The Webster Avenue Bridge is an example of the oldest style of pony bascule bridge in Chicago. It displays the less smooth curve to its trusses. Neighboring Ashland Avenue Bridge, with its second generation design featuring smooth truss curves is a good contrast.
This bridge is a member of the greatest collection of historic bascule bridges on the planet, which is located in the city Chicago and Cook County. The fact that Chicago is a city with such a large, record-breaking number of bascule bridges, and most of them considered historic, is something the city should be truly proud of. For the most part, Chicago has been a model for historic bridge preservation, especially with the bridges in the downtown area. They have chosen to maintain, and rehabilitate as needed, their historic bridges for the continuous heavy traffic one might expect in the nation's third largest city. The fact that so many of these bridges remain functional and historically intact as well sends a message to other cities and even rural locations who claim that historic bridges cannot serve the needs of modern day traffic.
A historical thesis paper written about tests students did on the bridge includes a photo where a C. H. Norwood plaque is visible on the electrical equipment indicating that this firm was the electrical contractor for the bridge. Also shown in this paper are photos showing the original bridge tender houses, which have since been severely altered. The superstructure contractor for the bridge was Ketler-Elliott Company of Chicago, Illinois and the substructure contractor was Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company of Chicago, Illinois.
The previous bridge at this location (also the first documented bridge at this location) was a wooden through truss swing bridge. It was an iron/wood combination hand-turned swing bridge that was built in 1872 to carry Clark Street over the Main Branch, by Fox and Howard. In 1889, it was moved and reused as a bridge at Webster Avenue. as a The design appears to have been similar to some of the other long-gone bridges on this section of the river, many of which were also built by Fox and Howard.
While Chicago is a leader in historic bridge preservation downtown, how do the city's historic bridges fare out away from the core of the city? Their conditions vary widely, some remain in excellent condition, while others show need of rehabilitation. How does the city's commitment to preservation stand outside of the downtown? This remains to be seen for certain, with initial evidence pointing in both directions. Certainly, nearby Cortland Street Bridge displays a commitment to preservation, having been continuously maintained and preserved the past few years. However, it is worth noting that Ashland Avenue Bridge was not always the northernmost historic movable highway bridge in Chicago. Nearby Damen Avenue Bridge to the north was demolished and replaced with a modern through arch that, while more attractive than a normal modern bridge, does not convey Chicago's movable bridge or industrial heritage, and does not blend into the context of Chicago bridges or the canalized river in which they cross. It is impossible to make a connection to Chicago's past, or the canal's past with this new bridge.
Many of the movable bridges on the North Branch and South Branch (Sanitary Canal) of Chicago River are unlike those on the main branch and downtown Chicago. In addition, some of the oldest and most historic bascule bridges are on the North Branch. It is essential that these outlying bridges be preserved alongside the core downtown movable bridges. Moving forward, if Chicago wishes to maintain its image as the worldwide capital of bascule bridges, and if it also wishes to maintain its image as one of this nation's great Historic Bridge Cities alongside cities like Pittsburgh, a long-term preservation plan for its remaining historic bascule bridges should be put in place, especially for these bridges that sit outside of the downtown loop.
As of 2014, Chicago Department of Transportation is reportedly making plans to rehabilitate this bridge. The work would include replacement of lateral bracing, deck stringers, and floor beams. The deck would be replaced with a solid concrete deck and trusses would be strengthened to accommodate the heavier deck. Reportedly, everything remaining of the bridge tender houses above the deck will be demolished, but everything below the deck level from the bridge tender houses would remain. If plans move forward, the work could begin as soon as Fall 2014.
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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.
September 2015 - Fall Bridge Lift Season is Underway. View Schedule.
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.
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.
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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