note the location of the racks in the
trusses. (Jet T. Lowe, photographer, P&P,HAER,ILL,16-
bridge, the first of its type, was CHIG,136-3, 1987)

opened in 1902.
The first generation design of the Chicago Type bascule bridge was a two leaf,
single deck bridge. Each leaf was characterized by three through trusses. The total
width of the bridge was sixty feet. Trusses were spaced at twenty-one feet on
center, and the sidewalks were carried by nine foot cantilever brackets. The pivot
bearings were four feet back from the center lines of the river piers and were
carried by box girders spanning the pit in the abutments. The lifting mechanism
consisted of external racks in the curved end of the trusses. Pinions in the tail pit
meshed with the racks and raised or lowered the bridge. As the bridge was raised,
the curved end of the trusses descended into the tail pit.
Engineering 62

The machinery to lift the


bridge was located under the
roadway approach. There was a
Rack
thirty-eight horsepower electric
motor on each truss of the leaf.
The bridge leaf was designed Pinion

such that the center of gravity


of the leaf was on the river side
of the pivot point. This
Illustration 12: View of the Lifting Machinery of the Cortland Street
prevented the bridge from Bridge. Note the meshing of the rack and pinion. (Jet. T. Lowe,
photographer, P&P,HAER,ILL,16-CHIG,136-6, 1987)
Area of rotating upward on its own under traffic
Illustration
12 loading.
Trunion and support Illustration 12 shows the machinery pit
Tail Pit for the Cortland bridge. The framing in the
Counter Weight pit as well as the rack and pinion mesh
point is visible.
Illustration 13: Engineering Sketch of A First A sketch of a single leaf of a first
Generation Chicago-type bascule Bridge (Becker,
1943) generation bridge is shown in Illustration
13. This illustration provides an overview of the key components of the bridge.
Note the location of the operating machinery shown in Illustration 12, as well as
the counter weight and the trunnion / trunnion support.
For this generation of bridges, the primary goal was build a functional (no-
nonsense) bridge. Because these bridges predate the 1909 Chicago Plan,
aesthetics were not major considerations in their designs. While these bridges are
not necessarily unattractive, they do lack the flair of the second generation bridges.
Engineering 63

Second Generation Bridges 1910 - 1930


Phase One 1910-1923: This era in the development of the Chicago-type
bascule bridge was marked by design improvements and more attention to
aesthetics. The most visible difference between the First Generation and Second
Generation bridges is the fact that the number of trusses was reduced from three to
two. The two truss design provided a larger clear space for the counter weight.
This allowed the counter weight to be constructed of “heavy” relatively
inexpensive concrete instead of expensive cast iron. This provided a significant
cost savings in material as well as construction costs.
The two truss design also necessitated a different approach to the trunnion
support system. The basic design of the trunnion area involved two longitudinal
girders (front-to-back) which transmitted the leaf loads to the counterweight pit. A
cross girder between these two longitudinal girders was used to support the
trunnions. This design placed the counterweight at the very end of the leaf at all
stages of rotation. This maximized the leverage of the counterweight which in turn
allowed for a shortening of the rear portion of the leaf, reducing material costs and
space.
A major operational change came with Alexander von Babo's invention of an
internal rack in the plane of the truss. This invention moved the rack from the
outer edge of the truss to a location on the trunnion side of the truss (see
Illustration 7 in Chapter 2). This development allowed for a wider opening of the
bridge and a cleaner, more trouble free operation because debris caught in the racks
would not dump debris onto the pinion shaft. This was a significant change from
an operational point of view, but it also improved the overall aesthetics of the
bridge. Use of this rack eliminated the need for through trusses and opened the
Engineering 64

door for the use of pony, rail height, and deck trusses.
Elevations of the eight bridges built during this era are shown in Illustrations
14 and 15. These elevations are shown in chronological order. In general, these
bridges have more graceful arching both on top and bottom than the those in the
First Generation. The arching in the bottom chords was used to maximize water
clearance. It is important to remember that while each of these bridges is distinctly
different in appearance, the basic operational aspects of each of these bridges are
the same. It is also clear to see the impact of The Chicago Plan on these bridges.
With each bridge, more attention is given to the architectural details of the bridge
tender houses, the approaches, and railings.
Three of the bridges in this group are unique because they are double deck
bridges. The bridges at West Lake and North Wells streets carry trains on their
upper decks and foot and vehicular traffic on their lower decks. Except for some
minor site specific details the designs are identical.
The bridge at North Michigan Avenue carries vehicular traffic on both decks.
The two decks were designed to mesh with the multilevel street system that was in
the planning stages at the same time as the bridge. The 1909 Chicago Plan called
for this multilevel street system to be built on both sides of the Chicago River. Due
to financial issues, the multilevel street was only fully completed on the south bank
of the river.
Engineering 65

171'

West Washington Boulevard – 1913 (Two Pony Trusses)

176'

West Jackson Boulevard- 1916 (Two Deck Trusses)

209'

West Lake Street – 1916 (Two Through Trusses – Double-deck train over roadway)

166'

West Monroe Street – 1919 (Two Pony Trusses)


Illustration 14: Second Generation, Phase One Bridges Built Between 1913 and 1919 (Courtesy of
the Chicago Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering - Bridges not drawn to same
scale)
Engineering 66

220'

North Michigan Avenue – 1920 (Four Deck Trusses – Double-deck road over road)

220'

North Franklin-Orleans Street – 1920 (Two Pony Trusses)

231'

North Wells Street – 1922 (Two Through Trusses – Double-deck train over road)

189'

West Madison Street – 1922 (Two Rail-height Trusses)

Illustration 15: Second Generation, Phase One Bridges Built Between 1920 and 1922 (Courtesy of the Chicago
Department of transportation, Division of Engineering - Bridges are not drawn to the same scale)
Engineering 67

Phase Two 1923-1930: After the city of Chicago lost the lawsuit on the
trunnion support design to the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, city engineers
were given the task to develop a bridge without patented design features including
von Babo's internal rack. The rack was moved out of the plane of the truss to the
side of the truss. The trunnions were supported by one of two systems. The first
system supported the trunnions on longitudinal girders across the tail pit (front-to-
back). A brace running from the trunnion to the outer edge of the tail pit held the
trunnions plumb. The second system used a curved, tapered girder running from
front-to-back of the tail pit. This second system was used on the La Salle street
bridge and is shown in Illustration 16.
The bridges built in this era are shown chronologically in Illustration 17. Like
the earlier Second Generation bridges, ornamentation and aesthetics are prominent
features of the design.

Illustration 16: Trunnion Support used in the La Salle


Street Bridge HAER-IL-66
Engineering 68

173'

West Adams Street – 1927 (Two Deck Trusses)

220'

North La Salle Street – 1928 (Two Pony Trusses)

215'

North Clark Street – 1929 (Two Pony Trusses)

232'

North Wabash Avenue – 1930 (Two Rail-height Trusses)


Illustration 17: Second Generation, Phase Two Bridges 1927 - 1930 (Courtesy of the Chicago
Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering - Bridges are not drawn to same scale)
Engineering 69

Third Generation Bridges Depression Era – 1930's.


The only two bridges that are associated with this era are shown in Illustration
18. The primary reason is not due to the fact that they were built in this era, but
they were designed during this era. While the aspects of their design do not vary
greatly from the bridges built previously, they did push the envelope on the traffic
loads they were expected to carry. The North Lake Shore Drive bridge is a double
deck bridge that has eight lanes of traffic on the upper deck and six lanes of traffic
on the lower deck. The State street bridge carries eight lanes of traffic.

220'

Lake Shore Drive – 1937 (Four Deck Trusses – Double deck – road over road)

210'

North State Street – 1949 (Three Rail Height Trusses)


Illustration 18: Third Generation Bridges (Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation,
Division of Engineering - Bridges not drawn to same scale)
Engineering 70

Fourth Generation Bridges - Post WWII


The four bridges built in this era are shown in Illustration 19. These bridges
have less ornate architectural features described by Joan Draper as, the
international modernism style. This style is characterized by the cubic forms and
flat roofs.
The bridges at West Van Buren and North Dearborn streets continued to use the
rail height trusses of the earlier eras. The bridges at North Columbus Avenue and
West Randolph Street used steel box girders instead of trusses. All of these bridges
have only one bridge tender house.
During this era, the City of Chicago modified all bridges to operate from a
single bridge tender house to reduce operation costs.
Summary
The eighteen bridges along Wacker Drive provide a wide variety of bridge
styles demonstrating the engineering evolution of the Chicago Type bascule bridge.
In this author's opinion, the twelve Second Generation bridges (1910-1930)
represent the golden age of bridge design in Chicago. These twelve bridges
provide a pleasing variety of designs not visible in the Third and Fourth Generation
bridges.
Engineering 71

182'

West Van Buren Street – 1956 (Three Rail Height Trusses)

200'

North Dearborn Street – 1963 (Two Rail Height Trusses)

182'

North Columbus Drive – 1982 (Box Girder)

164'

West Randolph Street – 1984 (Box Girder)


Illustration 19: Fourth Generation Bridges (Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation,
Division of Engineering - Bridges not drawn to same scale)
The Bridges 72

Introduction
The previous chapters looked at Chicago history as it relates to these bridges and
discussed some bridge engineering features. The remainder of the book is devoted to
the bridges themselves. However, before each bridge is discussed, some common
aspects of the group are summarized.
How old are the current bridges?

These bridges range in age from 25 (West Randolph Street) to 96 (West Washington
Avenue) years. The median age of this group is 82 years.
Why are these bridges still operated?

The Chicago River is considered a navigable waterway. As such, the federal


government requires that there be no barriers (including bridge leaves) to waterborne
traffic.
Why do these old bridges operate as well as they do?

It is important to keep in mind that old structures and machinery can remain safe
and functional for a long period of time. We see it in buildings like the 116 year-old
Monadnock Building (located at West Jackson Boulevard and South Dearborn Street).
There are also examples in restored automobiles, and in aircraft (the B52-H bomber has
been in service for 45 years).
These bridges are certainly another good example of long lived structures. The key
to this longevity is a good maintenance, inspection, and rehabilitation program. The
Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) maintains an extensive maintenance and
repair program on these bridges. The annual budget is approximately ten million dollars
for the 250 bridges under their purview (or about forty thousand dollars each). This
maintenance program involves bi-annual inspections, annual power washing, and
painting at least once every ten years. All of the bridges in this group, with the
exception of the bridges at North Dearborn Street (built 1963), West Van Buren Street
The Bridges 73

(built 1956), North Columbus Drive (built 1982), West Randolph Street (built
1984), and North La Salle Street (rehabilitated 1971), have been reconstructed or
rehabilitated within the last twenty years.

