Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1886
HE Chicago River, with its North and South branches, forming as it does an immense Y with the two arms almost at right angles with the main stem, has always been recognized natural boundary lines of the three great divisions of the city. The West Side, with its population pf nearly 400,000 souls, and with nearly as many more about equally divided between the North and South Sides. have together made the question of business and social intercourse between the residents of the respective divisions one of the most important to be considered. In the early days the original town embraced all that section in the vicinity of the intersection of the two branches with the parent stream, although the most thickly settled settled district was that immediately south of the main stream, so that rapid transportation across the river was not of vital importance, and the old ferryboat was made to answer all purposes. In the course of time the population of the rapidly-growing city spread out to the north and west, and as the business centre remained on the South Side the matter of bridges became of vast importance.To add to the trouble the commerce of the city kept pace with its increasing population, and the docks were each year built higher and higher towards the sources of the two branches. The sailing craft followed, and each year saw the erection of additional bridges, until at the present time the number exceeds thirty.
The old style was the regulation turn-bridge, with two men at the ends of the lever or key supplying the motive power. Then came the turn-bridge with steam as the motive power, and in this respect the limit of perfection is seemingly reached. The city now possesses two of the finest turn-bridges in the world, one of them being regarded as the longest ever constructed. This structure is known as the Rush street bridge, and is 240 feet in length, with a width of 58 feet. It is built of iron, and is looked upon as a model of beauty and engineering skill. The engine and boiler room is located in the centre of the bridge, directly over the roadway, and is always out of reach of the mischievous small boy and the curious gentleman from the country. It is worked day and night by two crews of two men each, and is closed to vessels only between the hours of 6 to 8 in the morning and 5 and 7 in the evening. This regulation applies to all the bridges of the city, and is part of the ordinance adopted by the City Council last November. Another provision of the ordinance in question is that the bridges shall never be kept open for more than ten minutes at a time, but if there are not nearly 600,000 people living on the North and West Sides willing to make affidavit that the limit is crowded every time a bridge is opened then the expressions of impatience so frequently uttered at the bridge approaches go for nothing.
But of the Rush street bridge, the engine which turns the heavy structure is of twenty horse-power, and is always kept in perfect order, one man devoting his time to its attention. Another man spends his time at the throttle, which, by the way, is in the very centre of the bridge and some five feet above the roadway. The engine is not reversible, which necessitates the turning of a crank which sets the gear or friction cogs in the machinery, and the bridge is turned in the starboard or port draw, as circumstances warrant. If a vessel is approaching from the lake the regulations require it to take the starboard or right-hand side of the draw. If coming from the direction of Clark street it still keeps to the right, so that if two vessels were to meet just at the bridge one would pass on one side and the other on the opposite. This is the invariable rule when the vessels are approaching each other, but on account of the bend in the river at State street it is never followed except in cases similar to that mentioned.
The Rush street bridge being 240 feet in length describes a circle 754 feet in circumference every time the full swing is made, The average time in making the complete swing is one minute and a quarter, although it can be made in one minute, which is at the rate of a fraction over seven miles an hour, or twice as fast as a man walks. This, however, will be disputed by the pedestrians who occasionally make frantic efforts to get from one end of the bridge to the other after it has commenced moving, expecting to get across and continue their walk without “catching a bridge.” There is still another individual who had his feelings lacerated, but in a slightly different way. He manages to step onto the bridge just as it begins turning. His argument is that if he only remains in the same spot the structure will turn half way round and land him on the opposite side, thereby saving him the trouble of walking. He is always more or less disgruntled when the bridge is turned back as it came. A third individual is the one who steps upon the bridge and walks briskly to the other end. He generally reaches it in time to discover that it is going in the wrong direction, and he is compelled to walk 480 feet when one-half the distance was all that was necessary.
Rush Street Bridge #4 (1884-1920)
1884 Design Drawings
It was several days ago that a Tribune reporter climbed the narrow steps leading to the coop, or engine-house, on the Rush street bridge and engaged the man in charge in conversation.
“Any vessels ever run into the bridge?” he was asked.
“O, no; the framework out there (pointing to the piles which extend up and down the river on either side) keeps the vessels off, and we never have any collisions.”
“Do you always turn fast enough to get out of the way?”
“Yes. Occasionally, though a tug Captain won’t think so, and he’ll abuse for not turning faster.”
“How many times do you turn every day?”
“About seventy, on an average; but we don’t keep any record. This, of course, is for the ten hours put in by the day crew. The night crew turns oftener than we do.”
“What is the best day’s record you know of?”
“Well, one day last summer we turned about 250 times in the twenty working hours. Sometimes we drop down to about twenty-five turns, or in the neighborhood of fifty for the entire day.”
“Did you ever have any fun with the drivers who get caught on the bridge, and have their teams turned in the opposite direction?”
“O yes, and it s fun to hear them swear. I tell you some of the drivers know how to sear too. We catch more of the smart drivers who think their teams are fast enough to cross after we commence moving than any others. We often have to stop the countrymen who start over on the wrong side, and they get mad, too. They seem to think we try to impose on them.”
