Harper’s Weekly, June 13, 1891
Reprinted in The Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1891
In addition to the World’s Fair, the Stock Yards will not be the only curious affair within the city limits of Chicago in 1893. There will also be a beautiful boulevard that will run under the Chicago River at one of its widest crossings. Chicago is rather vain of its boulevards, and there are not a few enthusiasts within the limits of the city who smile faintly when they bear mention made of the achievements of Baron Haussmann in this direction. The North and South Park Commissioners have at various times discussed the possibility of connecting driveways on their respective sides of the river by means of some passageway that would not be of a structural nature inferior to these driveways themselves. It was certainly an unfortunate affair that the picturesque North Shore drive should stretch itself longingly and impotently toward the majestic sweep of Michigan avenue to the south. These two splendid roads were broken only by the muddy, sluggish stream of the river. It was manifestly wrong.
The last Mayor of the city, himself a city engineer of no mean ability, struck with a brilliant idea, once proposed to build over the river a grand boulevard bridge. But this, to be at all of use, would necessarily be after the after the fashion of that clever bit of engineering that unites over the Liffey the “finest street in Europe,” that is to say, Sackville street, Dublin. But if the Mayor were given his way, and if the river were bridged thus, the schooner traffic of the city would be gripped about the throat, in a manner of saying, and the city’s watery highway made worse than useless. The only way out of it (and this the Mayor suggested) was to elevate the bridge, and make it a fixed structure—an aerial boulevard towering over the masts of the highest vessels entering the port.
“A superb notion from an engineer’s point of view,” said the Park Commissioners, “but for practical purposes of no value.”
While the Park Commissioners and the Mayor were wrangling pro and contra over this matter, a certain wealthy later of Chicago was thinking. This lady, to do her shopping, was compelled to cross the bridges crowded with the vehicles commerce. She would have preferred a boulevard for her carriage, but there was none. The thought of the Mayor’s aerial drive was a dizzy thought. “The Mayor wants to build over the river,” she said to herself. “Why not build under the river?
This lady—Mrs. Horatio N. May—mentioned the matter to her husband. Mr. May was delighted with the scheme. He told his wife that she had been born with the genius of an engineer, and requested her to draft plans. Meanwhile, being one of the Park Commissioners, he spoke of Mrs. May’s design to associates of the board, and was delighted when he found that they all endorsed it. From that moment the success of Mrs. May’s plans was assured. She bought books of engineering and studied them; she read up on the Thames Embankment; she sat down and computed the support of arches. Formulas became as familiar to her mind as new patterns, and soon she could discuss the merits of all the noted river tunnels in the world. Her plans were matured, and the rough drawings were elaborated by Architect J. L. Silsbee of Chicago, who will also be the supervising architect of the affair. The Board of Commissioners saw the plans and drawings, approved them, and now all that remains to be done to embody Mrs. May’s famous idea is to bore and build and finish. The ground has already been carefully surveyed.
THE PROPOSED BOULEVARD TUNNEL, CHICAGO.
Top: Interior, showing Driveway and Footway
Bottom: Entrance to Tunnel
Drawn by Charles Graham from Accepted Plans
The entire length of the subway boulevard will be 3,200 feet. The approaches at either end (the north end will be at Ohio street and the south end at Randolph street) will be 800 feet long. These added together will account for one-half the length, so that the portion of the boulevard will be actually under the streets of the city and under the bed of the river will be 1,600 feet in length. The main drive will be 36 feet in width, and will be constructed of the usual boulevard material, that is to say, of concrete base, packed down and rolled, covered with smooth asphalt. The footway, that is designed to be only on one side, will be of the granolithic or granitoid construction, and will be twelve feet in width. Thus the total width of the boulevard will be forty-eight feet. The bed of the road will be about twenty feet clear of the arched roof, or about forty feet below the surface of the water in the the river. Dividing the sidewalk from the roadway will be erected a row of glazed Corinthian columns, forming supports with their capitals to the roof.
The entrances will be drawn out strongly with bold lamps and perhaps a trifle of sculpture, and the designs promise something imposing in this feature. The interior walls and roof will be laid with white enameled brick. Cement will be used in the masonry for the prevention of seepage, but it will hardly be a necessity, for beyond the roof the beauty of the interior will be protected from damage by water by heavy strata of steel and waterproof cement composition. Along and back of the columns will run a cornice of terra cotta, ornate with moulding and sculpture. This cornice will serve a double purpose, for it will not only add greatly to the interior beauty of the tunnel, but will also act as a shade for the illuminating electric arcs.