How “true” to the original bridge architectural details are the current bridges?

For the most part, the city has done a reasonable job of maintaining the intent
of Edward Bennett's vision for the Second Generation bridges. However, there
have been modifications (railings, window replacement, bridge tender house
ornamentation, etc.) on some bridges that have diminished the original beauty. It is
not unlike the choices we all make in remodeling a house or restoring a car. Can it
be restored to “original” and can we afford it? If not, what is a reasonable
compromise between repair and restoration?
In the author's opinion, the bridges at North Franklin-Orleans, North La Salle,
West Madison, and West Monroe, remain truest to the original ideals, including
hand rails.
What equipment is used to raise a bridge?

At the time these bridges were built, they were fitted with the current
equipment of the era. At this stage in their lives, the equipment has been
standardized. The bridges are fitted with two or more 125 horsepower motors
(about the size of the engine in a sub-compact Honda Fit), depending upon the
bridge.
The Bridges 74

Is some of the gearing visible on the bridges?

On some but not all of the bridges. The rack and pinon may be seen to varying
degrees on bridges with through and pony trusses. Look for the gearing at the end
of the trusses. An example is shown in Illustration 1 (North Franklin-Orleans
Street bridge).

Rack

Rack

Pinion

Illustration 1: Views of the Rack and Pinion on the North Franklin-Orleans Street Bridge
The Bridges 75

Are all bridge tender houses needed to operate a bridge?

No. As you walk along the river you will notice that there are as many as four
to as few as one bridge tender house at a bridge. Today, lifts are controlled from
only one of the bridge tender houses.
How many people does it take operate the bridges?

In addition to the bridge tender, a number of people are required to ensure


pedestrians and cars are clear of the bridge during a lift. According to the Bridge
Operations office, bridges at North Lake Shore Drive, North Michigan Avenue,
North La Salle, North Wells, West Lake, West Washington, and West Monroe
require multiple operators. A typical river trip from West Van Buren to North Lake
Shore Drive, requiring bridge lifts, uses a total of thirteen bridge tenders.
What is the average time for a boat to travel through these eighteen bridges?

The estimate from Bridge Operations is about ten minutes for each bridge.
Thus it would take approximately three to four hours for a boat trip requiring a lift
of all eighteen bridges from West Van Buren Street to North Lake Shore Drive.
Why are there different number of lifts for the bridges?

Not all lifts are related to complete trips from the boat yards to Lake Michigan
and back. Some lifts may be the result of the maintenance program, re-balancing
of the bridge, or special requests from boats or special projects along the river
requiring the lift of a particular bridge.
Do the number of lifts change significantly from year to year?

No. As long as there are seasonal movements of sail boats from the boat yards
to the harbors in Lake Michigan and back, the city will operate the bridges on a
regular schedule. For this reason, the number of lifts tabulated in this book should
The Bridges 76

provide a good approximation of the number of lifts for the immediate future.
Why do some bridges only open one leaf?

Bridge electrical system upgrade, maintenance, or repair are the most likely
causes for the operation of only one of the bridge leaves. A “normal” bridge
opening should involve both leaves.
How much does it cost Chicago to operate a bridge?

Bridge Operations estimates that the cost per bridge is about $4,000-$10,000,
depending upon the scheduling parameters.
How much paint does it take to paint one of these bridges?

After studying these bridges, it is hard to define “typical.” However, recent


paintings of the West Jackson Street Bridge (deck truss - 1500 gallons) and North
Dearborn Street (rail-height truss - 2250 gallons) give a range of the amount of
paint required for two types of a single deck bridge. Based on these numbers, it is
estimated that the double deck and pony truss bridges could require as much as
5000 gallons of paint.
Traffic counts were from 2006, are the pedestrian counts from 1999 still accurate?

These counts are considered to be reasonably accurate because census data


indicate that the population of Chicago has not changed significantly during this
period. Pedestrian traffic patterns have remained relatively unchanged in this era,
as well.
What is the significance of the AISC plaques on the bridges?

The leaves of all bridges discussed in this book are made of steel. The
American Institute of Steel Construction, AISC, is a non-profit trade association
founded in 1921. Its purpose is to promote the use of fabricated structural steel.
The Bridges 77

One of the many activities of the AISC is a prize bridge award program. The
objective of this award program is to recognize steel bridges that exhibit
innovation, aesthetics, cost effectiveness in their engineering and design. These
awards are significant achievements for a bridge.
Have any of the bridges been used for suicides?

Yes. Each of these bridges has been used as a springboard for at least one
suicide each. No effort was made to keep tallies on numbers of suicides for each
bridge.
Have there been any common problems for these bridges?

In the mid to late 1920's the Sandmaster, a vessel described as a “sandsucker,”


sailed on the river. In a period of three years, this vessel rammed thirteen bridges
for a total of forty-five collisions. The cumulative cost of the damage was
estimated at $250,000 - $300,000. After the forty-fourth crash, the captain was
suspended for 30 days and the city sued for damages.1
The bridges involved along Wacker Drive are North Lake, North State (not the
current bridge), North Michigan, North La Salle, and North Clark (twice). Many
of these collisions were relatively minor, but the collision with the swing bridge at
North Clark Street (No. 44) was more serious. This collision moved the bridge
seven feet from its foundation, knocking it out of service. The current bridge was
under construction at the time and was rushed to completion. Five months later the
Sandmaster rammed the new North Clark Street bridge (collision No. 45), causing
no damage.
The Sandmaster sailed into obscurity after this relatively brief but active
period.
1 “Statistics Show Bridge Ramming by Sandmaaster,” Chicago Tribune, May 9, 1929; “Sand Boat Hits Bridge and Scow in 45th
Crash,” Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1929.
The Bridges 78

The 562 foot long Medusa-Challenger sailed the Chicago River in the summers
from 1967 until about 1982. From the newspaper accounts, one or two bridges
would refuse to open or stick in the open position when the Medusa-Challenger
entered the river. Because of its length (prow at Wells, stern at La Salle2), this
generally meant for a traffic tie up on land with more than one bridge up. Whether
it was the fault of the Medusa-Challenger or not, it was given the moniker of “jinx
ship.” It was the subject of a series of articles during this period. In 1981, the
Medusa Cement Company leased land to build a distribution terminal in the Port of
Chicago which put an end to the Medusa-Challenger cruises on the Chicago River
and the “jinx.”3
Why are there barges under some of the bridges?

As you walk along the river, you may see a stationary barge under some
bridges. The presence of this platform at a bridge is evidence of the ongoing
maintenance effort of CDOT. These barges are used for inspection, maintenance,
and repair of the bridges.
What's next?
It's time to look at each bridge. In the descriptions that follow, you will find a
map showing the location of each bridge. This is followed by a “fact sheet” which
lists the physical dimensions and “other” data for each bridge. Physical
dimensions include: trunnion-to-trunnion span; clear span (navigation clearance);
width and height above the water; and leaf weights. Other data given are: the
opening date; the designers; classification; age ranking within the group; the
average daily vehicular traffic from the 2006 National Bridge Inventory data base;
the average daily pedestrian traffic from a 1999 CDOT study; an estimate of the

2 “Ship Casts its Spell on City Bridges Again,” Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1969.
3 “Here's Good News for the Bridge Tenders,” Chicago Tribune, June 8, 1981.
The Bridges 79

average daily train count (where applicable); the number of lifts in 2006 from the
Bridge Operations office; the year each bridge was either rehabilitated or rebuilt;
and cultural trivia (movies, books, poems, etc.).
A brief narrative of the crossing history, a description of the current bridge, and
other tidbits discovered about the bridge follow the fact sheet. The detail provided
in this narrative varies from bridge to bridge because the amount of information on
these bridges varies from almost none to quite a bit. No effort has been made to
standardize the narratives for each bridge.
The Bridges 80

North Lake Shore Drive Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 81

North Lake Shore Drive Bridge Facts


Current Bridge – First Crossing
Date Opened: October 19, 1937
Designers: Strauss Engineering Company and Hugh Young
Classification: Third Generation; Double Deck (Auto/Auto); Deck Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 13
Clear Span: 220 feet (3rd longest – tied w/ North Michigan; North La Salle; North Franklin-
Orleans)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 264 feet (3rd longest)
Width: 108 feet (2nd widest – tied w/ North State)
Leaf Weight: 6,420 tons – largest in the group
Height above the Water: 25 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): NA
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 112,000 (highest traffic volume of the group)
Annual Lifts (2006): 49
Last Rehabilitated: 1987
Cultural: None
The Bridges 82

Illustration 2: The View of the North Lake Shore Drive from the Monument to the Millennium

The North Lake Shore Drive river crossing has a relatively short history. This
is the first and only bridge built at this location. It was part of the larger plan to
build a major highway through downtown Chicago to facilitate traffic flow into
and out of the city. Planning began in 1926 and construction began in 1931.
Funding ran out in 1932 with the crash of the municipal bond market. The WPA
stepped in with assistance in 1935 and the bridge was completed in 1937. At the
time of construction it was the widest, longest, and heaviest double leaf bascule
bridge in the world.
The original crossing consisted of two bascule bridges. There was a double
leaf span (Illustration 2) across the river and a single leaf span over Ogden Slip.
Both bridges had a similar appearance in their deck trusses and bridge tender
houses. The bridges were originally designed to carry trains on a future lower
deck.
Because the planning began on this bridge during the height of the City
Beautiful Movement, the original design for the four bridge tender houses was to
include ornate features similar to the later Second Generation bridges. The hard
The Bridges 83

economic times of the 1930's and the replacement of Edward Bennett as the Plan
Commission architect by Hugh Young changed these plans. Mr. Young decided to
change the design to the “modernistic style” visible on the bridge today. These
design changes modified the bridge enough that it marks the beginning of the Third
Generation of the Chicago Type bascule bridge.
The original southern approach to this bridge was described as an “S-curve.” It
ran on Field Boulevard (through the current Lake Shore East Development) to
eastbound Wacker Drive and then onto northbound Lake Shore Drive. In the
1980's, the alignment of Lake Shore Drive was changed to its current location
along the lake front east of the Lake Shore East development. It was during this
project that the second traffic deck (lower deck) was added and the bascule bridge
over Ogden slip was removed and replaced by the current fixed bridge.
One of the more significant episodes in the history of this bridge might have
been its dedication. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presided over the ceremony
on October 5, 1937. The event was memorable not so much for what was said
about the bridge, but that FDR used the bridge as the platform for his “quarantine”
speech. This speech made headlines because it spoke out against aggressor nations
in Europe in terms that had not been used before. It signaled a change in the
rhetoric used by the administration and was an early signal of US plans to join the
allies in World War II.
Today, the North Lake Shore Drive bridge serves as an impressive gateway to
the main channel of the the Chicago River from Lake Michigan. A sense of this
bridge's magnitude can be had by viewing it from the Monument to the
Millennium at the mouth of the river (Illustration 2) or from the river walk between
Columbus Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. A pedestrian/bicycle crossing is
The Bridges 84

available on the lower deck on the east (lake side) side of the bridge. This provides
an interesting view of the “forest” of trusses that make up this bridge (Illustration
3). While some of the other eighteen bridges invite a leisurely pace to enjoy the
view, this bridge encourages the pedestrian to “keep moving.” This is in part due
to to the noise of the traffic above (this bridge carries the most vehicles of the
group) and the hustle of the bicycle traffic competing for the sidewalk.
In 1982, the bridge was renamed the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Bridge.4