Before leaving attention is called to the electric-light engine, for the bridge is lighted by electricity, and also to the fact that the only water used s from the city’s pipes. The water is carried through an iron pipe which connects with the main in River street, a simple contrivance permitting it to be shut off when the tanks are full.
The next bridge visited is the one on Clark street, and is reached just as several hundred persons were “caught” at the south end.
“I’m surprised that a large city like Chicago should tolerate this bridge nuisance,” said one individual who was evidently in a hurry. As the remark was addressed to no one in particular the only reply he got was a few smiles from those who overheard him. The two men on the bridge are perspiring over the levers as it moves slowly away from the abutments on either side, and presently a small tug-boat with an enormous smoke stack steams by with a three-masted schooner in tow. The steam-whistle gives forth an unearthly shriek and a large volume of dense black smoke envelopes the crowd. Good nature is now thrown to the winds, and the male contingent in the crowd begins to swear. The bridge is finally turned back, and in a moment more the stream of vehicles and people is moving along as if it had not been stemmed at all. One of the men thinks the bridge is opened from sixty-five to seventy times between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and somewhat oftener during the night. Two men are required to handle the levers, which are eighteen feet in length, and which have to be turned eleven times to open or close the bridge. The reporter then does a little figuring and finds that each man walks 1,210 feet in opening and closing the bridge, and as the operation is performed seventy times every day they walk something over sixteen miles in the ten hours they are required to work. Drivers very seldom get caught on this bridge, and cars never; and, as there is nothing further of interest to be learned, a walk over to the new Lake street bridge is taken. It is similar to the first-mentioned one in general appearance, and in the fact that it is operated by steam. It differs only in the matter of a reversible engine, and generally moves a trifle slower than the other. It is 220 feet in length and fifty9nine feet in width, is lighted by electricity, and is operated by two crews of two men each, under a superintendent, making five men in all.
The superintendent has similaar incidents to relate as the man at Rush street; he frequently catches a jehu and turns him around, but the car conductors are very careful and never get caught. He says the steam bridges move just about twice as fast as the others, and are big improvements on the old style. His bridge does not turn as often as those at Clark and Rush streets, as he only opens for the vessels going up the South Branch. He says the big rush comes after 7 o’clock in the evening and between 4 and 6 in the morning. In the former case the the bridges have been closed two hours, and a large number of inward and outward bound water craft have been detained. In the second, thee is always a rush to avoid the two hours’ delay between 6 and 8, when, under the ordinance, they have to be closed.
The bridge system of the city can be locked upon as one of the fixtures; but for all that will each year becomes more and more a nuisance. As the West and North Sides are growing very fast, a larger number of people coming to the South Side to transact business will be inconvenienced by regularly “catching a bridge” at some time during the day.
Harper’s Weekly, May 28, 1887
THE swinging bridges Chicago have caused more local discussions, annoyances, and accidents citizens, and impediments the transit pedestrians, goods, and vehicles than have any other half-dozen things the municipal administration that city. The river, with its two branches, cuts the city into three divisions, and is crossed by forty-two bridges, thirty-two of which are travel bridges, and the remainder used for steam railway tracks alone. Of the thirty two travel bridges twelve are crossed by street railroads, and two more soon will be. All the bridges are swung to enable lake craft to pass in and out the wharves lying along the river within the city. They are worked by hand levers (with three exceptions, where steam-power is employed) on a circular cogged track resting on a heavy pier in the centre of the river. The city owns and operates them. It was not until 1856 that the present system of drawbridges was introduced and made to work successfully. Since then every alternate street in the heart of Chicago has been provided with one of these annoying necessities.
For years these bridges were the source of unceasing trouble. There was no enforced regulation for opening and closing them, and not infrequently thousands of anxious citizens and hundreds of vehicles would be kept waiting the pleasure of a bridge-tender, who would keep the draw open from a half-hour to an hour and a half. Now the “waits” are better regulated by ordinance, which is fairly enforced, and in the daytime the public are less troubled than at night. It is required that bridges shall closed between 6.30 and 7.30 A.M., and from 5 to 7 P.M., when the tide of travel is the highest. Between 7 A.M. and 5 P.M., a ten minutes’ swing only is allowed. After 7 P.M. vessels have it their own way; unfortunate and tardy theatre-goers may lose half the play, or get over the river long after midnight on their way home.
The artist has caught a bridging scene at its flood tide, when pedestrians, street-cars, trucks, and public vehicles are awaiting the turning of one of those swinging affairs which have done so much to test the patience and the profanities of Chicagoans. The perplexing frequency this interruption by day, and its more than provoking regularity at night, have brought the bridges to the lowest depths of disrepute. Happily there is now a measure of relief from this condition of things: still it is but comparative.
Accidents have been numerous; horses with vehicles have been swung out with a bridge; there being no safety gates at either end, the animals have backed off into the river. So also at the approaches, where there are no gates, fractious horses have plunged into the stream. Once, at night, a hose-cart, racing fire, was driven straight into an open draw. The only signal of the opening, after dark, is a red light, often misleading.
