From The Straightening of the Chicago River, 1926
One of the most important projects embodied by Burnham in the Plan of Chicago was the straightening of the South Branch of the Chicago River to remove the easterly bend south of Polk Street.
The first actual progress in carrying out this particular project of the Plan of Chicago was made when the City Council, on July 8, 1916, passed the ordinance to straighten the South Branch of Chicago River between Polk Street and Eighteenth Street.
At Polk Street the River starts on easterly bend that brings it to within 150 feet of Clark Street at Fifteenth Street.
This bend of the River has always blocked the streets west of Clark Street, from being extended through to the South Side.
This blocking of these streets has left the South Side with only two streets—Wabash Avenue and State Street—into the Chicago’s central business district, not counting Michigan Avenue, which is restricted to passenger cars and Clark Street which is too narrow and hilly for trucks.
Central Business District of Chicago
Showing by Areas Extent of Railroad Occupancy
To accompany report of Chicago Railway Terminal Commission
Another street that is being blocked from extending through to the South Side from the Loop is Dearborn Street. The street is not blocked by the River but by the railroads.
Nearly all of the territory south of Polk Street to Sixteenth Street and between State Street and the River is occupied by railroad freight and passenger terminals.
These railroad terminals are not laid out according to a plan that makes the best use of the ground occupied.
They have been built up with additional facilities from time to time as the growing traffic has demanded.
The removal of the bend in the River will take the River about 850 feet further from Clark Street than it is now.
The railroads will then be relieved from the necessity of squeezing their tracks into such a narrow space between the present channel of the River and Clark Street.
The additional space provided by the new channel west of Clark Street will allow the railroads the opportunity of constructing terminals more suitable to their needs than those they now have.
The railroads will then have a tract of land south of the Loop larger than is generally realized.
If the entire Loop district could be picked up and placed down on the property used by the railroads, it would just fit in between State Street and the new river channel and would only cover only a little more than half of the railroad property.
But instead of four North and South Loop Streets there is only one—Clark Street—running North and South through this entire area.
Only one street, where there should be four, means just one thing—the choking off of the growth that the South Side would enjoy from its rightful connection with the business heart of Chicago.
In the rebuilding of the terminals here, the City will have the opportunity of extending Dearborn Street and streets west of Clark Street to the South Side through this railroad area will give the great South Side communities three times as much space for streets for unrestricted vehicle transportation into the central business district as they now have.
For years the South Side has suffered from this barrier of the river bend and of the railroads that has blocked its connection with the Loop.
The lack of its rightful street connections into the Loop has strangled the growth of the South Side districts as effectually as if they were in the grip of an iron hand.
The entire South Side has suffered—all of it—westward from the Lake and southward from the Loop to 93rd Street.
The story is the same anywhere in Chicago. Sections of the City with streets that give poor transportation are as isolated as if they were separated from the rest of the City by a stone wall. And isolation means stagnation.
Whatever growth the great communities of the South and Southwest Sides of Chicago have obtained have been in spite of the strangulating effect that their poor street connections with the Loop have had on them.
No such barrier has ever strangled the North Side. It has always had free and unimpeded street connections with the Loop. And it has grown naturally and continuously.
Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1929
FIRST BOAT SAILS IN NEW CHANNEL OF CHICAGO RIVER
The first vessel yesterday through the newly straightened Htreach of the Chicago river reaching from Polk to streets. The boat was the freighter McFarland. commanded by Capt. Forrest Maloney.
At a formal commemoration of completion of the straightening, which cost $9.000,000, a string of boats will pass through the new channel on next Thursday. The flotilla will be led by the passenger ship Alabama and the naval reserve craft Wilmette, the flying of banners and the of bands.
On Thursday the event will ba further celebrated by a banquet in the Palmer house. Loran D. Gayton, city engineer, will be the toastmaster, and Congressmen Morton D. of Peoria and Frank R. Reid of Aurora and others will speak. The new channel will be opened to traffic today.
The S. S. O. S. McFarland of Fairport passing through the Roosevelt road bridge in new channel between Polk and l8th streets, which will not be formally opened until Thursday.
Unfortunately the project did not get the expected results. The railroads did get a much cleaner pathway into Chicago, and the city got its centralized railroad station, the great Union Station, bordered by Adams, Canal, and Clinton Streets and Jackson Boulevard.
But the southern extensions of Franklin, Wells, La Salle, and Dearborn Streets never materialized, and the property that had been in the path of the eastern kink in the old river lay unused. The great inland waterway was eventually realized, but the Chicago River got left out of the game since by the late 1920’s shipping had already begun to move to Calumet Harbor where navigation was much less forbidding.
Straightening South Branch Chicago River
Rearrangement of Railroad Facilities.