Illustration 3: The View of the Trusses from the Sidewalk of the North Lake
Shore Drive Bridge

4 “Lake Shore Dr. bridge renamed to honor FDR,” The Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1982.
The Bridges 85

North Columbus Drive Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
(photo taken from E. Upper Wacker Drive)
The Bridges 86

North Columbus Drive Bridge Facts


Current Bridge – First Crossing
Date Opened: October 31, 1982
Designers: Division of Bridges and Viaducts
Classification: Fourth Generation; Single Deck; Box Girders
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 17
Clear Span: 180 feet (10th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 269 feet (longest – tied w/ North Wabash)
Width: 111 feet (widest)
Leaf Weight: 3,400 tons
Height above the Water: 21 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): NA
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 23,700 (3rd most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 49
Last Rehabilitated: NA
Cultural: None
The Bridges 87

Illustration 4: North Columbus Drive Bridge

This 1982 bridge is the “youngest” river crossing of the eighteen bridges. This
is the first and only bridge built at this location. It is unique in two respects. It is
the first bridge in the group to use box girders to span the river instead of trusses.
This provides it with a more streamlined profile (Illustration 4). It is also the first
to have it trunnions set back from the river to allow pedestrians to walk under it at
river level.
From the river level you can examine the underside of the bridge deck and gain
a unique perspective of the bridge (Illustration 5). If you climb the stairs on the
southeast side of the bridge up to the deck, you will see the bridge tender house
and the bridge plaques. The bridge tender house (Illustration 6) reflects the
modern design with rectangular cross section and angular lines. This bridge was
granted an award by the AISC when it was built.
The Bridges 88

Illustration 5: The Underside of the North Columbus Drive Bridge


(taken from the riverwalk)

The construction of this bridge generated some controversy at the time it was
built. The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association opposed the bridge on
grounds traffic that would increase into the area between Lake Michigan and North
Michigan Avenue, creating massive traffic congestion problems.5
The bridge foes lost their battle
and the bridge was opened to much
fanfare on October 31, 1982. By
April 15, 1983 the bridge was closed
because the gears used to raise the
bridge leaves were either cracked or
broken. It took another seven
months to repair the problem and Illustration 6: A View Looking North Along the Columbus
Drive Bridge
open the bridge for good in October of 1983.6
Although the bridge was structurally sound and able to carry traffic, it was left
5 “Bridge Foes Plan Last Ditch Battle,” Chicago Tribune, September 20, 1973.
6 “Columbus Drive Bridge Set to Reopen Oct. 15,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1983
The Bridges 89

in the open position while it was repaired because waterborne traffic has priority
and cannot be blocked. This was the cause of some frustration to potential bridge
users, as documented in a Bill Stokes column in the Chicago Tribune. Mr. Stokes,
tongue in cheek, encouraged some civil disobedience, to no avail.7

7 “Columbus Drive: The Story of a Bridge and Troubled Waters,” Bill Stokes, Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1983.
The Bridges 90

North Michigan Avenue Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 91

North Michigan Avenue Bridge Facts


Current Bridge – First Crossing
Date Opened: May 14, 1920
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Hugh E. Young, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Double Deck (Auto/Auto); Deck Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 5
Clear Span: 220 feet (3rd longest – tied w/ North Franklin-Orleans; North La Salle; North
Lake Shore)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 256 feet (4th longest)
Width: 92 feet (3rd widest)
Leaf Weight: 4,100 tons
Height above the Water: 17 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 35,909 (2nd most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 33,300 (2nd most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 58
Last Rehabilitation: 1993
Cultural: Movies - The Untouchables (1986), Chain Reaction (1996), Mercury Rising
(1997), Since You've Been Gone (1998), Three to Tango (1999), Just Visiting (2001),
Unconditional Love (2001), The Break Up (2005), Lake House (2006), Diminished Capacity
(2008), ER (1994-2009), Prison Break (2005-2009)
The Bridges 92

Illustration 7: The North Michigan Avenue Bridge

This current bridge is the first river crossing at Michigan Avenue. There was
earlier thinking about the project, however.8 A proposal for a fixed “high” bridge
over the river was proposed by DeWitt Cregier (Chicago mayor 1889-1891). The
idea was not all that well received because of the five to ten million dollar price
tag. In response, Mrs. Horatio N. May designed a tunnel to cross the river at this
location. The proposed tunnel was a total of 3,200 feet long as it ran between
Randolph and Ohio Streets. The tunnel included both a roadway and a pedestrian
path. Mrs. May estimated the construction cost at about 1.5 million dollars which
was substantially less than the bridge option. It's not clear how serious these
proposals were, as there was no further mention of either one.
Beginning in 1900, groups in the city of Chicago were looking in earnest for an
additional river crossing near the mouth of the main branch to alleviate congestion.
The chosen site would link a widened Michigan Avenue on the south side of the
river with a widened Pine Street on the north side of the river. The Plan of
Chicago, in 1909, formalized the the ideas for this crossing. The bridge would
have two decks to match up with the planned double-decked streets on either side
of the river. This Second Generation bridge was unusual at the time because of its
large dimensions. It also has two vehicular traffic decks – the upper for auto

8 “Mrs. Mays Great Scheme for Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1891.
The Bridges 93

traffic, the lower for trucks (freight/deliveries). The other double deck bridges had
two different modes of transportation – rail and vehicle.
Construction on the street
approaches began in 1910,
while the design work on the
bridge began in 1913. The
bridge is essentially two
bascule bridges built side-
by-side (Illustration 8). For
this reason, bridge leaves
can be raised for
Illustration 8: A view of an Open Michigan Avenue Bridge maintenance without closing
Showing the Two Side-by-Side Bascule Bridge Leaves
off traffic completely.
The bridge tender houses are
approximately three and one half stories
above the water level and are done in a
neo-classical Beaux-Arts style. Details
include bas relief figures, circular
windows, a denticulated frieze, and a
stepped parapet roof topped with an
ornate decorative urn. Reinforced
concrete and Bedford limestone were
used as construction materials. The
southwest bridge tower is shown in
Illustration 9: Southwest Bridge Tender House of the
Illustration 9. North Michigan Avenue Bridge (Now Housing the
McCormick-Tribune Bridge House and Chicago River
Museum)
The Bridges 94

The bas relief sculptures on the south bridge tender houses commemorate the
Fort Dearborn Massacre of 1812 and the rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire
of 1871. The bas relief sculptures on the north side bridge tender houses
commemorate French explorers Marquette and Jolliet; and early settlers Kinzie and
DuSable.
Earlier Second Generation bridges incorporated many of the ideals of the
Chicago Plan in their design. The North Michigan Avenue Bridge is the first in the
group to capture all of the ideals of the Chicago Plan and the City Beautiful
movement. The four ornate Beaux-Arts style bridge tender houses, the grand
staircases, bas relief sculptures, and abutment facings are excellent examples of
these ideals.
This bridge can be enjoyed
from sidewalks on both sides
and both decks of the bridge.
With the addition of the recently
completed Riverwalk this
bridge can be viewed from river
level as well (Illustration 10).
The lower deck sidewalk will
provide a view of the trusses
similar to that seen at the North
Lake Shore Drive bridge.
Stairways on all corners lead to
attractions at the water level.
Water taxis and tour boats can
Illustration 10: Under Michigan Avenue Bridge Along the Riverwalk
The Bridges 95

be found on the southeast and northwest corners. A dining area is open during the
summer on the northeast corner. This bridge offers a special treat for the bridge
enthusiast. Late spring through early fall, the McCormick Bridgehouse and
Chicago River museum located in the southwest bridge tender house is open. This
attraction allows for the exploration of the entire house, excellent displays covering
the history of the Chicago River, and a look at the operating machinery of the
bridge.
This bridge has had a more eventful existence than some of the other bridges.
Prior to the beginning of the opening ceremonies in 1920, a lumber steamer gave
the signal to open the bridge. The bridge tender, unaware that four cars had parked
on the bridge, began to raise it. It was not until police fired their guns in the air
that the bridge tender realized the situation, reversed his actions, and averted an
embarrassing disaster.9
One of the more dramatic events at the bridge was a car chase in 1922. A safe
cracker named Vincent “Skimmer” Drucci was being pursued by detectives Tuohy
and Klatzco. The chase eventually came to the north approach of the Michigan
Avenue Bridge which was beginning to open for a passing steamer. Drucci drove
through the gates and was able to jump the four foot gap between the bridge leaves
and make it safely to the south side of the river only to get caught in traffic. Touy
and Klatzco followed and made the dramatic jump as well capturing Drucci as he
tried to flee on foot.10
The bridge has been hit by a few ships as well. In 1933, the steamship,
Theodore Roosevelt struck the bridge severing one girder and bending several
others. The accident prevented the east side of the bridge from closing. Repairs

