Wells #6 moved to Dearborn Street in 1888
Chicago’s Dearborn Street was the site of the first drawbridge across the Chicago River. Due to a bridge/ferry war, there was no Dearborn Street bridge for almost fifty years between 1839 and 1888.
Andreas’ History of Chicago, Volume I, 1886
The first drawbridge thrown across the river was at Dearborn Street, and was built in 1834 by a shipwright named Nelson R Norton, who in a letter, says:
- I came to Chicago November 16, 1833. Soon after I arrived, I commenced cutting the lumber for a drawbridge, on the land adjoining Michigan Avenue, afterward owned by Hiram Pearsons. In March, 1834, I commenced building it, and I think it was completed by the ist of June. The first steamboat that passed through it was the old ‘ Michigan, with a double engine, commanded by Captain C, Klake, and owned by Oliver Newberry, of Detroit.
Mr. Norton is evidently in error as to the time of the completion of the bridge, since the Democrat states that it was formally accepted by the Trustees in August, the first proposals having been received in February. At the time the Dearborn Street bridge was completed, the bridges across the North and South branches also belonged to the corporation, and a committee had been appointed during the previous December, consisting of G. W. Dole, Madore B. Beaubien and Edmund S. Kimberly, to see that they were properly repaired. In September the corporation paid $166.67 on account of repairing. The Dearborn-street structure was a primitive affair and received the blows of passing vessels and the curses of pedestrians and drivers. From various sources it is learned that it was about three hundred feet long, and the opening for the passage of craft about sixty feet. It was of the “gallows pattern,” and for five years, the frames, one at either end, stood like instruments of death to frighten the timid stranger at night.
Upon one occasion when hoisted it “would not down” at anyone’s bidding, and for forty-eight hours the gallows frames held the draw suspended in mid-air. The bridge was repaired in 1835 and 1837, and the Common Council ordered its removal in July, 1839. Many citizens were so afraid that the Council would rescind this action, that a large crowd gathered upon the river before daylight, the next morning, and going to work with a will, in a very short time chopped the bridge to pieces.
This step was only one in the progress of the bridge war which had been raging for several years. During the spring of that year two ferries were running, one at Clark and the other at State Street. The latter was supported by private subscriptions. The feeling finally reached such a pass that in April some envious supporter of the Clark Street ferry cut the rope of the State Street institution with an ax. This ferry was the famous Velocipede, the approach to which is thus noticed by the American the day previous to the cutting:
- The access has been made solid and clean by the laying of a nice board or platform, on which the Chinese foot of the most delicate of nature’s handiwork may step with perfect impunity from the vulgar mud and Brobdingnagian gravel.
This ferry, with its wretched approach, was used at State Street until August 29, when it was transferred to Dearborn Street. It consisted of a scow, large enough to accommodate two double teams, operated by a rope which was fastened to a windlass, on each side of the river. The boat was propelled by one man with the aid of such of the passengers as chose to assist. George Brady and Samuel Carpenter were ferrymen.
The building of Clark-street bridge may be said to have terminated the bridge war. It was found that the weight of public opinion was adverse to the existence of a bridge as low down as Dearborn Street, and that ferries\ were both inconvenient and expensive.
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.
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
Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1888
The Wells Street Bridge is to be moved this morning-at least so the Keystone Bridge Company says-and appearances yesterday seemed to bear out the statement. Men were at work on the scows that are to be used, and by night everything was in readiness for the undertaking. Two scows were fastened together by heavy beams, and on this double arrangement were erected huge horses made of the heaviest timbers. These are riveted together and strengthened in every possible way, and make a structure that will bear almost any weight. Another of these particular-looking crafts was constructed on the other side of the river.
As they stood last evening the tops of the horses were some distance above the bridge and of course the first thing to be done will be to get them low enough to float under the ends of the bridge. This will be done by pumping water onto the scows. When they have settled far enough they will be floated under the bridge and the water pumped out. As they rise they will lift the bridge from its present resting-place. How great the buoyancy of the scows will have to be can be realized when it is known that the bridge is estimated to weigh ninety-seven tons.
