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
Constructing the Sanitary and Ship Canal

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Section between Summit and Willow Springs

The middle section of the main channel ran from Summit to Willow Springs, a distance of 5.3 miles, all outside the City of Chicago but in Cook County. Because the soil layer was thinner and workers had to cut mostly through dolomite bedrock, new innovations in steam machinery were of increasing importance. Chief Engineer Isham Randolph juxtaposed the human labor required for this work with the heavy equipment used in his welcoming poem:

Of the men who swung the pick axe

Heaved the shovel, drove the drill,

Charged the sullen mines whose bursting

Kept the country side athrill.

. . .

And when the wreck had fallen

And the smoke had cleared away,

The cantalevers labored

And the mighty cable way

The derricks were in action,

The steam hoists and the cranes

And steadily these mountains rose

Upon the level plains.

Workers in the canal, 20 July, 1897

Thousands of workers labored long hours for more than eight years to build the main channel. Much of the work was unskilled, drawing recent European immigrants and African Americans who were new to Chicago and urban life more generally.

See also: Construction

African-American Workers Drilling, 26August, 1896

African American workers operating drills on the Main Channel construction in August 1896.

See also: Construction

Dynamite, June 28, 1899

Dynamite was used to break up the bedrock so that it could be hauled away. This photograph, taken August 20, 1895, indicates the difficulty and the danger involved in this work.

See also: Sanitary and Ship Canal

Dynamite Explosions, May 22, 1895

Controlled dynamite explosions were a regular part of the construction of the Main Channel. Seen here is work done on May 22, 1895.

See also: Work

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