9 “The Way We Were – Bridging the Chicago River to the Magnificent Mile,” Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1983
10 “Autos Leap Four Foot Bridge Gap in Thief Chase,” Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1922.
The Bridges 96

took about three weeks to complete.11 In 1986, a lumber boat rammed the bridge
on a Sunday, leaving it partially raised for about two hours.12
An additional mishap concerning this bridge is documented in a 1940's
Chicago Tribune column entitled “A line O' Type or Two.” A story is presented of
a little dog crossing the Michigan Avenue bridge just as it began to rise. According
to the account, the dog was able to cling to the top of the bridge leaf until the
bridge was lowered and then proceeded across the bridge.13
Probably the most spectacular accident involving this bridge occurred on
September 20, 1992. Construction work was underway to rehabilitate the bridge.14
The bridge deck had been removed on the southeast leaf and a 40 ton capacity
crane had been parked over the counterweight. The north side leaves had just been
raised to allow a sailboat to pass. As the northwest leaf was lowered into position,
the southeast leaf of the bridge sprang up, catapult-like. A sailboat owner was
quoted saying, “The northwest section was already down or in the final stages of
going down when we heard this grinding sound and saw the thing (the southeast
leaf) swing to straight up and down. It took five seconds. It was going pretty
fast.”15 Equipment and debris was launched across East Wacker Drive into buses,
cars, and pedestrians. Six people on a CTA base were the only injuries noted in the
reports of the incident. The rapid rotation ripped the bridge leaf from its trunnion
bearings (see Illustration 3 in Chapter 3 for a photo of the Michigan Avenue bridge
trunnion) and the leaf dropped into the tail pit.
The cause of the accident was a combination of a severely unbalanced bridge
leaf and partially disengaged safety locks. This condition allowed the rack and

11 “Link Bridge Repairs to be Finished Wednesday,” Chicago Tribune, October 14, 1933.
12 “Boat Barges into Michigan Avenue Bridge; Traffic Blocked,” Chicago Tribune, July 21, 1986.
13 “A Line O' Type or Two” An Unprinted First Page Story, by Eleanor Howard; Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1940.
14 “Crane thron off bridge Freak accident shuts Michigan Ave. span, by James Hill, Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1992.
15 “On new boat, man sails into history – thanks to bridge mishap,” by Jerry Crimmins, Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1992.
The Bridges 97

pinion to un-mesh, which allowed the leaf to rise uncontrollably.16 The bridge was
reopened to traffic on November 25, 1992.17
According to Richard Moskal, Director of the Chicago Film Board, the corner
of Michigan and Wacker Drive is the most used intersection for filming movies.
Recently, the Michigan Avenue Bridge has been used as a kite launching site by
Mike Illich. He finds the wind conditions perfect and does it because “It's just
fun.”18

16 “When a bridge becomes a catapult,” by Studney, Michael J., Mechanical Enginering-CIME, December 1, 1992.
17 Reopened bridge is 1st gift of the season,” by Christine Hawes, Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1992.
18 “Playing the Wind; In Urban Canyon, Kite Man Lets it Fly,” by Colleen Mastony, Chicago Tribune, October 19, 2007
The Bridges 98

North Wabash Avenue Drive Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 99

North Wabash Street Bridge Facts


Current Bridge – First Crossing
Date Opened: December 20, 1930
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Donald Becker, Edward H. Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase Two; Single Deck; Rail Height Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 12
Clear Span: 232 feet (longest of the group tied w/ North Columbus)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 269 feet (longest of the group)
Width: 90 feet (4th widest)
Leaf Weight: 2,600 tons
Height above the Water: 22 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 7,047 (11th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 5,800 (least traffic volume of the group)
Annual Lifts (2006): 41
Last Rehabilitated: 2003
Cultural: Movies – About Last Night (1986), Straight Talk (1991), Wanted (2008), The
Dark Knight (2008)
The Bridges 100

Illustration 11: North Wabash Avenue Bridge

This bridge is the last Second Generation bridge and the last to be directly
influenced by Edward Bennett and T. G. Pihlfeldt.
The two bridge tender houses (Illustrations 12 and 13) are done in the Beaux-
Arts style but with less adornment than the most ornate ones at Michigan Avenue.
The AISC selected this bridge as one of the two most beautiful bridges built in
1930.

Illustration 13: A View Looking North Along the North


Wabash Avenue Bridge

Illustration 12: The Southwest Bridge Tender House


on the North Wabash Avenue Bridge
The Bridges 101

This bridge connected Wabash Avenue on the south bank to Cass Street on the
north bank. The two streets met on a diagonal line across the river. Shipping
interests pressured the permitting agency to maintain a wide channel at this
location. As a result this bridge has the longest clear span of any of the bridges.
According to news reports, the freighter, Alfred H Smith, collided with the
bridge in 1932. The bridge tender was unable to raise the bridge for the freighter
due to a mechanical failure. The freighter damaged the sidewalk, but not the main
structure of the bridge. The freighter reportedly had a “two foot hole stove in the
prow” as a result of the collision.19
Artistically, there is reference to an etching created by Morris Henry Hobbs
shown in a local gallery in 1933.20
In 1986, the bridge was renamed the Irv Kupcinet bridge. “Kup's Column” ran
for almost sixty years in the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times building was
located near the northeast corner of the bridge (now the Trump tower location).
Kup said he “walked across the bridge at least 10,000 times.”21
In the 1980's, the southwest bridge tender house was used as a repository for
photographs and data concerning Chicago bridges.22 These records, now mostly
digitized, are stored in the CDOT engineering building.

19 “Steamship Rams Wabash Bridge,” Chicago Tribune, November 4, 1932.


20 “Three Exhibits Get Attention in Art World,” Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1933.
21 “Now it's Kup's Bridge,” Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 1986.
22 “Tender Keeps Bridge Beauty Safe in Tower,” Chicago Tribune, December 2, 1983.
The Bridges 102

The new section of the Riverwalk will pass under this bridge and terminate at
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial between the N. Wabash Ave. and N. State St.
bridges (Illustration 14).

Illustration 14: The Riverwalk Under the Wabash Ave Bridge (State St
Bridge is raised in the background)
The Bridges 103

North State Street Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 104

North State Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Ferry started in the late 1830's
First Bridge: Iron reinforced wooden swing bridge, 1864
Current Bridge
Date Opened: May 28, 1949
Designers: Division of Bridges and Viaducts
Classification: Third Generation; Single Deck; Rail Height Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 14
Clear Span: 210 feet (5th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 245 feet (6th longest tied w/ North lake and North Clark)
Width: 108 feet (2nd widest – tied w/ North Lake Shore)
Leaf Weight: 2,100 tons
Height above the Water: 22 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 9,406 (6th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 10,700 (10th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 40
Last Rehabilitated: 1994
Cultural: Message in a Bottle (1999), The Dark Knight (2008)
The Bridges 105

Illustration 15: North State Street Bridge

The crossing at North State Street is one of the longest continuous crossings
(176 years). The first crossing, a ferry, was established in the 1830's. The first
bridge, an iron reinforced wooden swing bridge, was built in 1864. The Great Fire
of 1871 destroyed the bridge, and a new swing bridge was opened in 1872. The
last swing bridge at this crossing was built in 1887. That bridge was replaced by a
Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge in 1903. The 1903 bridge was in service until
1939.
The existing bridge was planned for construction in 1930, so the features
resemble its Second Generation neighbor at North Wabash Avenue. However,
bridge construction was postponed for construction of the State Street subway
project. This subway project, which received WPA funding, did not begin until
1939. The rolling lift bridge was removed during this time frame, then the bridge
foundation and subway tunnels were placed. Work was stopped by the War
Production Board in 1942. Construction on the North State Street bridge remained
idle until work on the superstructure was resumed in 1947 and the bridge was
The Bridges 106

completed on May 28, 1949.


Bridge tender houses are octagonal and
limestone faced like many of the Second
Generation bridges. Early designs of these
houses used roof features similar to the North
Wabash Avenue bridge as well. By the time the
bridge was actually constructed, the bridge
tender house (Illustration 16) roof design was
changed to the flat roof style of the North Lake
Shore Drive bridge. These bridge tender houses
are located on the southeast and northwest
corners of the bridge. Illustration 17 shows a
view along the bridge including both bridge
tender houses and the center rail-height truss. Illustration 16: BridgeTender House at
North State Street

Illustration 17: Looking North Along the North State Street Bridge

This bridge received two honors when it was built. The first was the honorable
mention from the AISC in its 1949 bridge competition. The second honor was
when it was dedicated as a memorial to those World War II veterans who fought in
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the Philippines. The dedication states: “To the memory of those gallant heroes,
from the Chicago Area who were members of the besieged garrison on the Bataan
Peninsula and at Corregidor, Philippine Islands, in World War II. May the courage
and fortitude displayed by this group in the face of adversity be a constant
inspiration to our citizens.” The official name of this bridge is the “Bataan-
Corregidor Memorial Bridge.”
A news story from 1981 is a reminder of one of the dangers of a movable
bridge. It seems that a woman was near the center of the bridge when it was
raised. According to the report, she was able to hold on for awhile, but eventually
lost her grip and slid down the bridge. Her fall was broken by police who also
saved her from going into the water. She broke her leg in the accident. The report
states that the bridge tender had activated all alarms and barricades before raising
the bridge.23 It's a good idea to stay alert around the bridges in Chicago –
especially when the bridge is making noise and flashing its lights.

