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Chicago's Historic Lake Street Bridge Turns 100 On Sunday

By Justin Breen | November 1, 2016 5:24am | Updated on November 1, 2016 7:37am
 Lake Street bridge turns 100 on Nov. 6, 2016.
Lake Street bridge turns 100 on Nov. 6, 2016.
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Flickr Creative Commons; Chicago History Museum

DOWNTOWN — A historic Chicago bridge is about to turn 100 years old.

The Lake Street Bridge, the world's first double-deck, double-leaf bascule bridge, has its 100th birthday on Sunday.

"It provided a model for the subsequent double-deck Michigan Avenue (1920) and Wells Street (1922) Bridges," said Patrick McBriarty, the author of "Chicago River Bridges."

The bridge, which crosses over the Chicago River Downtown, is the fifth bridge at that location. The first Lake Street Bridge, which was built in 1852, was the city's first swing bridge, McBriarty said.

The fourth Lake Street Bridge (today's predecessor) was built in 1885. The West Division Railway Company contributed half of the cost of the bridge to ensure that it would carry its streetcars across the river. This wrought iron, 700-ton Pratt truss bridge was 220 feet long and 59 feet wide, with two 21-foot roadways. Each roadway carried streetcar tracks, with sidewalks off to each side, McBriarty said.

From McBriarty's book: "The bridge was converted to electric power in 1893 after extensive and rather remarkable alternations. In 1909 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deemed the bridge 'an unreasonable obstruction to the free navigation of the Chicago River' on account of the center pier, narrow draw openings and faulty location.

"The secretary of war ordered its removal and replacement with a vertical-lift or bascule bridge with a minimum 16½-foot clearance. In 1916, this double-deck swing bridge was removed and replaced by the first ever double-deck, Chicago-type bascule bridge."

Peter Alter of the Chicago History Museum said the bridge cost $600,000 to build in 1916.

"Since it opened in 1916 costing $600,000, it has served as a gateway for drivers and train riders," Alter said. "A new safety gate for cars installed in late October 1916 also displayed Chicago’s willingness to learn from accidents on other bridges."

Here's a look at Chicago's bridges that are at least 100 years old:

Four of Chicago's bridges have turned 100 this year, bringing the total of city bridges to survive that long to 23, according to multiple sources, including the Chicago History Museum, Chicago Architecture and the "Chicago River Bridges" book.

The four bridges that opened in 1916 are: The Jackson Boulevard Bridge (Jan. 29); Chicago & North Western Railroad Bridge (July 30); Webster Street Bridge (Aug. 3); and Lake Street Bridge (Nov. 6).

RELATED: Spanning The Century: Four Chicago Bridges Are Turning 100 This Year

Of the 300-plus bridges in Chicago, 60 are drawbridges across either the Chicago River or Calumet River, McBriarty said. More than half of those will be at least 100 years old by the end of this year. Only Amsterdam has more drawbridges than Chicago, McBriarty said.

View of a streetcar crossing the Lake Street swing bridge over the Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois; 1909. The bridge was updated in 1916, and it's celebrating its 100th anniversary Nov. 6, 2016. [Chicago History Museum]

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