1863 Rush Street Bridge | Main Channel | South Branch | North Branch Bridges | 1897 Obstruction Report | Dearborn Street Bridge 1880
Chicago’s Dearborn Street was the site of the first drawbridge across the Chicago River. It is rather strange there was no Dearborn Street bridge for almost fifty years between 1839 and 1888.
First Dearborn Street bridge in 1834
Chicago Tribune Editorial February 15, 1880
The City Council must not permit a few interested persons to delude them into a policy of bridging the river which may eventually lead to costly and serious consequences. It is proposed to build a bridge at Dearborn street, and some persons owning property in the vicinity have taken active steps to promote that end. The owners of property on a street near the river have no more rights in the matter, except to be paid for damages, than have the rest of the population, and hence the City Council must, in deciding upon so important a matter, be governed by considerations of the general interest of the city, and especially with reference to the navigation of the river.
The policy of the city, established from the beginning, has been to have a bridge not oftener than at alternate streets. It has not been until within a comparatively short time that even this number of bridges has been constructed. Originally the bridges were floating ones, and were swung to one side, thus affording the least obstruction to the free use of the river by vessels. The adoption of the present system furnished a more serious obstruction to vessels. It is no unusual thing for vessels to be compelled to stop in their course and wait between the bridges; at times there are as many as six or eight vessels arrested in their course, and for the bridges to open, between State and Clark streets. The absence of a bridge at Dearborn street renders this possible; but, if there were a bridge at that point, there would be no room for the vessels to wait, and it would be necessary to keep Clark, Dearborn, and State street bridges wide open to enable the vessels to pass east or west to avoid collision with each other or with one or more of the bridges. To build a bridge at Dearborn street, therefore, is to take from vessels in tow all of waiting between Clark and State streets; and, when a vessel passing up the river crosses the line of State street, the bridges at Dearborn and Clark streets will have to be opened of necessity at the same time, no matter how urgent the travel over the bridges may be. Instead of facilitating travel over the bridges and reducing the crowds of vehicles and foot-passengers detained each time the bridges are opened, the construction of a bridge at Dearborn street will necessitate the immediate opening of the three bridges,—as Clark, Dearborn, and State streets,—because of the want of room between such bridges for a vessel to lay to, and the necessity for such vessel to escape the close quarters by three swinging bridges. In point of fact, the erection of a bridge at Dearborn street will not increase facilities for crossing the river, but will add to the existing obstructions.
State Street Bridge #2, Clark Street Bridge #6 and Wells Street Bridge #6 in 1873 & 1875 depicting the alternate street layout along the Main Channel.
Independent of all these considerations, the Council should bear in mind the importance of the river to the trade and commerce of Chicago. The river is an essential highway,—of far greater importance than any half-dozen of the streets of the city. The vessel-owners and the population whose trade is carried on by means of the river have the greatest possible interest in the safe transit of the river by their steamers and sail-vessels. Economy in ship-building now demands the longest possible vessels. Two of the larger class of steamers will now, one following the other, occupy all the space between Clark and State streets that can be used with safety. To thust another bridge into that space will be an out- rage upon the whole navigation interest. It is questionable whether such a bridge at that point may not be adjudged by the Courts to be such an obstruction to the navigation of the river as to demand its removal The City Council cannot afford to thus trifle with one of the largest interests of the city,-one on which the trade of Chicago is so dependent; and we trust it will hesitate long before it departs from the policy of having bridges at alternate streets
The city did eventually build a Dearborn Street Bridge in 1888, which lead to the 1897 Obstruction Report.
Chicago River Main Channel