23 “She falls from bridge, saved,” The Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1981.
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North Dearborn Street Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
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North Dearborn Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Draw Bridge built in 1834
Current Bridge
Date Opened: October 23, 1963
Designers: Division of Bridges and Viaducts
Classification: Fourth Generation; Single Deck; Rail Height Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 16
Clear Span: 200 feet (7th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 235 feet (8th longest)
Width: 86 feet (5th widest – tied w/ North La Salle)
Leaf Weight: 2,100 tons
Height above the Water: 21 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 5,205 (14th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 15,200 (6th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 43
Last Rehabilitated: NA
Cultural: Message in a Bottle (1999), The Dark Knight (2008)
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Illustration 18: The North Dearborn Street Bridge

The 1834 Dearborn Street bridge was the first movable bridge built in Chicago.
This bridge turned out to be an unreliable nuisance that was dismantled in 1839.
There was no crossing here until 1888, when the existing Wells Street swing bridge
was floated up river and installed at Dearborn Street. In 1907, a Scherzer rolling
lift bascule bridge replaced the old swing bridge. This 1907 bridge was replaced
by the current bridge.
The design for this bridge was begun in 1958 and it opened on October 23,
1963. The features of this bridge harmonize nicely with the neighboring Second
Generation bridges. A view to the north along this bridge is shown in Illustration
19. The lone bridge tender house on this bridge is located on the south east corner
of the bridge. It is similar in appearance to the one located at the Van Buren Street
bridge. This bridge received the AISC award of merit when it was completed.
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Illustration 19: A View to the North Along the North Dearborn Street Bridge
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North Clark Street Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
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North Clark Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Pontoon bridge built in 1840
Current Bridge
Date Opened: July 10, 1929
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Donald Becker, Hugh Young
Classification: Second Generation, Phase Two; Single Deck; Pony Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 11
Clear Span: 215 feet (4th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 245 feet (6th longest – tied w/ West Lake and North State)
Width: 72 feet (7th widest – tied w/ North Wells and West Madison)
Leaf Weight: 1,400 tons
Height above the Water: 20 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 8,625 (9th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 14,800 (7th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 41
Last Rebuilt: 1985
Cultural: Poetry - Clark Street Bridge by Carl Sandburg; Music – Used as the percussion
instrument for the Clark Street Bridge Percussion Orchestra, 2007. Movies - The Negotiator
(1998), Save the Last Dance (2001).
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Illustration 20: The North Clark Street Bridge

This river crossing has been in use for about 168 years. The first bridge at the
Clark Street crossing was a floating bridge built in 1840. In 1856, a new swing
bridge was built at this crossing. This swing bridge was destroyed in the Great Fire
and rebuilt in 1872. In 1888, the last swing bridge was built at Clark Street.
The planning and design for the current bridge was begun in 1916.
Construction was begun in 1928 and it
opened on July 10, 1929. This bridge
replaced the last swing bridge on the main
branch of the Chicago River.
This bridge was the last of the
eighteen bridges to be fitted with pony
trusses. The graceful lines of these
trusses makes this bridge one of the most
attractive of this group. Illustration 21 Illustration 21: A View to the North Along the North
Clark Street Bridge
shows the view along the western
sidewalk of the bridge.
Bridge tender houses are placed on the northwest and southeast corners of the
The Bridges 115

bridge. These houses are similar to those on the La Salle Street bridge.
There have been some interesting events at this bridge. Three incidents fall
into the unusual story category. The first happened in 1937, when a visitor to
Chicago climbed onto the truss, twenty feet above the roadway. He fell asleep
there and could not be roused from below. A fireman had to carry him down.
When questioned, he claimed an “acquaintance overdosed him with liquor” and he
was grateful for the nap.24
In 1942, a pedestrian was observed with an object resembling a fire
extinguisher. He dropped it on the bridge and ran away. The object, which was
thought to be a bomb, was placed such that raising the bridge leaves would have
crushed it possibly exploding it. A quick-acting police officer threw the object into
the river. A liquid chemical poured from the object as it sank but there was no
explosion.25
In 1943, two painters working on the bridge lost a pair of glasses in the gear
box. While trying to retrieve the glasses, the two discovered a loaded 20
millimeter anti-aircraft shell. No additional information was provided as to how
the shell might have ended up there or what happened to it. It is reasonable to
assume it was removed without incident.26
In 1985, conceptual artist Michele Fitzsimmons and photographer Diane
Schmidt produced a book entitled “The Chicago Exhibition.” This project
involved photographing a number of Chicago landmarks as backdrop for a series
of artistic nude poses. While the Clark Street bridge is not named, it is a prominent
feature of the background of the photograph entitled “North Bank of the Chicago
River.” More recently, the Clark Street Bridge was used as a percussion

24 “Naps on Girder of Bridge; Fire Boys Rescue Him,” Chicago Tribune, August 15, 1937.
25 “A Bomb or no Bomb, Traffic Comes to Halt,” Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1942.
26 “Find Loaded Shell in Gear Box of Clark Street Bridge,” Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1943.
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instrument. In October 2007, a concert of the Clark Street Bridge Percussion


Orchestra was staged as a part of Chicago Artists Month.27

27 “As a drum for a day, Clark Street Bridge has crossover appeal,” Chicago Tribune, October 14, 2007.
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North La Salle Street Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
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North La Salle Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Street car tunnel built in 1871
Current Bridge – First Bridge
Date Opened: December 20, 1928
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Donald Becker, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase Two; Single Deck; Pony Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 10
Clear Span: 220 feet (3rd longest – tied w/ North Franklin-Orleans; North Michigan; North
Lake Shore)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 242 feet (7th longest)
Width: 86 feet (5th widest – tied w/ North Dearborn)
Leaf Weight: 2100 tons
Height above the Water: 19 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 5,311 (13th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 12,050 (9th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 39
Last Rehabilitated: 1971
Cultural: Movies – Road to Perdition (2001), Batman Begins (2005), The Weatherman
(2005)
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Illustration 22: The North La Salle Street Bridge

The first river crossing at La Salle Street was a tunnel which opened in 1871.
This tunnel was initially used for cable cars, then electric street cars. This tunnel
was in use until 1939, when it was blocked off by the construction of the Dearborn
Street subway (the current Blue Line). The last vestige of this tunnel, the north
portal, was removed in 1953.
The current bridge is the first built at this crossing. The design/planning
process for this bridge began in 1914. It was opened to traffic on December 20,
1928.
This bridge makes quite a statement. The curving pony trusses, ornate hand
railings, and four bridge tender houses (see Illustrations 22 - 24) present an
impressive entrance into the Loop. The four bridge tender houses are more
adorned and taller than all but those at the North Michigan Avenue bridge (see
Illustration 24).
In 1999, this bridge was dedicated as the Marshall Suloway Bridge in
recognition of a 50 year long career. Mr. Suloway, a Chicago native educated at
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IIT, started his civil engineering career in 1950 with the Illinois Highway
Department. He joined the Chicago Department of Public Works in 1964, serving
as Chief Engineer beginning in 1967. In 1974, Suloway was appointed as Acting
Commissioner of Public Works. He was selected as the Man of the Year in 1976 by
the American Public Works Association and served as Commissioner of Public
Works until 1979.

Illustration 24: A View of the Southeast Bridge


Tender House Illustration 23: A View Looking North along the North La
Salle Street Bridge
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North Wells Street Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
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North Wells Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Pontoon Bridge built in 1841
Current Bridge
Date Opened: February 11, 1922
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Hugh E. Young, John Ericson, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Double Deck (Rail/Auto); Through Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 7
Clear Span: 231 feet (2nd longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 268 feet (2nd longest)
Width: 72 feet (7th widest tied w/ North Clark and West Madison)
Leaf Weight: 2,100 tons
Height above the Water: 16 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 8,415 (10th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 8,500 (14th most)
Average daily Train Traffic: 408 (est)
Annual Lifts (2006): 38
Last Rehabilitated: 1993
Cultural: Movies - A Piece of the Action (1977), The Code of Silence (1985), About Last
Night (1986), Rapid Fire (1992), The Fugitive (1993), The Beast (TV 2009).
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Illustration 25: The North Wells Street Bridge

The river crossing at North Wells Street has a 167 year history. The first river
crossing at Wells Street was a floating bridge that was built in 1841, then rebuilt in
1847. The first swing bridge at this location was constructed in 1856. This bridge
was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1871. A new swing bridge was in place by the
end of 1872. In 1896 the Wells Street bridge was rebuilt by the Northwestern
Elevated Road with an elevated rail line on a second deck.
The design of the current bridge began in 1916. It was opened on February 11,
1922. The requirements for this bridge are nearly identical to the bridge built
earlier at West Lake Street, so it is no surprise that this bridge looks very similar to
that bridge.
Train tracks occupy the upper deck of the through trusses, while a roadway and
sidewalks occupy the lower deck. Illustration 26 shows a photograph taken along
the west sidewalk of the bridge. The through trusses are not very attractive, but the
architectural elements (bridge tender houses, stairways, etc.) help to soften the
overall appearance.
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Bridge tender houses are located


on the southeast and northwest
corners of the bridge. These houses
are similar to others built in the same
era. Some new features included
hipped tile roofs, windows with no
moldings, and granite cladding. The
southeast house incorporated a
staircase to Lower East Wacker Drive
(Illustration 27).
The major construction problem
for this bridge was to minimize the
impact on the upper deck train traffic
Illustration 26: A View Looking South Along the North Wells
while the switchover from the old Street Bridge
swing bridge to the new bascule was
accomplished. Thomas G. Pihlfeldt
had solved this problem earlier at the
West Lake Street bridge. The
solution was to maintain train traffic
on the elevated tracks on the old
swing bridge while the bascule
bridge leaves were constructed in the
vertical position. When the bascule
Illustration 27: Southeast Bridge Tender House - North Wells
bridge was completed, the old swing Street Bridge

bridge was rotated open, cut up and removed via the river and the bascule bridge
The Bridges 125

was lowered into position. The upper deck was then installed. This process
produced a three day break in rail service (four days less than the delay at Lake
Street).
Accidents involving this bridge have included a 1935 crash of a sand boat into
the bridge;28 a 1981 incident where an “oversized” rail car damaged several girders
near the bridge causing buses to be rerouted;29 and the most notable accident in
1977, where a car was cut in half by the opening bridge.30
The 1977 accident was the result of the bridge being raised while a car was still
partially on it. The front wheels were on the street and the rear wheels were on the
bridge. As the bridge raised, the upper deck of the bridge caught the roof of the car
just behind the front seat and kept it from falling into the river. As the bridge
continued upward the car was eventually cut in half. The driver was trapped for a
time but survived. The bridge tender was eventually found at fault, but in an
unusual twist, died of a heart attack before learning that he was being blamed for
the incident.31

28 “Finnish Repairs; Wells Bridge in Operation Again,” Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1936.
29 “Buses Rerouted in Bridge Mishap,” Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1981.
30 “City Probes Mishap on Rising Bridge,” November 9, 1977.
31 “Bridge Tender Blamed,” Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1977.
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North Franklin-Orleans Street Bridge on the Main Branch of the Chicago River
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North Franklin-Orleans Street Bridge Facts


Current Bridge – First Crossing
Date Opened: October 23, 1920
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Hugh E. Young, John Ericson, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Single Deck; Pony Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 6
Clear Span: 220 feet (3rd longest – tied w/ North Michigan; North La Salle; and North Lake
Shore)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 252 feet (5th longest)
Width: 62 feet (11th widest)
Leaf Weight: 1,800 tons
Height above the Water: 18 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 6,594 (12th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 17,000 (4th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 36
Last Rebuild: 2002
Cultural: Movie – Straight Talk (1992), Shall We Dance (2004), Batman Begins (2005)
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Illustration 28: The North Franklin-Orleans Street Bridge