The electric lights will confer on this tunnel the brilliance of the day itself will, it is almost unnecessary to say, be very numerous. Concealing themselves behind the terra cotta cornice, they will fling out and around a radiance that, reflected from the white walls and the glistening roof, will furnish forth an artificial sunshine the immediate intensity of whose glare will be shrouded from the eys of the passengers. Thus will all the proverbial effects of a passage through a tunnel into open day be obviated by Mrs. May’s wise designs.
Another unusual purpose will be followed in the construction. The grade of the tunnel will be so slight as to be scarcely a consideration. The proportion of the grade of the tunnel will be one foot in thirty. The fall of the tunnel under the river at Washington street is one foot in 18; and of the tunnel at LaSalle, one foot in 21. The difference, as will be seen, is considerable. The engineers will encounter no difficulty of a specially ungenerous nature in the work of the construction. The passage will burrow its costly and artistic way under the stream along a line just east of Rush street or quite near that place, at which the river widens to flow into the embrace of the lake. The work should be completed and the connection between the boulevards of the South and the North Sides consummated within the compass of two years. Mrs. May has worked conscientiously in her calculations of the cost and states that it will all be done within the limit of $1,500,000, which will be paid by special assessment. The steel structure overhead proposed by ex-Mayor Cregier would require and expenditure of between $5,000,000 and double that sum.
Chicago Tribune, January 7, 1892
The City Engineer has prepared his estimate of the May subway. He places it, exclusive of possible land damages, at $1,676,250. His figures agree substantially with those of Gen. William Sooy Smith, who put the cost of the work at about a million and a half. The land damages will be nominal, because there is no property to be affected injuriously by the subway. The starting point on the South Side will be on the city’s Lake-Front property. The rest of the route south of the river will be mainly under railroad land, but it will not interfere with its use. A dollar will cover all the damage done. The approach on the North Side will benefit instead of injuring the property alongside it. Hence the total cost of the great boulevard tunnel will be little if anything in excess of the estimates of the engineers. There will be no difficulty in finding property which will be benefitted many millions by the proposed improvement and which can well afford to stand a special assessment to secure it.
The Joint Committee on Streets and Alleys of the North and South Divisions will meet Saturday, when the engineer’s report will be submitted. It will convince the members that the statements made to them about the excessive cost of the subway have no foundation in fact. Seeing this, it is to be hoped they will vote to report back the ordinance with a recommendation that it pass. If the tunnel is to be completed in time for the World’s Fair there is not a moment to use.
Inter Ocean, June 28, 1892
For a Subway.
The May subway scheme to connect the North and South boulevards exists only in colored plans, for it has been shelved by the joint Council Committee of Streets and Alleys of the North, South, and West Sides. But recently Mayor Washburne, who was very much in favor of such a connection as the one proposed by the May subway plan, has been conferring with property owners. As a result another ordinance has been prepared following similar lines, but providing for two driveways, one for business traffic. The driveways are designed to be twenty-two feet wide and separated by a wall, with the southern entrance at Randolph street, and the northern entrance at Illinois street. The ordinance, it is expected, will before the Council before the summer vacation.
Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1892.
The may subway, connecting the boulevard systems of the North and South Sides, is again being discussed by its friends and supporters.
A new set of plans has been prepared, giving, in a general way, the specifications for a double subway, and City Engineer Clarke is now making another set of plans carrying out then idea suggested in the first. These plans call for a driveway twenty-five feet wide, a cable way twenty-five feet wide, and an eight-foot footway for pedestrians. The total length is in the neighborhood of 3,500 feet and the depth forty feet, giving an easy ascent and descent. Of the total cost, which will be between $2,000,000 and $2,500,000, it is proposed to secure a great portion of from a surface or an elevated railway, which it is thought will be easy to obtain. The principal objections to the old plans would thus be overcome in carrying out the new scheme.
It was intended to raise the sum needed for its construction by special assessments on the property to be benefitted. This, it was argued, would impose hardships on small property-owners, entirely incommensurate with the benefits to be derived from the improvement. It was said that only those owning carriages or those who on rare occasions hired them would ever be benefitted and that these were in the proportion of one to ten to the great mass of people using street-cars in getting to and from their homes. The great cost of building a subway such as was suggested was held to be another point against its feasibility.
H. N. May was seen last night regarding the change from the plans originally made by Mrs. May, but he would say nothing for publication.
“I have heard nothing of it,” said Charles T. Yerkes last night when asked about the truth of the report that the May subway project has been revived and that he or the North Side railway company would invest capital in the enterprise, securing in return a passageway for their cars.
“Is there any foundation for the story?”
“If the subway were to be built would you endeavor to secure room for your tracks in it?”
“No. I’d like to see the subway built, because I drive and don’t like to cross Randolph street bridge. But our company wouldn’t need any room in it.”