Friday, November 29, 2019

November 29, 1895 -- Lake-Front Park Expansion Kicks Off

November 29, 1895 – A gang of 80 Italian laborers begins work at 7:30 a.m., digging the foundations of the western retaining wall that will screen the depressed railroad tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad along the lakefront.  This is the first work that will be done on the new Lake-Front Park, today’s Grant Park.  In addition, the Brownell Improvement Company has 20 teams at work hauling blue clay into the park while carpenters erect a shed for the storage of tools and cement.  One of the supervising foremen states, “We began work today in spite of the weather, and are working so as to show results.  Two hundred Italians will be at work here within ten days.  The Brownell company will double its teams.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 30, 1895]  This initial phase of development involves extending the park into the lake to the east of the railroad tracks, using street sweepings and dirt and clay taken from the excavation of basements of buildings being constructed in the rapidly growing city as well as fill taken from the digging of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The plan was to create a new lakefront park out of an area that the Chicago Daily Tribune called “a sandy waste in which only weeds grown and which only tramps inhabit.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1895]  After years of wrangling with the city, the Illinois Central agreed on August 28, 1895 to depress its tracks between Park Row, today’s Congress Street, and Monroe Street.  Clearly, the work began soon after.  The above photo shows the future park as it appeared around 1895.  The new Art Institute of Chicago, completed in 1893, can be see in the middle background.

November 29, 1910 – As President R. R. McCormick of the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Sanitary District removes the last shovelful of clay, a crowd of 1,000 residents of the North Shore cheer, and the waters Lake Michigan enter the North Shore Channel of the drainage canal at Wilmette.  There are no speeches; the day is raw with a cold wind out of the north, not great weather for the workmen standing knee-deep in the water, digging away at the dam that separates the lake from the channel.  By 10:40 McCormick, joining the workmen with a shovel, is able to admire the completed project as “the water licked over the disappearing clay obstruction and in another moment began sweeping through the flume.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, November 20, 1910]  On November 8, 1903 the Board of Trustees of the Sanitary District authorized an ordinance that provided for a channel through Wilmette and Evanston, intersecting with the Chicago River at Lawrence Avenue, a distance of a little over eight miles. The channel, costing close to $4 million and taking three years to dig, had two basic purposes.  One was to take reasonably clean Lake Michigan water and divert it through the channel, forming enough of a stream so that, when it reached the North Branch of the Chicago River, which had for a half-century been notorious for its stagnation and offensiveness, it would move the whole mess south toward the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  A secondary purpose was to divert the sewage of Evanston, Wilmette and Winnetka toward the channel so that it would no longer flow directly into Lake Michigan.  With the completion of Chicago’s Deep Tunnel project, the North Shore Channel is a much more attractive place as the storm waters of the city, except in extreme situations, is diverted away from the channel.  Because there was a difference of over four feet between the North Shore Channel and the North Branch of the Chicago River, a man-made dam was created at what is now River Park at 5100 North Francisco Avenue.  In 2018 that dam, the last one in Chicago, was removed by the Army Corps of Engineers.  It is hoped that this will make the North Shore Channel an even richer environment with increased biodiversity.  The Chicago Park District’s manager for the project, Lauren Umek, says, “So the fish are coming, swimming upstream – they hit that concrete wall and they’ve got nowhere to go.  They can’t go up the North Branch of the Chicago River.” []  The $14 million removal of the dam is part of a much larger project known as the River Riparian Connectivity and Habitat Improvement plan which has the goal of making “Chicago’s rivers and canals cleaner, more inviting and functional.” []  The above photo shows the channel nearing completion in June of 1910.

November 29, 1935 – Robert Dunham, the president of the Chicago Park District, announces that a new highway will be built to serve as a north side connection with the bridge across the Chicago River, currently under construction.  Dunham says that plans are to begin the new highway in December with the section from Ohio Street to North Avenue completed by the time the Lake Shore Drive bridge across the river is finished.  

November 29, 1902 – Explosions shatter the Swift and Company’s refrigerating plant at Forty-First Street as a boiler explodes, killing 13 and injuring 26. The huge refrigeration building’s boiler room contained 11 boilers, and one of the five boilers on the north side of the room apparently boiled dry and exploded, lifting the majority of the boilers off their bases.  The explosion occurs at 10:00 a.m.  According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “One boiler was lifted thirty feet in air and carried over the two story storage room just west of the boiler room.  As it dropped to the earth it carried away the west wall of the building, leaving an opening through which fifty frightened employees of the storage room rushed to safety . . . Another boiler was blown fifty feet to the north, where it collided with a freight car.  A third ended its flight thirty-five feet eastward, after it had penetrated a brick wall and brought death to two workmen who were excavating for a sewer along the boiler room wall.”

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