The current bridge is the first river crossing connecting North Franklin Street
on the south shore with North Orleans Street on the north shore of the main branch
of the Chicago River. The primary purpose of this bridge was to help alleviate
heavy traffic on the West Lake and North Wells street bridges. (Today it carries
17,000 vehicles per day, 4th highest in the group.)
The planning and design work began as early as 1906. Construction contracts
were not awarded until 1917. The major reason for the delay was that replacement
of existing swing bridges had a higher priority than new crossings at this point in
time. Another factor was the bridge's location. Permitting agencies were
concerned that a bridge crossing the river on a diagonal line so near the branching
of the Chicago River would interfere with navigation.
The bridge was opened on October 23, 1920. The pony trusses on this bridge
are the first to achieve graceful rounded lines over the entire span, especially when
compared to the trusses used on the Washington Street and Monroe Street bridges.
Illustration 29 shows a photograph taken along the bridge sidewalk. This view
highlights the curvature of the top chord of the truss.
Beaux-Arts style bridge tender houses and ornate hand rails make this one of
the most attractive bridges of the group.
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Illustration 29: A View Looking South Along the North


Franklin-Orleans Street Bridge
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West Lake Street Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
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West Lake Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Ferry started in 1829
First Bridge: Pontoon Bridge built in 1853
Current Bridge
Date Opened: November 6, 1916
Designers: John Ericson, Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Alexander von Babo, Hugh E. Young,
Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Double Deck (Rail/auto); Through Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 3
Clear Span: 209 feet (6th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 245 feet (6th longest – tied w/ North Clark and North State)
Width: 70 feet (8th widest)
Leaf Weight: 2,100 tons (est.)
Height above the Water: 16 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 3,948 (15th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 14,500 (8th most)
Average Daily Train Traffic (2007): 526 (est)
Annual Lifts (2006): 44
Last Rehabilitation: 1995
Cultural: Movie - “Wanted” released in 2008.
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Illustration 30: A View Looking West Along the West Lake Street Bridge

The earliest crossing near Lake Street was a ferry started in 1829. This ferry
had an official operator until about 1832. It wasn't until 1853 that the first bridge,
a floating bridge, was constructed at this site. In keeping with the evolution of
bridges in Chicago, this floating bridge was replaced by a series of two center pier
swing bridges. The second of which was built in 1886. In 1893 the elevated train
line was added to the Lake Street bridge.
The planning of the current bridge began in 1914. Engineers originally
preferred a vertical lift bridge because of the complication of overhead railroad
traffic. However, there was enough opposition from those concerned about the
aesthetics of such a bridge, that the vertical lift bridge was scrapped in favor of the
bridge seen today. The West Lake Street bridge was opened on November 6, 1916.
The current West Lake Street bridge was the first double deck bascule bridge
built over the Chicago River. Train tracks occupy the upper deck while a roadway
and sidewalks occupy the lower deck.
Bridge tender houses are placed on the northeast and northwest corners of the
bridge. The ornamentation on the bridge tender houses is similar to other Second
Generation bridges.
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The through trusses provide a bridge that is more utilitarian than aesthetic in its
appearance. Illustration 31 shows a
photograph taken along a leaf. This
is a less pleasing view than those
provided from bridges with pony or
deck trusses although the bridge
tender houses and railing details
provide some relief.
Like the bridge at North Wells
Street, interruption in the train traffic
was a major concern for the city
designers. T. G. Pihlfeldt devised
the construction scheme on this Illustration 31: A View Along the North Side of the West Lake
Street Bridge
bridge and perfected it on the North
Wells Street bridge. That scheme was to keep the old swing bridge in place while
the bascule bridge was built in the open (vertical) position. When the bascule
bridge was completed, the old swing bridge was rotated open, cut up and removed
via the river and the bascule bridge was lowered. The upper deck was then
installed producing a one week break in rail service. This was considered a major
success at the time.
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West Randolph Street Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 135

West Randolph Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Pontoon Bridge built in 1847
Current Bridge
Date Opened: December 21, 1984 (newest of the group)
Designers: Division of Bridges and Viaducts
Classification: Fourth Generation; Single Deck; Box Girders
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 18
Clear Span: 164 feet (shortest in the group)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 213 feet (10th longest)
Width: 80 feet (6th widest)
Leaf Weight: 1,400 tons
Height above the Water: 22 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 10,356 (7th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 6,300 (17th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 45
Last Rehabilitated: NA
Cultural: None
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Illustration 32: The West Randolph Street Bridge

This crossing has a 161 year history starting with a floating bridge built in
1847. In 1856, a new swing bridge was built. The swing bridge era ended in 1903
when a Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge was built. The 1903 bridge was
replaced in 1984.
The current bridge (Illustration 32) opened on December 21, 1984. It is the
newest in the group and is similar in
design to the bridge built at North
Columbus Avenue. The bridge
structure consists of two box girders.
These girders extend above the bridge
deck to rail-height. (Illustration 33).
The bridge tender house is on the
southeast corner of the bridge. It is
Illustration 33: A View Looking East Along the West Randolph
built in the style of all the “modern” Street Bridge

bridge tender houses.


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West Washington Boulevard Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 138

West Washington Boulevard Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Tunnel carrying wagon traffic and pedestrians completed in 1868.
First Bridge: Swing span moved from West Madison Street in 1891.
Current Bridge
Date Opened: May 26, 1913
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Alexander von Babo, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Single Deck; Pony Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 1
Clear Span: 171 feet (13th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 197 feet (14th longest)
Width: 57 feet (narrowest of the group)
Leaf Weight: 1,000-2,000 tons (est.)
Height above the Water: 21 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 9,279 (8th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 6,850 (15th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 39
Last Rehabilitation: 1996
Cultural: None
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Illustration 34: The West Washington Boulevard Bridge

The first river crossing at West Washington Boulevard was the first vehicular
tunnel built in Chicago. This tunnel, completed in 1868, ran between Franklin
Street on the east to Clinton Street on the west. On the west side of the river this
tunnel was under what is now the Richard V. Ogilvie Transportation Center. It
consisted of three passageways – a walkway for pedestrians and two for wagon
traffic in both directions. It was a total of 1605 feet long, the original tunnel roof
was approximately nineteen feet below the water surface, and the approaches were
on a relatively steep ten percent grade.
While this tunnel provided a means for people fleeing the Great Fire after the
bridges burned, Chicago Daily Tribune articles from this time period paint a less
than appealing picture of this tunnel under normal use. A June 13, 1875 editorial
states “The tunnel at Washington Boulevard ... was a novelty at first, but it can
hardly be said to have ever been popular. This attributed to the defects in
workmanship, owing to which there there was an inlet of water rendering the
carriage-way very unpleasant, and in winter creating an ice pond.” An item in the
July 20, 1884 Tribune entitled “A Filthy Hole – Shocking Condition of the
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Washington Boulevard Tunnel” states “Nowhere in the walk for foot-passengers,


not even at the entrances, is there any evidence of any effort at cleanliness, while
at the middle of the tunnel this walk with its slippery boards, wet roof, and puddles
of dirt and mortar is strongly suggestive of a coal mine.”
The tunnel also had a history of impeding river traffic, with an occasional ship
grounding on its roof. The tunnel was lowered eight feet and converted to a street
car tunnel in 1910 when the current bridge was built. The tunnel was in use until
1953.
The first bridge at Washington Boulevard was built in 1891, when the city
moved the existing swing bridge at Madison Street to Washington Boulevard. This
swing bridge was in use until it was torn down in 1907.
The design process on the
current bridge (Illustration 34)
began in 1910. The bridge opened
May 26, 1913 and it is one of the
earliest (and the oldest in this
group) Second Generation bridges.
As such it incorporated the internal
rack and the trunnion support
system patented by von Babo in
1911. In addition, it used pony
trusses instead of the through Illustration 35: On the North Side of the Wst Washington
Boulevard Bridge Looking East
trusses used on First Generation
bridges. These early pony trusses lack the graceful lines of the trusses used on the
later bridges, but they capture a transitional moment in the evolution from the
The Bridges 141

strictly functional First Generation bridge to the more ornate bridges to come.
Illustration 35 looks at the northeast bridge tender house along the sidewalk. From
this photograph, you can get a sense of the height of the trusses, the light fixtures,
and the angularity of the top chord of the truss.
The aesthetic features of this bridge also capture the evolutionary nature of this
bridge. The bridge tender houses, located on the southwest and northeast corners
of the bridge, lack the stone cladding of the later houses but have ornamental
features around the windows and roof. (Illustration 36).
Due to the location of the tunnel
directly below this bridge,
engineers had to develop a new
approach to the foundation design.
Standard practice at the time was to
drive piles to bedrock under the
tail-pit boxes. On this, and
subsequent bridges, rectangular
piers were sunk from the base of
the bridge piers to a hard clay
stratum about 57 feet below the
water level. Trusses were used to

Illustration 36: Southwest Bridge Tender House on the West


span the distance between these
Washington Boulevard Bridge
piers and thus support the bridge
abutments.
As with all of the bridges, there have been some suicides at the West
Washington Boulevard bridge. One of the most notable was that of Albin
The Bridges 142

Lofstrand in August of 1942.32 Mr. Lofstrand was a railway worker and inventor.
His eccentric behavior included wandering through downtown carrying a
switchman's lantern. He left a suitcase containing invention records and evidence
of a surprising amount of wealth before leaping from the bridge.
In September of the same year, a freighter became stuck on the Washington
Boulevard tunnel. The ship was large enough to block both this bridge and the
Randolph Street bridge but was dislodged in about an hour.33

32 “Find Loop Eccentric's Body in River; Bank Books Bare Wealth;” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1942
33 “Ship Stuck on Car Tunnel; Bridge Traffic is Tied up;” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1942
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West Madison Street Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 144

West Madison Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Pontoon Bridge built in 1847
Current Bridge
Date Opened: November 29, 1922
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Hugh E. Young, John Ericson, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Single Deck; Rail Height Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 8
Clear Span: 189 feet (8th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 221 feet (9th longest)
Width: 72 feet (7th widest – tied w/ North Wells and North Clark)
Leaf Weight: 1,800 tons
Height above the Water: 16 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 41,586 (highest volume of foot traffic in the group)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 9,900 (11th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 68
Last Rehabilitated: 1994
Cultural: Featured in two photographs in the book “The Chicago Exhibition” by Michele
Fitzsimmons and Diane Schmidt. Named the Lyric Opera Bridge in 1989. Movie – Just
Visiting - (2001)
The Bridges 145