Considerable difficulty will doubtless be experienced in getting the bridge through Clark street draw. The space there is only just about great enough to admit of the scows passing through. The danger of capsize to which THE TRIBUNE called attention, appears to the ordinary observer to be great, but the contractors do not seem to fear anything of the sort. The combination scows are but little wider than the bridge itself, and when it comes to holding ninety-seven tons so far above the surface of the river it would seem as though the structure would be a bit top-heavy. The turntable will be taken out just as soon as the bridge is away, and will be sent down on another scow and put in place at Dearborn street before the bridge is put there.
Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1888
There is no bridge at Wells street, yet there is a Wells street bridge; there is no Dearborn street bridge, though there is a bridge at Dearborn street. Three thousand persons, male and female, shivered two mortal hours in the March wind of yesterday afternoon in order to spring this riddle on their friends before the answer should appear in the morning papers. And this is the answer:
Though there is still a Wells street bridge there is no bridge at Wells street because the Wells street bridge has been floated down the river; there is thus a bridge at Dearborn street to be sure, but the Wells street bridge at Dearborn will never be the Dearborn street bridge until it is possible to cross it without the aid of a derrick or a balloon.
After many days of promises and of getting up at unholy hours in the morning the multitudes who had set their hearts on seeing Wells street bridge sail majestically down to Dearborn street or plunge ignobly to the bottom of the creek at 5:30 yesterday gave vent to their feelings in a prolonged shout of exultation. At that hour the bridge moved slowly off the center pier. Notwithstanding Engineer C. L. Strobel of the Keystone Bridge Company, attired in a new lavender spring overcoat and red walking gloves with heavy black stitching on the backs. stood solitary and calm on the top of the swaying structure-notwithstanding this sublime spectacle of confidence based upon infallible scientific calculations, the crowd was not unmindful of the duty which always derives upon onlookers under such circumstances. Their shouts of warning and command were incessant. but the men engaged in the work paid not the slightest attention.
The rain and sleet of Sunday retarded preparations, so that the moving was accomplished twelve hours later than intended. At 10 o’clock yesterday morning the work was abandoned for the same reason. An hour or so of warm rain and south wind however, decided the men to go on with the work. The two pairs of scows with their deck-works of heavy pine timbers were soon placed under the bridge on each side of the center pier, the scows having been filled with water till their decks were nearly on level with the surface of the river. The weight of the bridge, denied of all flooring and other woodwork, was about ninety tons. In order to raise the bridge off the center pier it was therefore necessary to pump that much water out of the scows. The pumping began at noon and continued until the voyage began. Sixteen men worked four hand-pumps on each scow. When it was observed that a portion of the weight of the bridge was borne by the scows the pumping out process was materially hastened by stream-siphons operated from two tugs the Alert and the Allen. When the bridge began to clear the pier a force of men went to work taking off the rims of iron which serve for bearings for the wheels upon which the bridge revolves. These rims. the wheels. and the heavy iron cap of the pier with its track and cog-rim. were left behind. They will have to be transferred to the same position at Dearborn street, however. before the bridge can be lowered and the scows laken from under it.
The structure swayed from side to side and the scows seemed hardly able to bear their burden.
READY TO BEGIN THE VOYAGE
“Strobel knows what he’s about.” said a man in a tarpaulin. “You see there are two scows eight or ten feet apart upon which the timbers supporting the bridge are placed. The bridge will make its voyage end foremost. If there were only one scow at each end of the bridge a little inclination would shIp the water in it to one side and over the thing would go. There being two scows this is mpossible. While the bridge is being turned endwise with the current you observe that the greatest care is used to prevent any sudden jar that might change the centre of gravity.”