The swinging bridges of Chicago are not equal to the present and growing demands of public transit. The tunnel experiment has failed; it only remains to cover the river, use it as a sewer only, raze the approaches, and have level streets from one division to another.
Chicago Tribune, July 21, 1887
The new system of regulating the opening and closing of bridges and the movement of vessels through the river was inaugurated yesterday. It could not be expected that everything would work smoothly the first day, or the experiment would prove a complete success. Nor did it, although significant progress was made to justify the belief that Prof. Barrett’s original plan for abating the bridge nuisance will eventually resolve itself into just what the people and the vessel interests want. Of course it will be difficult to harmonize the ideas of both, because they are so widely apart. The people want one thing and the vesselmen another, but if the new scheme works as well as it promises there ought to be no further growling from either side. The greatest difficulty to contend with just now is the inexperience and rawness of the operatives and the bridgetenders. They are bound to make mistakes that will cause vexatious delays, and it may take several weeks of practical experience before they are able to handle the vessels and the bridges with any degree of satisfaction. Give them a chance to learn and don’t pronounce the system a failure just because it falls short of what is expected at first. Prof. Barrett admits that it is a big undertaking, and says that many changes may have to be made in his present plans before he gets the dispatching of vessels reduced to a science, but he expresses the utmost confidence in the ultimate result, and surely the public can afford to place confidence in the man who originated and perfected the splendid police-patrol and fire-alarm system of which Chicago boasts so much.
The central station from which the bridge-tenders receive instructions and from which the movement of vessels is regulated is located on the north side of the river at the foot of La Salle avenue. It is a little red house, the interior of which presents much the appearance of a sub-telephone station. In the centre of the room s a table at which is seated an operator, who manipulates the switch-board and makes connections with the telephones in the houses of the bridge-tenders. Beside him is the vessel dispatcher, who issues orders to the bridge-tenders through the operator and keeps track of the vessels that are moving up and down the river. Yesterday the position of vessel-dispatcher was temporarily filled by Prof. Barrett. There is some talk of having one of the harbormasters perform this duty after Prof. Barrett gets the system moving smoothly, but as the harbormasters have about as much work as they can take care now it is not unlikely that some competent man who is practically acquainted with river navigation will have to be employed. Such a man as John Hea, who has had a lifelong experience in handling vessels, would probably conduct the station much more satisfactorily than either one of the harbormasters.
The station has telephone connection with all of the bridges in the main river, in the South Branch as far as Twelfth street, and in the North Branch as far as Chicago avenue, and the tenders of the bridges are under the control of the vessel dispatcher. Under no circumstance will they be permitted to swing their bridges without first reporting to the vessel dispatcher and receiving orders from him, and they are to pay no further attention to the city ordinances regulating the opening and closing of bridges. In fact, dating from yesterday, the bridge laws became inoperative. The vessel dispatcher is empowered to make such rules and regulations as will best facilitate the traffic over and through the bridges, and Prof. Barrett has framed an entirely new set of laws. Hs first act was to annul the ten minutes opening and closing ordinance and to modify the ordinance closing the bridges for two hours in the morning and a corresponding period in the evening. Heretofore the bridges have been kept closed from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. Observation has shown that but few persons cross the bridges before 6:30 o’clock in the morning. and that the greatest pressure in the evening is over by 6:30 o’clock. Consequently it has been decided that the first half-hour morning and the last half hour of the evening closing shall be given to the public and vessels alike. In order to accommodate the amusement-going public all of the bridges that are crossed by street cars will be kept closed from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and from 10:30 to 11:15 p.m. Only bridges that cross the main river and those that cross the South Branch as far as Van Buren street will be closed durung the hours mentioned. All of the other bridges will be opened whenever it is necessary.
The manner of dispatching vessels can best be explained by describing what occurred in the station yesterday noon, when the new system went into effect. Each bridge-tender was instructed to report to the vessel of dispatcher whenever a vessel wanted to pass through the draw of a bridge, giving the destination of the vessel. At 1:10 p.m. Twelfth street reported that two vessels were ready to move down the river to the lake, Every bridge from Twelfth street to Rush was ordered to open as fast as the bridge above it opened, and the two vessels reached Rush street in exactly twenty-two minutes, without being once interrupted or without having blown a whistle. At 3:15 three vessels bound for the lake passed through Twelfth street and were joined bu another at Van Buren street. Three others came the North Branch and were held at Wells street until the three from the South Branch had passed through Lake street, when all six were dispatched to the lake in a line. Clark street bridge was kept open eight minutes to admit the fleet and it had been closed for forty-seven minutes. In a period of four hours nineteen vessels passed through the draw of Clark street, and during that time the bridge was open for thirty-six minutes.
During the day the movement of vessels was unusually light, but in the evening, when the vessels arrived in fleets from the lake and a score more that had been loaded during the day were ready to go out, the operators got confused, and many of the vessel-masters and tugmen complained bitterly because they were compelled to suffer unusual delay. The public also complained for greta strings of street-cars were blocked for twenty minutes or more. Probably when the operators become more familiar with the work annoyances of this kind will cease.
Pedestrian and river congestion on the Rush Street Bridge.