Illustration 37: The West Madison Street Bridge

This crossing has been in use for 168 years. The first floating bridge was built
in 1847. The swing bridge era began in 1856. In 1891, the existing bridge was
moved to the Washington Street crossing and a new and improved swing bridge
was constructed at Madison Street.
The design for this bridge was begun in 1913. The design was complicated by
its proximity to the Union Station and the railroad tracks along the west bank. The
city decided to complete bridges at Jackson Boulevard, Lake Street, and Monroe
Street first.
The current bridge was opened on November 29, 1922. This was the first
bridge in the group to use rail-height trusses. These trusses give the appearance of
the deck truss because of their low profile, but provide the adequate depth to meet
the structural requirements of the truss. Illustration 38 is a photograph taken along
the sidewalk of this bridge. The view and openness of this bridge is similar to that
experienced on the West Jackson and West Adams street bridges which use deck
trusses.
The limestone faced bridge tender houses are located at the southeast and
southwest sides of the bridge. Their features are typical of the Second Generation
The Bridges 146

bridge. The southwest bridge tender house is also shown in Illustration 38.
The search for unusual cultural
aspects of this bridge revealed three
items. The first was an odd tidbit
from 1942. An art student and
amateur photographer was arrested
by the “Federal Bureau of
Identification” while photographing
the Madison Street bridge.34 No
reason for the arrest was given. Illustration 38: A View to the West on the Madison Street
Bridge
Forty three years later, in 1985, conceptual artist Michele Fitzsimmons and
photographer Diane Schmidt produced a book of photographs entitled “The
Chicago Exhibition.” This project featured a number of Chicago landmarks as
backdrop for a series of artistic nude poses. The West Madison Street Bridge was
lucky enough to be included in two photographs of the collection (“Madison Street
Bridge” and “Madison Street Bridge Rush Hour”).35 Finally, in 1989, the manager
of the Lyric Opera of Chicago asked Mayor Eugene Sawyer to re-name a bridge in
honor of the Opera's thirty fifth season. The Mayor obliged and the “world's
largest bridge party” was held January 26, 1989. The Madison Street Bridge was
re-named the “Lyric Opera Bridge” in a short outdoor ceremony that saw 2200
silver balloons released into the night sky.36

34 “Seized Photographing Bridge,” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1942.


35 “Nude views of Chicago – Daring duo take a fresh look at familiar sights,” Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1985.
36 “Bridge party puts Lyric in a class by itself,” Chicago Tribune, January 27, 1989
The Bridges 147

West Monroe Street Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 148

West Monroe Street Bridge Facts


Current Bridge – First Crossing
Date Opened: February 22, 1919
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Alexander von Babo, Hugh E. Young, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Single Deck; Pony Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 4
Clear Span: 166 feet (14th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 193 feet (shortest in the group)
Width: 60 feet (12th widest)
Leaf Weight: 1,000 - 2,100 tons (est.)
Height above the Water: 19 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 10,279 (5th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 15,900 (5th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 48
Last Rebuild: 2001
Cultural: None
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Illustration 39: The West Monroe Street Bridge

The current bridge is the first river crossing at Monroe Street. It was opened
on February 22, 1919.
The designers of this bridge faced some unique issues. The west side of the
bridge abutted the railroad tracks for Union Station which would have been the
“normal” location for the bridge abutment and tail pit for the fixed trunnion
bascule bridge. In addition, there was a cross town water tunnel crossing the river
diagonally here, and on the east bank there were two freight tunnels. Initially a
single leaf bascule was considered for this location but Edward Bennett of the
Chicago Plan Commission was against such a design because it lacked the
symmetry of a double leaf bascule. The compromise was to custom build each leaf
of the double leaf bridge. On the west bank, a heavier than usual counterweight
was used to provide for a shorter radius of rotation which avoided interference with
the railroad (see photographs on the map and fact sheet). The east leaf was similar
to past bridges, with the exception of some of the foundation details.
Planning and design work began in 1913 and construction started in 1915.
Labor strikes, court injunctions, and material shortages all contributed to the long
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construction period for this bridge. Initially, the Union Station Company had
oversight responsibility of the bridge construction. The Chicago Division of
Bridges took over this responsibility in 1917.
Bridge tender houses are placed on the southwest and northeast corners of the
bridge and were rebuilt in 2008 (Illustration 39). The northeast bridge tender
house was smaller because of its proximity to the Fisher Building. Decorative
metal guard rails grace the outer edge of the bridge.
Illustration 40 shows the lines of the truss. This truss is somewhat more
graceful in its lines than the pony truss at West Washington Boulevard.

Illustration 40: A View to the East Along the West Monroe Street Bridge
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West Adams Street Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
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West Adams Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Swing Span built in 1869
Current Bridge
Date Opened: August 26, 1927
Designers: Thomas G. Pihlfeldt, Donald Becker, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase Two; Single Deck; Deck Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 9
Clear Span: 173 feet (12th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 199 feet (13th longest)
Width: 64 feet (10th widest – tied w/ West Jackson)
Leaf Weight: 1000 tons (est.)
Height above the Water: 16 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 32,739 (3rd most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 9,300 (12th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 39
Last Rebuilt: 1996
Cultural: None
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Illustration 41: The West Adams Street Bridge

This crossing has been in use for 139 years. The first swing bridge was built
around 1869. The swing bridge era at West Adams ended when the current bridge
opened on August 26, 1927.
The limestone clad bridge
tender houses are at the northwest
and southeast corners of the
bridge. Illustration 42 shows a
photograph taken on the bridge
sidewalk looking toward the
northwest bridge tender house.
These bridge tender houses are
characteristic of Second
Generation bridges. Illustration 42: A View to the West on the West Adams Street
Bridge
This bridge was involved in
some political controversy. In 1923, then city engineer Alexander Murdoch
supported the use of patented Strauss designed bridge components for use on this
bridge and the bridge at Roosevelt Road. While use of these patents was supported
The Bridges 154

by two boards of engineers, the fact that Chicago had lost a patent suit brought by
the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company no doubt gave upper management a negative
view of his decision. The Commissioner of Public Works asked Mr. Murdoch to
change his decision. Mr. Murdoch declined and was fired. John Ericson, the
former city engineer, was given the job (once again) and Strauss patents were not
used on the bridge.37

37 “Sprague Ousts City Engineer After A Clash,” Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1923.
The Bridges 155

West Jackson Boulevard Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 156

West Jackson Boulevard Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Swing span bridge completed in 1888
Current Bridge
Date Opened: January 29, 1916
Designers: Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, Edward Bennett
Classification: Second Generation, Phase One; Single Deck; Deck Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 2
Clear Span: 174 feet (11th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 202 feet (12th longest)
Width: 64 feet (10th widest – tied w/West Adams)
Leaf Weight: 1,000-2,000 tons (est.)
Height above the Water: 16 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 22,280 (4th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 8,900 (13th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 39
Last Rebuild: 1993
Cultural: None
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Illustration 43: West Jackson Boulevard Bridge

The first bridge at Jackson Boulevard was a swing bridge built in 1888. The
current bridge was opened on January 29, 1916. This bridge was built by the
Sanitary District because the Department of Public Works was overwhelmed with
the job of replacing old swing bridges.
This bridge is the second oldest of the group, after West Washington
Boulevard. The bridge tender houses located on the southeast and northwest
corners of this bridge are much more elaborate than those on the Washington
Boulevard bridge. The octagonal shape and mansard roof reflects ornamentation
of the Beaux-Arts style of design.
Like its neighbor at West Adams
Street, this bridge uses deck trusses.
These two bridges are the only
single deck bridges in the group to
use this truss configuration.
Illustration 44 shows a photograph
taken on the bridge. Contrast this Illustration 44: A View Along the West Jackson Boulevard
Looking West
view with the view on the West
Washington Boulevard Bridge (Illustration 35; p 140).
There was only one newspaper story found describing an unusual traffic
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accident at this bridge in 1937.38 Due to a unique set of circumstances, the west
leaf of the bridge was down and the east leaf of the bridge was up. Unfortunately,
the warning signals were not operational and the car and its driver plunged off the
west leaf into about twenty-five of water. The driver was killed.

38 “Bridge Tragedy is Laid to Shut Safety Devices;” Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1937.
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West Van Buren Street Bridge on the South Branch of the Chicago River
The Bridges 160

West Van Buren Street Bridge Facts


First Crossing: Pontoon Bridge built in 1849
Current Bridge
Date Opened: December 5, 1956
Designers: Division of Bridges and Viaducts
Classification: Fourth Generation; Single Deck; Rail Height Trusses
Group Age Ranking (1 = oldest): 15
Clear Span: 182 feet (9th longest)
Trunnion-to-Trunnion Span: 210 feet (11th longest)
Width: 69 feet (9th widest)
Leaf Weight: 1,000-2,000 tons
Height above the Water: 22 feet
Average Daily Foot Traffic (1999): 3,100 (16th most)
Average Daily Vehicular Traffic (2006): 6,700 (16th most)
Annual Lifts (2006): 40
Last Rehabilitated: NA
Cultural: Movie - The Dark Knight (2008)
The Bridges 161

Illustration 45: The West Van Buren Street Bridge

This crossing has been in use for 159 years. The first floating bridge was
installed in 1849. The swing bridge era began in the 1860s. The Great Fire
destroyed the bridge in 1871 and it was rebuilt by the end of 1872. The bascule
bridge era began in 1894, when a Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge was built
here.
The current bridge replaced the Scherzer rolling lift bridge in 1956. Illustration
46 shows a view along the sidewalk and the bridge tender house.
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Illustration 46: A View Looking East Along the West Van Buren Street Bridge

The single bridge tender house is located at the southeast corner of the bridge.
This rectangular house is done in the modern style with stark lines and no
adornment.There were two stories about this bridge published in the Chicago
Tribune. The first involved a situation prior to the completion of the bridge, where
an individual climbed to the top of a leaf and threatened to jump. He was in the
limelight for about two hours, before a priest talked him in to coming down.39 In
1975, a postal worker was beaten, robbed, and thrown off the bridge to his death
during after noon rush hour. The two men responsible, were arrested.40

39 “Perches 100 ft. Up On Bridge in Leap Threat,” Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1956.
40 “2 Seized in Slaying on Bridge,” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1975.
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Conclusion
So there you have it, eighteen bridges in the span of two miles and almost one
hundred years. My primary objective for this project was to collect the facts,
figures, and tidbits for these bridges into a single easy-to-use volume for fellow
enthusiasts of Chicago and its bridges.
As I was “chasing” bridge openings in the Spring of 2008, I had some time to
observe the tourist traffic on the river. I was surprised and disappointed at the lack
of discussion these bridges received on the tour boats. Maybe this isn't too
surprising as bridges are not admired/appreciated by all, and most of the
architecture tours are more interested in skyscrapers. But what really surprised me
was the indifference, even as a bridge was operating above them – a sight that's
hard to ignore.
These bridges are an integral part of the Chicago landscape and have played an
important part in the development of Chicago. I hope the information gathered
here will be used to expand architectural tours, help residents learn more about
their city, and show visitors another great part of Chicago.
With any luck, a consequence of this project will be to raise (pun intended) the
visibility of these bridges to a wider audience.
Bibliography 164

Bridge Data
● Beard, E. Michael and Craig Holmes, Chicago Bascule Bridges-Main Branch-Chicago,

poster; 1999; www.errolgraphics.com.