With the tug Alert behind and the Allen in front to guide the strange craft and with Mr. Strobel dapper and natty, walking aloft issuing orders, the bridge was floated down to Clark street. As a precaution against accidents a guy-line made fast to schooners along the south shore was paid out by a gang of men on the rear larboard corner of the hindmost scow. When the Allen blew her whistle Clark street bridge could not have held a dozen more people. An ineffectual attempt was made- to drive them off, and then the bridge turned. It ‘Has opened barely fifteen minutes. The distance between the piers at Clark and Dearnborn streets is so short that it was necessary to begin to turn the front end of the floating bridge to the only one of the trip—the north before the rear scows had cleared the draw. What might have been a serious accident—the only one of the trip—was narrowly escaped here. While the Allen was pulling at the front scows those behind drew dangerously near the pier. A workman saw the danger and yelled to the Captain of the Alert:
Back ‘er, Cap, quick!
Then he and half a dozen of his fellows threw their shoulders against the pier and prevented a collision, though the end of the scow grated against the heavy timbers with a thrillingly suggestive sound.
At 6:45 the Wells street bridge rested on the scows above the pier at Dearborn street.
The Wells Street Bridge before it was moved to Dearborn Street.
Robinson Fire Map
Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1902
The Dearborn street bridge (#2) was closed to all but pedestrians yesterday. City Engineer Ericson declared the structure unsafe after City Director Donovan examined the abutments under the found that heavy stones fell out every time a team passed over the bridge.
A steamer, the name of which was not secured, ran into the abutments early yesterday morning, this being the third boat to collide with the bridge in less than a week, and the result was the closing of the structure.
With State street bridge down and the Dearborn street span out of commission, traffic is diverted to the already overcrowded Rush street bridge and to the Clark street bridge. The latter is able to stand the strain, but the former is weak in some respects.
Daily Bulletin Suggested.
At the rate things are being done to the city bridges, Mr. Ericson thinks that a daily bulletin, fashioned after the water bulletin, will soon be required to inform citizens how they can get across the river. If issued yesterday the bulletin would have been:
Dearborn street—Closed to teams.
Wells street—Just repaired.
Twenty-second street—Closed to street car travel.
The Polk street bridge was struck by a steamer yesterday and twenty feet of sidewalk was torn out by the prow of the boat, according to information received by the City Engineer. The damage will be easily repaired, it is thought.
In addition to streamlining the foundations of the Dearborn street bridge yesterday the city diver investigated the crown of the Washington street tunnel, and found that the cofferdam is fully a foot above the top of the masonry. It is on this piling that boats have been sticking. Mr. Donovan wanted to saw off the tops of the piles at once, but City Engineer Ericson thought it too dangerous work. Machinery to do it is being secured, and it is expected that after the cofferdam has been reduced there will be considerably less trouble with steamers.
After two breakdowns in four days, the Wells street bridge has been put in full commission again. The structure is being swung by the heaviest machinery ever used on it. The pinions which have snapped repeatedly are now considered unbreakable.
Bascule for Dearborn Street.
The next bascule bridge erected by the Drainage board will be put in at Dearborn street. Chief Engineer Randolph informed the board yesterday that the dangerous condition of that bridge rendered it advisable to put in a new one as soon as possible.
The Drainage board also passed a resolution requesting the city to connect all sewers built in the future either with the river or with the drainage canal, and not with the lake. Trustee Jones insisted that sewers even in the Calumet River district where the city is about to install several, should drain into the canal, although that locality is not included in the Sanitary District.
Dearborn Bridge #3 and Clark Bridge #7 in 1913.
The Inter-Ocean May 31, 1907
Chicago’s most massive steel bridge, that at Dearborn street, is now 50 per cent completed, the lofty cantilever on the south approach being practically finished. Work is to be completed within the next fortnight on the foundations for the North Side approach, and as soon as the wells are excavated the crew of steel workers who have been engaged for the last six months upon the massive frame of steel and wrought iron that forms the south half of the bridge will begin upon its duplicate, the cantilever for the north half.
The work on the structure, which will form such an important link between the North and South sides of the city, and will take such a heavy strain from the already overworked Clark street and State street bridges, has been steadily going forward since the contract was awarded a year ago last Christmas, and the difficulties that have been encountered have been overcome with greater facility than in the erection of any of the other bridges across the Chicago river. While the span at Dearborn street is not quite as wide as at some other points on the river, the traffic will be much heavier, and the Dearborn street bridge will accommodate more traffic than any of the others, with the possible exception of that at State street.
