NORTH OF W 16TH STREET, EAST OF CANAL STREET

AT THIS LOCATION TWO SINGLE-LEAF STRAUSS TRUNNION BASCULE BRIDGES STAND NEXT TO EACHOTHER OVER THE SOUTH BRANCH OF THE CHICAGO RIVER.

TO THE NORTH, THE NOW ABANDONED BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD CHICAGO TERMINAL BASCULE BRIDGE REMAINS LOCKED IN ITS RAISED OPEN POSITION. IT IS A 186 FT SPAN CONSTRUCTED IN 1930 BY THE AMERICAN BRIDGE COMPANY, FOLLOWING THE STRAIGHTENING OF THE CHICAGO RIVER'S SOUTH BRANCH (PHOTO).

THE B&O BRIDGES SOUTHERN NEIGHBOR, THE ST. CHARLES AIR LINE BRIDGE, IS NOT ONLY STILL IN USE, BUT POSSESSES A MORE COLORFUL HISTORY. COMPLETED IN 1919 (ALSO BY THE AMERICAN BRIDGE COMPANY), ITS 260 FT SPAN MADE IT THE WORLD'S LONGEST BASCULE BRIDGE. IN 1930, AFTER THE MEANDERING SOUTH BRANCH OF THE RIVER WAS STRAIGHTENED, THE ENTIRE BRIDGE WAS DISMANTLED AND RE-ERECTED OVER A PERIOD OF 7 MONTHS. THE NEW RIVER COURSE MEANT 40 FEET OF THE SPAN COULD BE DROPPED. THIS NEW LENGTH REQUIRED A COUNTERWEIGHT SYSTEM SOMEWHAT LIGHTER THAN THE TWO ORIGINAL 885-TON WINGS, WHILE REINSTALLING THE ORIGINALS WOULD ALSO HAVE BEEN UNECONOMICAL.

THE FATE OF THESE 2 BRIDGES IS SOMEWHAT UNCLEAR. THE STRUCTURES ARE NOT ONLY AN EYESORE (TO THOSE UNABLE TO SEE THE INHERENT BEAUTY IN SUCH MAGNIFICENT MANIFESTATIONS OF CHICAGO'S PAST AS THE WORLD'S ENGINEERING CAPITOL!), BUT SOMETHING OF AN OBSTACLE FOR FURTHER SOUTHWARD DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOUTH LOOP. THROUGH THE 90s MAYOR DALEY'S ADMINISTRATION PUSHED FOR THE ILLIONOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD TO REMOVE THE SCAL LINES, AND OBJECTED TO THE COMPANY'S MERGER WITH THE PRESENT OWNER, CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY. HOWEVER, 7 YEARS SINCE THE MERGER THE BRIDGES REMAIN AND THE ENTIRE EAST BANK THE RIVER BRANCH IS UNDEVELOPED.

SOURCES:

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING RECORD:
"BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD, CHICAGO TERMINAL RAILROAD, SOUTH BRANCH OF THE CHICAGO RIVER BRIDGE"

HAER No. IL-67

"ST. CHARLES AIR LINE BRIDGE"
HAER No. IL-157

 

from Amtrak trainyard
across riverbank
over south branch of Chicago River
B&O (foreground), SCAL behind
B&O counterweight
SCAL weight, trusses
SCAL weight, trunnion
aerial map