Cruising Down the Chicago River
There was so much to see and so many pictures to take, that I had to split our river
cruise adventure into two parts. If you missed yesterday's post, click here.
We passed under 24 bridges as we floated down through the former industrial corridor
known as the Chicago River. We were warned that we'd come so close to the underside of the steel structure that it might not be a good idea to be standing up as we passed by. Can you imagine getting clunked on the head by a bridge beam? Talk about a headache!
Downtown Chicago sits nestled in between the main and southern branches of the river.
The city's growth was determined by the river and the bridges that were built to cross it. Most of the structures that span the river today are called bascule bridges. The bridges are raised and lowered via a counter balance system with weights placed in housings at the shoreline end of the span. A bridge tender pushes a lever, gears start moving, the weighted ends are released, and the middle of the bridge opens up like a flower blooming. Originally, the bridges split apart to allow the masts of ships loaded with cargo to pass through the busy waterway, now they open primarily for sail boats heading out to Lake Michigan for summer fun. On our tour, the bridge houses which sit at the pivot-point end of the counterweight system, were as interesting architecturally as the skyscrapers behind them.
Chicago became Chicago because of the river. 160 years ago, the city became the
stopping point on a gigantic water route that connected New York to New Orleans. With the help of the man made Erie and Illinois and Michigan Canal systems, the city became a center of shipping, manufacturing, industry and commerce in the late 19th century. A few of the old, brick warehouses from that era of the city's history can still be found along the river's edge, nearly lost in the row of gleaming, modern high-rise towers.
One of the best examples of the type of structure that once filled the river bank, is the
Reid, Murdoch & Co. warehouse building built in 1914. Now used for commercial office space, it's hard to imagine today, but merchandise storage facilities like Reid, Murdoch packed both sides of the river bank for decades. Now, any new building built adjacent to the water line must provide a public promenade where cargo docks once stood.
The tour lasted just two hours, and no one had an encounter with the steel undercarriage
of a bridge. You get a nice view of the city and the buildings that line the river corridor by standing at the railing of a bascule span, but seeing Chicago from the vantage point of a boat floating down this historic waterway, is a truly memorable experience.