The new bridge is the latest pattern of the Scherzer type, which was originated in Chicago, and which has proved to be the most practical for a stream like the Chicago river, where it is necessary to keep the mid channel free from obstructions. The first bridge of this character which was erected in Chicago was the Van Buren street structure, which was put up in 1895 and which is still in excellent condition.
Has 142 Foot Channel.
The new structure at Dearborn street will have a clear channel of 142 feet between the projections, the War Department requirements being 140 feet, and this wide enough tio permit any two boats of average size that enter Chicago river to pass each other at this point. The two leaves or cantilevers of the bridge will be eighty-two feet and three inches long from the point of balance. The entire leaf is 118 feet long and the width of the roadway will be thirty-six feet, with walks ten feet wide on each side.
The approaches to the structure will be sixty-eight feet on the south side and thirty-nine feet on the north side. The bridge will contain 850 tons of structural steel and 500 tons of cast iron counterweight. The machinery will furnish the operating power will weigh 100 100 tons and the motive power will be furnished by four fifty horse-power motors, using street car electric currents. Owing to the delicate adjustment of weights on the bridge, but a very small power is required to operate it. The principle is exactly that of a child’s “teeter,” or see-saw, the weight of the cantilevers which meet in the center being balanced at either end by immense cast iron weights which descend into a vast pit when it is necessary to raise the structure.
The two cantilevers of the bridge rest on caisson foundations which run clear to rock bottom, 90 to 105 feet below the surface of the street. The work in sinking these caissons was where the principal difficulties were met and which caused considerable delay. The company which had the contract to sink the wells and lay the foundations first encountered two tunnels extending beneath the river, which seriously interfered with their progress. These were the gas and city water tunnels, and special pains had to be taken to avoid interfering with them and at the same time not do anything to impair the strength of the bridge.
To sink the foundations steel shields were used, the men not being required to work in compressed air, as has to be done in tunneling beneath a stream or in laying abutments for a larger structure. Pumps were kept constantly busy to keep the water out of the wells in which the men worked, and when it was finally started rapid progress was made. One of the hardest difficulties was the quicksands which are so plentiful at a certain depth beneath the surface. These caused frequent delays. But after the wells were constructed so that the steel workers and masons could go to work with their part of the contract the bridge was completed rapidly.
Dearborn Bridge #3
Will Be Finished in August.
The middle of April will see the south cantilever in good working order and the contractors expect to finish the other cantilever by the middle of August. This is dependent somewhat, however, on the progress made by the Northwestern Railroad company, which will erect a new viaduct on the northern approach of the bridge. This must be done before the bridge will be ready for general traffic. The work on the bridge has been attended without any especial accidents to the steel workers, which is unusual on a structure of such magnitude. The most serious accident happened when one of the men at work on the foundation fell in one of the wells at a distance of thirty-five feet and was impaled by a stake at the bottom of the well. He was killed instantly.
The old Dearborn street swing bridge (#2) was one of the oldest in the city, and was still in good condition when it was removed. It rested on a center pier which had long blockaded the channel and was a constant menace to navigation. The bridge was removed from the center pier by the simplest process imaginable. The contractors anchored one large scow at each end of the bridge, and these scows were submerged to a level with the stream by merely allowing them to fill fill water. Then a staging of blocks was built up on each scow to the lower girders of the bridge so that they just met. By pumping the water out of the two scows they gradually rose from the water, lifting the bridge gently and naturally off its foundations until it was floating in midstream. It was then towed down the river and out into the lake.
The process of removing the center pier was also astonishing easy. The cap and upper foundations were taken away, and then a big dredging machine was anchored in mid-stream, the masonry which formed the lower foundation was dredged up, and the Chicago river was clear at Dearborn street for the first time in many years. The erection of this type of bridge along the Chicago river wherever it is needed will be of the utmost importance in Chicago’s vessel interests, and tested against the needless blocking up of the river. It used to be an everyday occurrence for a big vessel to be struck on the roof of one of the tunnels, or in the draw of a bridge, and traffic would thereby be interrupted for hours.
