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Dearborn Street Bridge


Dearborn Street Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 12, 2006, 2009-2011
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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Dearborn Street Over Chicago River
Chicago: Cook County, Illinois
Structure Type
Metal Rivet-Connected Pratt Railing Height Truss, Movable: Double Leaf Bascule (Fixed Trunnion) and Approach Spans: Metal Stringer (Multi-Beam), Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1963 By Builder/Contractor: Overland Construction Company of Chicago, Illinois and Engineer/Design: City of Chicago

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
235 Feet (71.6 Meters)
Structure Length
341 Feet (104 Meters)
Roadway Width
56 Feet (17.1 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 4 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

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

Dearborn Street Bridge

Former Dearborn Street BridgeDearborn Street Bridge First Chicago Movable BridgeLooking at this bridge's trusses you might not guess that this is one of Chicago's newer bridges, with a 1963 construction date. Having a truss construction, complete with rivets and built-up beams with lattice and v-lacing, it certainly does not look like a 1960s bridge. V-lacing was not commonly used by this time, and rivets were beginning to fall to bolts in bridge construction as well. The single bridgetender building, which is much more simple in appearance than the ornate towers for many of the older Chicago bridges, is the only obvious hint that this bridge is newer, aside from the bridge plaque listing the construction date.

The reality is that Chicago's unique railing height truss design which raised a deck truss up above the deck slightly like a pony truss worked so well and was also seen as an aesthetically pleasing design that the city used it for a period of over 40 years of bridge building. Indeed, this 1963 bridge's trusses are very similar to the bridges of this style built in the 1920s. Compare this bridge to the nearby Wabash Avenue Bridge, constructed three decades earlier, in 1930. The unique truss design that Chicago developed is called the railing height truss because the trusses rise above the deck just high enough to also function as railings.

Today, there are a number of bridges in Chicago that display the railing height truss design, and they are all attractive structures, however the older examples display more ornate bridge tender houses. There are three railing height trusses, including the Dearborn Street Bridge, that are located one right after another on this section of the river. Of those three, this is the newest.

Reportedly, the prolific American Bridge Company of New York, New York was involved with this bridge. If so, they likely fabricated the steel trusses. The Annual Report of Public Works listed the low bidders for the actual on-site construction. States Improvement Company won the bid for the substructure with a bid of $1,162,050. Overland Construction Company had a low bid of $2,685,134 for the superstructure. The electrical contract was awarded to the Garden City Engineering Company on a bid of $630,992. The total cost was $6,800,000.

The bridge opened to traffic on October 27, 1963. According to the Annual Report of the Department of Public Works for 1963, this bridge, which won an award from the American Institute of Steel Construction for its beauty, was designed to have a clean, modern look. Some of the aesthetic considerations mentioned included the all-welded steel covers at the end of the bridge, intended to have a sculpture-like look. Also, the sidewalk cantilevers were hidden by way of fascia covers.

The first movable bridge in Chicago was built at this location in 1834. Ironically, this bridge had leaves that opened like a bascule bridge, although it would be decades later before Chicago again returned to a bascule style of bridge for its movable bridge needs. According to the Annual Report of the Department of Public Works, the double leaves of this first bridge were raised by iron chains passed over towers on landward ends. Timber for the bridge was cut from around nearby Michigan Avenue. Despite the bascule-like design, this bridge was so small it was a severe obstruction to boats and was hit often. The bridge was about 300 feet long with a 60 foot span for boats. Trying to rid the city of this obstruction, local citizens were still unable to get the bridge tore down through official means. They decided to take the matter into their own hands and formed a ax-wielding mob that proceeded to literally chop the bridge down, bringing an end to Chicago's first movable bridge. A bridge did not exist at this location again until 1888 when the old Wells Street Bridge (an iron swing bridge dating to 1872 and built by Fox and Howard) was moved to this location here at Dearborn Street. This relocation took place so that a double-deck swing bridge at Wells Street could be built. The relocated bridge served at Dearborn Street until 1907 when a Scherzer Rolling Lift bascule bridge was built.

George W. Jackson Chicago AdvertisementPrevious Dearborn Street BridgePrevious Dearborn Street Bridge
Above: The previous bridge at this location was a Scherzer Rolling Lift bascule bridge built by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company. George W. Jackson Inc., a prominent Chicago contractor, was a contractor for the bridge.

Frank M. Montgomery Chicago
Above: Frank Montgomery and Company was a company run by Frank M. Montgomery, who was an engineer and contractor who worked under Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company to builder Scherzer bridges in the Chicago area, including the previous Dearborn Street Bridge at this location.


Main Plaque






Commissioner of Public Works

Chief Engineer

Chief Bridge Engineer

Asst. Chief Bridge Engineer
Engineer of Bridge Design

Engineer of Bridge Constr.

First Movable Bridge Plaque


AISC Plaque



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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.


Photos and Videos: Dearborn Street Bridge

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A collection of overview and detail photos. 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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Raising Bridge, Portal
Full Motion Video
Taken June 2011 Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.
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Lowering Bridge, Elevation
Full Motion Video
Taken June 2011 Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.
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Raising The Bridge
Full Motion Video
View beside bridge from southeast quadrant. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.
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Raising The Bridge
Full Motion Video
Elevation from southeast quadrant. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.

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