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The Chicago River Used To Flood Lincoln Square — Could It Happen Today?

By Patty Wetli | April 20, 2017 5:05am

LINCOLN SQUARE — Remember when flooding from the North Branch of the Chicago River used to threaten the heart of Lincoln Square?

Even the neighborhood's centenarians would be hard pressed to recall so much as hearing about such an event, but it was once a fairly common occurrence, according to documents contained in the Northside Neighborhood History Collection, which is housed at Sulzer Regional Library.

Wait, how is that possible? Even during the river's historic crest of nearly 9 feet in 2013, the floodwaters didn't come anywhere near the Square.

The answer: The river's been moved.

[DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

A map, dated 1903, shows the Sanitary District of Chicago's plan to straighten the river, which, at the time, meandered between Lawrence and Montrose avenues, nearly all the way to Western.

The project ultimately funneled this section of the North Branch into a man-made channel, the old river bed was filled in and development became possible in what's now Ravenswood Gardens.

The Northside Neighborhood History Collection consists of manuscripts, maps, photographs and other items donated by residents of Chicago’s neighborhoods north of North Avenue.

The collection is open to visitors from 2-5 p.m. Tuesdays at the library, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave., no appointment necessary — just take the elevator to the mezzanine level. During the rest of the week, the collection is available to view by appointment only. To arrange a visit, call 312-742-4455 or email northsidehistory@chipublib.org.

A 1903 map shows the meandering course of the North Branch of the Chicago River, between Lawrence and Montrose avenues, with Western Avenue on the map's right. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

A satellite view of the same area today, with the straightened North Branch on the left. [Google]