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
Growing up along the Water

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Swimming in the Lakes and Streams

Chicagoans have long swum in area rivers, streams, and lakes. Pollution in Lake Michigan (into which sewage initially flowed) sent swimmers to rivers, streams and outlying lakes in the mid-nineteenth century. With industrialization and the reversal of the Chicago River, the situation reversed and Lake Michigan provided cleaner swimming conditions. Children found swimming areas, official or not, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in both the open waters of area lakes and the flowing waters of its rivers and streams.

Boys Playing in the Sand, Evanston, 1905

For children, swimming at Lake Michigan was generally combined with play in the sandy beaches. Initially, access to Lake Michigan beaches was private. The first public beach opened in Chicago at Lincoln Park in 1896. Suburban beaches, such as this one in Evanston in 1905, followed, particularly up the North Shore.

See also: Lake Michigan; Waterfront; Evanston; Swimming

Young boys swimming, Chicago River, 1919

These young boys swimming in the North Branch of the Chicago River in 1919 exhibit just how little was needed to swim in a region filled with waterways. No suits, no designated public beach, just a warm summer day is all these children needed for fun and games.

See also: Chicago River; Swimming

Children and Young Adults Swimming in the Des Plaines River, 1926

While natural swimming holes existed, areas around dams, such as this one along the Des Plaines River in 1926, created areas of deeper water. Here children and adults wade and swim in the artificial lake created by the dam seen in the forefront. Access to areas like this one was facilitated by wider automobile ownership by the 1920s (note the line of cars along the west bank).

See also: Des Plaines River; Swimming; Des Plaines; Leisure

Young Women at the Edgewater Athletic Club, Lake Michigan, 1929

Private clubs dotted the Lake Michigan shoreline into the twentieth century. The Edgewater Athletic Club provides a background to these young women in bathing suits and caps. Clubs provided affluent Chicagoans with a means to separate themselves from the general public, as well as to provide themselves and their children with elaborate sports facilities.

See also: Edgewater; Swimming; Fitness and Athletic Clubs

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