Great Aid to Vessel Traffic.
It is predicted that within two years after the tunnels have been finally lowered, and the old bridges are replaced with modern structures of the Scherzer type, the shipping industry will take on new life and that larger vessels will enter the Chicago river than at any time for years. So difficult has it been to navigate the stream that the biggest vessels on the lakes have never attempted to enter the river, and the Calumet harbor has reaped vast benefits thereby. The cost of the new bridge will be approximately $140,000, and that of the substructure $78,000, making the total expense in the neighborhood of $218,000. Robert Randolph has been in charge of the work for the sanitary district.
The Inter-Ocean, October 20, 1907
“I tender to the sanitary district commissioners, on behalf of George W. Jackson & Co., the Dearborn street bridge.”
With this brief sentence Vice President Larry McGann yesterday afternoon formally turned over to the military officials the new steel bascule bridge at Dearborn street.
On Thirty Days’ Trial.
Delivery was accepted by Henry F. Eidman, who, after testing the electric controlling apparatus said:
The sanitary district commissioners are glad to receive from the contractors this monster bridge. When the deep water way is finally completed and put into operation traffic here will be much increased, and the time saved by the improved operating mechanism will be considerable.
Fior thirty days the bridge will be operated by the constructing engineers, under the direction of the sanitary commissioners, to see that the operating mechanism is in proper order. It will then be formally transferred to the city.
Will Relieve Congestion.
Little ceremony accompanied the formal transfer. At the appointed hour, 2 o’clock, a little party of interested officials gathered in the operator’s tower on the south end of the bridge, after which it was transferred. The party then crossed to the North Side and made a time test on opening and closing the draw. It took forty seconds to raise or lower the bridge.
The opening of this new bridge, said to be the best of its type in the world, will afford much needed relief to the congested traffic over Clark street bridge, and will greatly facilitate passenger transportation on the North Side.
Three views of Dearborn Bridge #3
Dearborn Street Bridge #4
Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1963
Mayor Daley lends a hand as new Dearborn street bridge (in background) is opened to traffic. Bridge, which cost $6,800,000, was opened nearly three years after originally scheduled completion date.
The new $6,800,000 Dearborn street bridge was opened to traffic at Mayor Daley’s signal yesterday. The ceremony took place almost three years after the originally scheduled completion date and the bridge cost $2,300,000 more than the first estimate.
When the mayor gave a signal with one hand, a bridge operator manning temporary controls lowered the double-leaf trunnion bascule bridge and it went into service. The ended a traffic “bottleneck” which has existed since the old bridge, dating to 1907, went out of service on Nov. 2, 1959.
Cyclists Follow First Car.
Mr. and Mrs. Harry J. Schmidt, 5630 Sheridan rd., were the first to drive over the new span in their automobile. They were followed by about 20 members of a cycling club.
Seventeen minutes later, after city workers removed signs and wooden barricades, a regular stream of traffic flowed northward over the bridge.
The new bridge, the fourth to span the Chicago river at Dearborn street, is 86 feet wide and 260 feet long and provides five traffic lanes, all northbound.
Many Problems Delay It.
Repeated delays, building difficulties, and controversies between the city and contractors contributed to the extended time and additional money needed to construct the bridge.
Among them were a nationwide steel strike, shifting of the river bottom, construction of the Marina City apartment buildings nearby, and the settling of a section of Wacker Drive.
With the new bridge, vehicular traffic will move northbound only in Dearborn street between Polk and Ontario streets. Clark street is now southbound only from Ontario to Harrison streets.
The Chicago Transit authority announced that its northbound Clark street, Division street, and Broadway buses will travel north in Dearborn street to Kinzie street.
Scene looking northwest at Wacker Drive and Dearborn street yesterday after new $6,800,000 Dearborn street bridge was opened to traffic at Mayor Daley’s signal. Twenty members of a cycling club followed cars as traffic moved across Chicago river at Dearborn street for first time since Nov. 2, 1959. No speeches were made during the opening ceremony.