● Federal Highway Administration, 2007 National Bridge Inventory ASCII Files,

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/nbi/ascii.cfm?year=2007.

● Federal Highway Administration, National Bridge Inventory Record Format, 2007,

● http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/nbi/format.cfm.

● Gansen, Jill, CD ROM of Miscellaneous Engineering Drawings of Bridges,

City of Chicago Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering, 2007.

● Moskal, Richard, Bridges in Movies, Chicago Film Commission, E-mail dated 10/19/2007.

● Rouse, Darryl, Bridge Lifts in 2006, City of Chicago Department of Transportation, Bureau of

Bridges and Transit, Fax dated 10/19/2007.

Bridge History

● Becker, D. N., Development of the Chicago Type Bascule Bridge, American Society of Civil

Engineers Transactions, Paper No. 2226, February 1943.

● Central Manufacturing District of Chicago, Chicago River Bridges to Remain movable,

Central Manufacturing District Magazine; Vol. X; No. 3, pp25-26, 1926.

● Chicago City Manual 1912, Up From Rope Ferry to High Bridge, Chicago Bureau of

Statistics and Municipal Library, 1912.

● Christensen, D., Editor, Chicago Public Works: A History Chicago, Rand McNally &

Company, 1973.

● Cleary, R. L., Bridges, W.W. Norton & Company, ISBN0-393-73136-7, 2007.


165

Bridge History (continued)

● Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, The Movable Bridges of Chicago,

A Brief History, City of Chicago, 1983.

● Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, Bataan-Corregidor Memorial

Bridge, City of Chicago, 1949.

● Draper, J. E., Chicago Bridges, Chicago Department of Public Works, 1984.

● Griffenhagen & associates, ltd, Summary and outline of the report on the Chicago

River bridge survey on the question of fixed vs. movable bridges, 1923-1925 :

submitted to the mayor and City council of the city of Chicago, June 15, 1925, Fred

J. Ringley Co., printers, 1925.

● Hess, J. A., Chicago River Bascule Bridges Development of Movable Bridge

Technology in Chicago, 1890-1910, Historic American Engineering Record Library of

Congress, HAER No. IL-111, 1999,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Hoth, Nathan, Historic Bridges of Michigan and Elsewhere, 2007,

http://www.historicbridges.org/ .

● Pihlfeldt, T. G., “Bridges,” Civil Service News, Pictorial Story of Chicago's Public

Works, Engineering Wonders of the World Featuring Chicago's Charter Jubilee

1837-1937, 1937.

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Outer Drive,

Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-54, 1986,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.
166

Bridge History (continued)

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Clark Street,

Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-64, 1986,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, West Adams

Street,

Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-51, 1986,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Jackson

Boulevard,

Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-55, 1986

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, La Salle Street,

Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-66, 1986,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Michigan Avenue,

Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-37, 1986,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Scott, C.; Alexander, F.; Nicolay, J., Fitzsimons, G; Brucken, C., Chicago River Bascule

Bridge, Washington Street, Historic American Engineering Record Library of Congress,

HAER No. IL-38, 1992, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/ .


167

Bridge History (concluded)

● Sneddon, M. T., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Wabash Avenue, Historic American

Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-48, June 1999,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Sneddon, M. T., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Wells Street Bridge, Historic

American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-52, 1999,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Sneddon, M. T., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Monroe Street, Historic American

Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-53, June 1999,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.

● Sneddon, M. T., Chicago River Bascule Bridge, Franklin-Orleans Street, Historic

American Engineering Record Library of Congress, HAER No. IL-65, June 1999,

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/.
168

Bridge Patents

● Harman, W, Bridge, Patent No. 383,880, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, June 5,

1888.

● Scherzer, W. (Dec'd – A. H. Scherzer, Administrator), Lift Bridge, Patent No. 511,713,

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, December 26, 2893.

● Scherzer, A. H. and Kandeler, C. F. T., Bascule Bridge, Patent No. 721,918, U.S. Patent

and Trademark Office, March 3, 1903

● Strauss, J. B., Bridge, Patent No. 995,813, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, June 20,

1911

● Von Babo, A. F. L., Trunnion Bascule Bridge, Patent No. 1,001,800, U.S. Patent and

Trademark Office, August 29, 1911.

● Waddell, J. A. L., Lift Bridge, Patent No. 506,571, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,

October 10, 1893.

Chicago Data

● Chicago Fact Book Consortium, Local community fact book : Chicago metropolitan

area : based on the 1990 census, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1995.

● Levin, Terry, Daily Train Traffic Across Bridges at Wells and Lake, Chicago Transit

Authority, E-mail dated 08/20/2007.

● Gansen, Jill, 1999 Central Business District Pedestrian Counts, City of Chicago

Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering, E-mail dated 08/17/2007.


169

Chicago History

● Andreas, A.T., History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time –

Vol 1 Ending with the Year 1857, pp197-202, A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1884.

● Andreas, A.T., History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time –

Vol 2 From 1857 Until the Fire of 1871, pp 60-65, A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1884.

● Andreas, A.T., History of Chicago: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time –

Vol 3 From the Fire of 1871 until 1885, pp128-132, A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1884.

● Canal Corridor Association, Illinois and Michigan Canal, http://www.canalcor.org/ .

● Chicago City Manual 1912, The Making of State Street, Chicago Bureau of Statistics

and Municipal Library, 1912.

● Chicago Daily Tribune, Early Chicago Reminisences of Philo Carpenter and Eli B.

Williams, ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1986) , 07/11/1880

● Chicago Daily Tribune, The Lecture, ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune

(1849-1986), 05/08/1876.

● Chicago Daily Tribune, Scenes of Other Days Tavern Life in the Chicago of the

Historic Thirties, ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1986),

08/02/1891

● Chicago Daily Tribune, Lake St. Once Held Place as Queen of City, ProQuest

Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1986), 11/29/1953.

● Akers, Dwight L., Ed., Proposed Bond Issue for Bridges, The City Club Bulletin; Vol.

IV; No. 6, 1911.


170

Chicago History (continued)

● Drury, John, Old Chicago Neighborhoods – Near West Side, Landlord's Guide, Vol 38;

No. 7; pp12-18, 1947.

● Drury, John, Old Chicago Neighborhoods – Near North Side, Landlord's Guide, Vol

39; No. 4; pp6-8;33-34, 1948.

● Federal Works Agency - Work Projects Administration, Illinois: A Descriptive and

Historical Guide, A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, IL, 1939.

● Goddard, Connie and Bruce Hatton Boyer, The Great Chicago Trivia and Fact Book,

Cumberland House Nashville, Tennessee, 1996.

● Grossman, James R.; Keating, Ann Durkin; and Reiff, Janice L, The Encyclopedia of

Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2004 (book and website -

http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/ ).

● Holland, Robert A, Chicago in Maps, Rizzoli International Publications, NY, 2005.

● Holt, Glen E. and Dominic A. Pacyga, Chicago: A Historical Guide to the

Neighborhoods The Loop and the South Side, pp13-27, Chicago Historical Society,

1979.

● Jensen, George Peter, Historic Chicago Sites, Creative Enterprises, Chicago, 1953.

● Kogan, Herman and Cromie, Robert, The Great Fire Chicago 1871, G. P. Putnam's

Sons, 1971.

● McClure, James B, Chicago : an instructive and entertaining history of a wonderful

city : with a useful stranger's guide, Rhodes & McClure, 1888.


171

Chicago History (concluded)

● Pacyga, Dominic and Ellen Skerrett, Chicago: City of Neighborhoods – Histories and

Tours, Loyola Press, 1986.

● Pierce, B. L., A History of Chicago: Vol 1 The beginning of a City 1673-1848,

University of Chicago Press, 1937.

● Pierce, B. L., A History of Chicago: Vol 2 From Town to City 1848-1871, University of

Chicago Press, 1940.

● Pierce, B. L., A History of Chicago: Vol 3 Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893,

University of Chicago Press, 1957.

● Pierce, B. L., Editor, As Others See Chicago Impressions of Visitors 1673-1933,

University of Chicago Press, 1933.

● Public Works Historical Society, Chicago, an industrial guide / Public Works

Historical Society, Public Works Historical Society, 1991.


172

Engineering Biographical Data

● Bjork, Kenneth, Saga in Steel and Concrete: Norwegian Engineers in America,

pp120-130 (Pihfeldt), Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1947 (Excerpt at:

http://newsarch.rootsweb.com/th/read/NORWAY/2003-04/1050683732).

● Leonard, John William and Marquis, Albert Nelson, The book of Chicagoans : a

biographical dictionary of leading living men of the city of Chicago, (Bennett), A.N.

Marquis, 1905-1917, 1917.

● Leonard, John William and Marquis, Albert Nelson, The book of Chicagoans : a

biographical dictionary of leading living men of the city of Chicago, (Ericson), A.N.

Marquis, 1905-1917, 1911.

● Strobel, C. L. and Ziesting, A., “William Scherzer,” Proceedings of the American

Society of Civil Engineers, Volume 20, January – December 1894, pp 58-59, ASCE,

1894.

● Waterman, A. N., Historical Review of Chicago and Cook County and Selected

Biography, Volume 2, pp 897-902, Lewis Publishing Co., 1908.

● Weingardt, Richard G., Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers 32

Profiles of Inspiration and Achievement, pp 63-66 (Waddell), ASCE, 2005.

● ___________, Who's Who in Chicago, (Pihlfeldt), A.N. Marquis & Co., 1926

● ____________, Who's Who in Chicago, (Becker), A.N. Marquis & Co., 1945.

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