How Many 100-Year-Old Bridges Are There in Chicago?

Eight-Track Railroad Bridge

Taking stock of my favorite topic – Chicago’s bridges – it is of particular note that this year four Chicago bridges will see their 100th anniversary.  Amazingly all four are still in use serving the Drawbridge Capital of the World. That is, Chicago.

  • Jackson Boulevard Bridge opened on January 29, 1916
  • Chicago & North Western Railroad Bridge (near North Ashland Street) opened July 30, 1916
  • Webster Street Bridge opened August 3, 1916
  • Lake Street Bridge opened November 6, 1916

Looking forward to Spring in Chicago and increasingly warmer weather, it occurred to me as the bridge lift and sailing seasons get closer with the opening of the harbors on May 1st, these four are not the only one-hundred-plus bridges in Chicago.  I did some research and found that by the end of 2016, Chicago will boast a total of 24 centenarian moveable bridges spanning Chicago’s waterways!

That is, of the 61 drawbridges within city limits — second only to Amsterdam — nearly half are one hundred or more years old! Is this surprising given the most recent new drawbridge was constructed more than 32 years ago at Randolph Street?

We are regularly reminded of our crumbling infrastructure, constructed mostly during the first half of the 20th century. One wonders when this bill will come due. When will we renew, revitalize, and improve our transportation systems to meet the needs of the 21st Century?

All hope is not lost, as many of Chicago’s bridges have recently undergone significant rehabilitation. For instance, the 94-year-old Wells Street Bridge received a $48 million overhaul in 2013. And in January, a 13-month project to improve the 79-year-old Adams Street Bridge and viaduct was begun.

For those of you who are not fanatics about our city’s fantastic bridges, an inventory of the staid and reliable centenarians is below, listed oldest to youngest. All of these bridges still carry street or rail traffic, except the CM&StP Bridge which transports pedestrians and bicycle traffic to Goose Island.

Name Date Opened Notes
Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Z-6 Bridge 1899 A block south of Cortland Street used to move scrap for recycling.
Chicago, Madison, & Northern Railroad Bridge 1899 Near Kedzie & 35th Street
Illinois Northern Railroad Bridge 1899 Near Central Park & 35th Street
Atchinson Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Bridge 1899 Near 46th Street
Eight-Track Railroad Bridge 1901 Four alternating single-leaf Scherzers the structure was constructed in 1901 and converted from fixed to moveable in 1909-1910.
Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Z-2 Bridge 1902 Refurbished for bicycle & pedestrian use in 2009 connecting to Goose Island near the North Avenue.
Cortland Street Bridge May 24, 1902 The world’s first Chicago-type, Chicago Landmarked in July 1997
West Division Street Bridge June 4, 1904 The third Chicago-type ever built, connects the west side to Goose Island
Cermack Road Bridge September 7, 1905 Built by the Sanitary District for the City.  Only remaining Scherzer carrying street traffic in Chicago
Chicago & Alton Railway Bridge 1907 Only known John W. Page bascule in existance by this Chicagoan.
Chicago & North Western Railway Bridge September 19, 1908 Nnear Kinzie Street and operated once per year to maintain right of way.
Kinzie Street Bridge May 10, 1909 Only remaining single-leaf, first generation Chicago-type remaining.
Washington Street Bridge May 26, 1913 Features bridge house with raised panel walls and hipped roof.
Grand Avenue Bridge December 13, 1913
Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne, & Chicago Railroad Bridge 1913 Near 97th Street
Chicago Avenue Bridge October 5, 1914 First Chicago-type integrating the architecture of the approaches and the bridge houses.
92nd (Ewing) Street Bridge 1914
Chicago & Illinois Western Railway Bridge 1914 Only existing Theodore Rall bridge in Chicago by this Chicagoan.
Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge 1915 Near Chinatown and 18th Street, operates on demand due to low river clearance.
Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway Bridge 1915 Permanently raised near 97th Street
Jackson Boulevard Bridge January 29, 1916 Joseph Strauss received one of his 14 bridge patents for this bascule design.
Chicago & North Western Railway Bridge July 30, 1916 Joseph Strauss received one of his 14 bridge patents for this bascule design.
Webster Avenue Bridge August 3, 1916
Lake Street Bridge November 6, 1916 First Double-Deck, Double-Leaf in Chicago

May we all live to still be relevant and useful after one-hundred or more years!

Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Z-6 Bridge

Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Z-6 Bridge

Author: Patrick McBriarty

Patrick McBriarty, a former business person and consultant, over a decade ago discovered a new focus and fascination for Chicago bridges. His first book Chicago River Bridges won the 2013 Henry N. Barkhausen Award for original Great Lakes Maritime History and presents the untold history and development of Chicago’s iconic bridges. Published by the University of Illinois Press in October 2013. Concurrently in 2011-12 with filmmaker Stephen Hatch, they co-produced the documentary Chicago Drawbridges, which was first broadcast on Chicago public television in April 2013. Patrick is currently working on a forthcoming series of children’s books sharing his excitement and appreciation for bridges with a smaller audience. The first children’s book Bridges of All Kinds is available now and the second picture book Drawbridges Open and Close illustrated by Johanna Kim is currently under review with several publishers. Patrick holds a bachelors in business administration and a masters in economics from Miami University.

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