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Division Street North Branch Canal Bridge

Division Street Eastern Bridge

   


Division Street North Branch Canal Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 12, 2006, October 2010, and September 10, 2012
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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Division Street Over North Branch Chicago River Canal
Location
Chicago: Cook County, Illinois
Structure Type
Metal Rivet-Connected Pratt Through Truss, Movable: Double Leaf Bascule (Fixed Trunnion) and Approach Spans: Metal Stringer (Multi-Beam), Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1904 By Builder/Contractor: Roemheld and Gallery and Engineer/Design: City of Chicago

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
1992
Main Span Length
173 Feet (52.7 Meters)
Structure Length
260 Feet (79.2 Meters)
Roadway Width
39 Feet (11.9 Meters)
Spans
1 Main Span(s) and 4 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number
16601526637

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

This Bridge No Longer Exists!

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Documentation For This Bridge

HAER Data Pages, PDF

This extremely significant historic bridge was demolished Summer 2014!

Summer 2014 Demolition Comments

This bridge is one of the most historic bridges in Chicago. With its decorative portals, it is also unique. Despite this the bridge has not been maintained like the historic bridges in downtown Chicago. The bridge has become so deteriorated that the city is now planning to demolish and replace the bridge with a temporary bridge in Summer 2014, until a project to build a new permanent bridge can be realized.

HistoricBridges.org has several concerns with this. First, this project as proposed results in the loss of a highly significant and unique historic bridge in Chicago. This could and should have been avoided. Rather than demolish this historic bridge, the trusses could be carefully lifted off the canal, allowing for the temporary bridge to be put in place. Then, the trusses of this bridge could be shipped off to a shop where they could be carefully rehabilitated, with areas deteriorated beyond repair being  replaced in kind. Then, several things could happen. The trusses could be reinstalled over the river as a rehabilitated permanent bridge for Division Street. Alternatively, a new superstructure could be built over the canal, and the trusses could be placed on top of the replacement bridge as a decorative element. This sort of process can be observed with the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. Another option would be to reuse the rehabilitated trusses in a new location, either on a road for vehicular use, or on a trail for pedestrian use. Finally, at the absolute very least these trusses should be salvaged, repainted, and placed in a park setting in the Chicagoland area as a non-functional interpretive exhibit.

Given the significance of this bridge and all the preservation options presented above, the planned demolition of this bridge's beautiful trusses is both highly disappointing and unnecessary. This bridge represents the beginning of Chicago's bascule bridge heritage and it deserves more than to be cut up, shipped to China, melted down, and turned into soup cans!

About This Bridge

Division Avenue North Branch Canal Bridge RaisedArmour Engineer Cover With Bascule BridgeCrossing the North Branch Chicago River Canal onto or off of Goose Island, this is one of the very first highway bascule bridges built in Chicago, constructed just a couple years after Cortland Street. Given the influence that Chicago's development of the bascule bridge had on bridge construction nationwide, this prototypical example of a Chicago type trunnion bascule bridge is nationally significant and its preservation should be given a paramount level of priority.

 Roemheld & Gallery of Chicago were both the designers and builders of the bridge. This bridge is similar to bridges like Cortland Street, but it has one very unusual and distinctive characteristic which sets it aside from these other bridges. The overhead sway/portal bracing for this bridge is composed of simple plate steel with decorative designs on them that includes an upside-down "Y" design with a circle around it that is used in Chicago to refer to the three branches of the Chicago River. The symbol became an officially designated symbol appearing in Chicago's municipal code as the "Municipal Device." Easy to miss unless you are looking for it, the symbol can be found on buildings and structures throughout the city including on a few other bridges. This Division Street Bridge however is the only bridge in the entire city that includes this design in its overhead bracing. The bridge is different from the other early bascule bridges including the bascule bridge in sight of this one also on Division Street, which have a more intricate network of built-up sections of v-laced and latticed steel for bracing. The plates with the Municipal Device symbol on this bridge are an interesting and decorative element that adds a lot to the bridge.

Division Avenue North Branch Canal BridgeSome authors and historians have criticized the earliest bascule bridges including this one as lacking aesthetics. And while indeed, bridges like this may have not been in keeping with the aesthetic desires of the time in which they were built, two things are clear today. First, in today's world of simplistic bridges, bridges such as this do have aesthetic value in the context of the modern world. The complex trusses made up of equally complex components like built-up beams with v-lacing and lattice offer an intricate geometric beauty that is not found in any form of modern bridge. The early bascule bridges of Chicago, like this bridge, have very tall trusses with overhead bracing, and this unavoidable design catches the attention of travelers and lets them know in no uncertain terms that they are crossing a bridge. This characteristic is lost on most modern bridges. In the context of the modern world, these elements have a positive effect on the aesthetic qualities of the road and location they serve. In the case of the Division Street bridge, the decorative designs found on the overhead bracing only add to the aesthetic qualities of the bridge. These designs are remnants of a different era of aesthetics, quite different from the type of aesthetics found on Chicago's bascule bridges that were built in the 1920s and 1930s for example. In the late 1800s, bridges were often metal truss bridges that lacked curved beams and did not have a very graceful design. This did not mean that the bridges were not beautiful or lacked aesthetic qualities, however. In this period, a more heavy reliance was placed on adornments like finials, portal cresting, and decorative builder plaques. Generally aesthetic enhancements to the actual bridge structure was often limited to the use of decorative bracing which might have attractive curved designs, or cutout shapes (like those found on the Division Street Bridge). The purpose of all these enhancements was to accent and decorate the bridges. In contrast, in the 20th Century, the use of concrete in bridge construction gave engineers the ability to create bridges that had graceful arches, with decorative elements cast directly into the concrete as well. Concrete also allowed for more streamlined and simplistic bridge designs. This along with general changes in architectural trends (like Art Deco) led to significant changes in what an "aesthetically pleasing" bridge was thought to be. This focus on streamlining, curves, and a generally graceful appearance is also evident in the later examples of Chicago bascule bridge.  The Division Street Bridge thus appears at the end of one era of architecture and before the new era had really managed to take hold in Chicago.

