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It All Began Here

By Tim State in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 9, 2007 1:48PM

“Had the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers not been so close and had a mountain -- instead of a small hill -- separated them, perhaps there might not have been a Chicago.” Before launching into the story of the Chicago River, the exhibit at the McCormick Tribune Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum contemplates this thought, illustrating the essential relationship between the development of Chicago into its current metropolis and the river that flows through it. Imagine, without the Chicago River, there might be no Chicagoist?

06-09-07_Chicago_River_Muse.jpgThe museum, which is housed in the southwest bridgehouse of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, is now open for the season; Thusdays through Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until September 30. To get to the museum, just use the stairs by the tower that go down to the riverwalk level. Admission is only $3, and we were able to read every word of the exhibit in about 90 minutes. You’ll be able to climb the bridgehouse (how cool is that?) for one of the most unique views of the river and city, unavailable to average joes until last year when the museum first opened. You will also see the inner workings for the bascule trunnion Michigan Avenue Bridge, with all its cogs, gears, and the enormous counterweight, as well as see an explanation of the physics behind how it all works.

But it’s the history of the river, and thus the City of Chicago we found so fascinating. The museum, and bridge, are situated right were Fort Dearborn once stood, so folks, this is really where it all began. Now we all know that Chicago is a city where the river runs backwards, the river leaks, and bridges fall up, and the museum captures the dramatic river’s story; how it fueled industrialization, and then how a generation has worked to restore the river to a livable, enjoyable habitat.

This story echoes the stories of today. When the Sanitary & Ship Canal was being constructed to reverse the flow of the river so our sewage would go to the Mississippi, Missouri objected saying our health threat would become their health threat, and thus filed a court order to stop construction. Hearing of this, ‘officials’ secretly opened a temporary dam under the cover of darkness, allowing water to flow into the canal. The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote on January 2, 1900, “The thing is done now, and I don’t think anybody is the worse for it.” Many suggested it was done as a favor the the Governor, saying it would prevent charges he was standing in the way. Now, where have we heard similar stories?