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Chicago: The Hydraulic City and - page 5 / 12





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canal been completed, there would have been, during the season past, an unusual supply of water, as the surface of the lake has been nine feet four inches above canal bottom, or three feet four inches higher than was originally calculated upon for the supply.” 17

The canal was not able to directly tap into Lake Michigan when it opened in 1848, because the State was so short of capital it was unable to afford the “deep cut” to give the canal direct access to Lake Michigan waters. Water power at Lockport was supplied by pumping water out of the Chicago River at Bridgeport and from a feeder canal supplied by the Little Calumet River. However, in 1870 with the help of the City of Chicago, the “deep cut” was made. The Summit Lock No. 1 at Bridgeport was removed, and the flow of the Chicago River was reversed, so it flowed south and west into the Mississippi River instead of into Lake Michigan.18 This allowed for a considerable expansion of the hydraulic basin in Lockport and an increase of its hydraulic power. The flour mill there increased its runs of stone from six to fourteen. This was the Norton flour mill, the biggest in Northern Illinois, and the hydraulic power development there was the largest in the state. Although the site was 36 miles from Chicago, because of the flat prairie lands, it was the nearest site that could tap the water power from the hydraulic city. And Chicago was the only site above the Niagara River that could effectively utilize the water power from the lakes. 19

The history of the canal as a transportation system follows almost exactly the history of the Chicago Harbor. While passenger transportation was effectively destroyed by the railroads, freight haulage increased the largest number of boats registered on the canal in 1863. After the 1870s steam was introduced; this increased the carrying capacity, but the size of the boats was restricted by the size of the locks. The largest gross tonnage was hauled on the canal in 1882.20 There was after this a change in the type of cargoes carried, as less stone and lumber were hauled and grain shipments also declined. By the late 1890s, traffic and income were way down on the canal. Its locks and the size of its boats were considered out of date. This concern had resulted in several studies to enlarge the canal. The first was in 1867; all these studies were based on Federal subsidies. Though the studies were federally subsidized, no money for construction was forthcoming from that source.21 However, the State continued to press for a “deep waterway.” Construction finally began in 1920; however, by 1932 the Federal government had to take over and finish the project called “The Illinois Waterway.” This was a system of locks and dams from Lockport to the Mississippi with a 9-foot navigational capacity.

Besides transportation, Chicago, as it grew, became closely tied to lake water resources for drinking and the necessarily related problem of storm runoff and sewage disposal. These two needs presented difficulties to the growing town because it was built on low and marshy land; runoff caused problems because of the lay of the land and the sluggish Chicago River which, as time passed, became increasingly unable to handle the runoff from the burgeoning city.

When the village of Chicago began, its water supply came from wells. By 1836 the Chicago Hydraulic Co. was formed to pull water from Lake Michigan. By 1840 an inlet pipe extending 500 feet out into the lake had been constructed by this company. There was a pump, a reservoir and about two miles of wooden pipe. 22

The other problem was drainage – anything laid below grade would not drain into the Chicago River. So, underground sewers could not be constructed. The solution was to raise the streets by 10 feet on those streets adjacent to the river. So, buildings had to be raised. The most famous such raising was the elevation of the Tremont Hotel using a large number of screw jacks turned simultaneously, devised by George Pullman. 23

However, increasing runoff into Lake Michigan via the Chicago River created a new problem, as the lake became easily contaminated, thus contaminating the water supply. In 1863, the Board of Public Works was directed by the City to thrust the water intake two miles out into the lake, via a five-foot diameter tunnel 69- feet below the surface of the lake. This would end at a pumping station and standpipe; the latter is today called “The Chicago Water Tower.” The standpipe was necessary to create enough pressure to distribute the


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