Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
City of Bridges

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Rush Street Bridges

Over the course of Chicago’s history, bridges have been replaced at many crucial locations across the Chicago region. In downtown Chicago, bridges remain at essentially the same places that they have been since the 1850s. Virtually all are sited along key streets in and out of the Loop. However, most have been replaced several times–in response to disasters that have destroyed bridges, as well as improvements in bridge technology that rendered existing bridges obsolete. Twice in the nineteenth century, all of the bridges on the main stem of the Chicago River were destroyed overnight: the first in March 1849 when ice swept away all of the bridges in a spring storm; and the second in October 1871 during the Chicago Fire.

Four bridges have crossed the main stem of the Chicago River at Rush Street. The first was a swing bridge built in 1857. This bridge was destroyed in an accident in 1863 and was rebuilt soon thereafter. Then in 1871, all of the bridges over the main stem of the Chicago River were destroyed by the Chicago Fire. Again, a swing bridge was rebuilt on the same location at Rush Street. This swing bridge had a much longer life, standing long after most of the other swing bridges downtown had been replaced by trunnion bascule bridges. But after the completion of the Michigan Avenue Bridge in 1920, the Rush Street Bridge was torn down.

First Swing Bridge at Rush Street, c.1860


The first bridge across the main stem of the Chicago River at Rush Street was constructed in 1857. This iron and timber swing bridge with a center support shows the early use of iron for a western bridge. Construction costs totaled $48,000. The center support is clearly seen in this 1860 photograph looking south to the bridge. Note that there are no gates at the end of the bridge even though it was routine for the bridge to swing open with people, vehicles and animals standing on the bridge.

See also: Loop; Bridges

First Swing Bridge at Rush Street, 1861


This engraving bears a strong resemblance to the photograph of the previous year of the swing bridge at Rush Street. The bridge approaches are cleaner in the engraving, but the overall design of the bridge is consistent in both. The engraving though has added more activity to the scene: sailing and steam ships are new in the artistic rendering, as are more people approaching the bridge itself. Smoke belches from nearby factories (and the steamship), a mid-nineteenth-century sign of economic health.

See also: Water

Wreckage of the Rush Street Bridge, 1863


On November 3, 1863, the Rush Street Bridge was destroyed. The bridge was crowded with a herd of cattle when the whistle of a passing ship spooked the cattle, who stampeded off the bridge and into the river. The bridge was repaired and was still in use on the night of October 8, 1871, when it was destroyed by the Chicago Fire.

See also: Fire of 1871; Meatpacking

Swing Bridge at Rush Street, c.1900


The swing bridge at Rush Street was rebuilt after the 1871 Chicago Fire. At the turn of the last century, the movable bridge still operated on a Chicago River busy with a wide range of shipping, as seen here in a photograph taken around 1900.

See also: Water; Bridges

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