The previous bridge at this location was also the first documented bridge at this location. It was built in 1870 and was a hand-turned iron/wood combination bridge built by Fox and Howard. It was 176 feet long and 29 feet wide.

Division Avenue North Branch Canal BridgeF. W. Blocki

Division Avenue North Branch Canal Bridge

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Historic Bridges of Chicago and Cook County

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Chicago and Cook County are home to one of the largest collections of historic bridges in the country, and no other city in the world has more movable bridges. HistoricBridges.org is proud to offer the most extensive coverage of historic Chicago bridges on the Internet.

Chicago / Cook County Bridge News

October 2015 - Patrick T. McBriarty, author of Chicago's River Bridges, informs HistoricBridges.org that in recognition for the "outstanding and original reference work that will support future scholarship in the history of technology", the book was awarded the biennial Eugene S. Ferguson Prize by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) at the SHOT Annual Meeting's awards banquet. See press release. This is the third award for this book. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

October 23, 2015 - The Franklin Street Bridge celebrates its 95th Anniversary. Please view this announcement prepared by Chicago Loop Bridges or view it on the Chicago Loop Bridges Website.

September 2015 - Fall Bridge Lift Season is Underway. View Schedule.

May 2015 - Michigan Avenue Bridge celebrates its 95th Birthday this month! Click here for a news article.

October 2014 - A visit to Chicago revealed that the Van Buren Street Pedestrian Bridge was not demolished, but instead extensively rehabbed. The railings are new, but replicate the original design. The concrete encasement was removed and not replaced, and instead the exposed riveted steel beams have been painted. The riveted beams look quite nice, and given the condition of the bridge prior to the project this seems like a good outcome. In other news, the rehabilitation and repainting of the La Salle Street Bridge is ongoing, and the project to extend the Chicago Riverwalk under additional bridges on the Main Branch is continuing.

September 2014 - Chicago's dubious distinction of offering numerous boat tours that pass under the bridges but offer narration only of the buildings has ended with the start of a Wendella tour that focuses on bridges! Information is here.

July 29, 2013 - A project study has been initiated for the reconstruction of historic North Lake Shore Drive. This project puts a large number of historic bridges at risk for demolition and replacement. However, it could also be an opportunity to rehabilitate the bridges. Visit the project website.

May 15, 2013 - The Ashland Avenue Bridge over North Branch Chicago River has been recommended for Chicago Landmark designation by the Chicago Art Deco Society.

April 30, 2013 - Illinois Landmarks has included Chicago's Bascule Bridges as one of their Top 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. View The Official Page.

General Chicago / Cook County Bridge Resources

Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. Despite this broad coverage, the book is presented in a compact format that is easy to take with you and carry around for reference on a visit to Chicago. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

Chicago River Bridges - By Patrick T. McBriarty, this is a great companion to Holth's book shown above. This much larger book offers an extremely in-depth exploration of Chicago's movable highway bridges, including many crossings that have not existed for many years. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview of Chicago Bascule Bridges (HAER Data Pages, PDF)

Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.

Additional Online Articles and Resources - This page is a large gathering of interesting articles and resources that HistoricBridges.org has uncovered during research, but which were not specific to a particular bridge listing.

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Photos and Videos: Division Street North Branch Canal Bridge

Available Photo Galleries and Videos

Click on a thumbnail or gallery name below to visit that particular photo gallery. If videos are available, click on a video name to view and/or download that particular video.

 
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A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. For the best visual immersion and full detail, or for use as a desktop background, this gallery presents the photos for this bridge in the original digital camera resolution.
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Structure Details
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. For the best visual immersion and full detail, or for use as a desktop background, this gallery presents the photos for this bridge in the original digital camera resolution.
View Photo Gallery
Structure Overview
Mobile Optimized Gallery
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
Browse Gallery With Popup Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Structure Details
Mobile Optimized Gallery
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
Browse Gallery With Popup Viewer
View Video
Bumpercam: Eastbound Crossing
Full Motion Video
Note: The downloadable high quality version of this video (available on the video page) is well worth the download since it offers excellent 1080 HD detail and is vastly more impressive than the compressed streaming video. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.

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