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10 historic Chicago bridges to know

100-year-old steel bridges, a Frank Gehry design, and Japanese footbridges

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The bridges over the Chicago River are the city’s most iconic. But there’s much more to our history than the heavy, steel bascule bridges. Many of the city’s landmarks are bridges, we’ve had bridge design competitions, and famous architects construct striking designs.

While the industrial bridges of the 1920s might be what we’re known for, our city has come a long way. Now, bridges connect pedestrians to the lakefront and have turned the river into a recreational amenity.

While there are hundreds of historic bridges in Chicago, here are 10 that you should know.

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1. 312 River Run

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3400 N Rockwell St
Chicago, IL 60618

312 River Run is one of the newest parks and it has the city’s longest pedestrian riverfront bridge. The 1,000-foot winding pathway juts out over the river’s edge and connects to the Riverview Bridge. It’s much more than other linear public spaces like The 606 or the Riverwalk—this piece of infrastructure connects two large parks, Clark Park and Horner Park, on opposite sides of the North Branch.

2. North Avenue Bridge

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W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60642

In 2006, the North Avenue Bridge near Goose Island was deteriorating. At the time, steel was too expensive so welding another bascule bridge was out of the question. The length was too short for suspension bridge and a cable-stayed bridge would have had towers that blocked the skyline too much. So, engineers developed a hybrid suspension and cable bridge which was completed in 2008.

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3. Chicago Avenue Bridge

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W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654

The original Chicago Avenue Bridge from 1914 is no longer. The historic ponty truss bascule bridge was in bad shape, and could not be saved or even given away for free. Currently, there’s a temporary concrete bridge bearing the old bridge’s sign—construction on a new bridge will begin in 2021.

4. Chicago & Northwestern Railway Bridge

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At the time of its opening in 1908, it was the longest and heaviest bascule bridge. Unlike like other structures on this list, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Bridge cannot be crossed. The landmark bridge remains in a standing position all year, aside from its annual inspection. The site is home to many bridge firsts: the first bridge across the Chicago River, the city’s first railroad bridge, and another bridge that was one of the first all-steel bridges in the country.

5. Outer Drive Bridge

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N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60611

This bridge was one of the most important Public Works Administration projects in Chicago—spanning over the mouth of the Chicago River it is the link between the North Side and South Side. The hulking, double-decker bascule bridge was finally completed in 1937. Some say it was the longest and widest bascule bridge in the world, which is an impressive feat for such a heavy style.

6. Chicago River moveable bridges

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Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago, IL 60601
(877) 300-6746
Visit Website

The bridges across the downtown stretch of the Chicago River, between Michigan Avenue and Orleans Street, are some of the most iconic. It’s what comes to mind when you think of Chicago bridges. Most of these bridges are more than 90 years old, except for the Dearborn Street bridge which was constructed in 1962. These are excellent examples of Chicago’s bascule bridges—essentially a moveable bridge that lifts up with the help of a counterweight. What’s especially noteworthy are the bridge-tender towers at each end which have designs that incorporate Art Deco, Beaux-Arts and Modernism styles.

7. BP Pedestrian Bridge

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337 E Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 552-3000
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This pedestrian bridge is striking—the silver, scaley squiggle reaches over six lanes of traffic. The playful structure allows people to cross from Millennium Park into Maggie Daley Park. It was designed by Frank Gehry, the same architect responsible for the Pritzker Pavilion, and completed in 2004.

8. St. Charles Air Line Bridge

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1500 S Lumber St
Chicago, IL 60607

This one is for the bridge nerds out there. Built in 1919, the St. Charles Air Line Railroad bridge once held the world-record for the longest bascule bridge at 260 feet. However in 1930, the river was straightened out and the bridge was shortened thus loosing its title. This particular design is called a Strauss Trunnion bascule bridge, which was built all over the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

9. Canal Street Railroad Bridge

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1856-1880 S Lumber St
Chicago, IL 60616

This vertical-lift bridge is a designated Chicago landmark. Rather than lifting open from one side, like a bascule bridge, the entire center part of the bridge was raised to let ships through. At the time of operation, it could lift 111 feet in the air in 45 seconds. During the peak of Chicago manufacturing in the early 1900s, the bridge was crossed by about 300 trains and raised 45 times per day.

10. 41 Street Pedestrian Bridge

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E 41st Pl
Chicago, IL 60653

This blue, snake-like structure looks as if it was caught mid-slither. The innovative bridge is more than interesting design—it is a critical connector to the lakefront for South Side neighborhoods. On the North Side, there is a way to get to the lakefront every few streets. Until this bridge was built, residents would have to walk quite far to access the Lake Michigan on foot. The 1,500-foot bridge sweeps over multiple lanes of traffic, Metra Electric tracks, and a CN railroad track making more parks and beaches accessible.

11. Jackson Park

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Jackson Park
Chicago, IL

There are a few notable bridges in Jackson Park including one that was originally constructed for the World’s Fair. However, we’d like to point out the charming wooden footbridges in the Japanese Gardens. Compared to the rest of the bridges on this list, they are much tinier and easy to miss. While they don’t do the heavy lifting of a bascule bridge, they are still significant. There’s something peaceful about their organization and how the silhouette hops over the lagoon.

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1. 312 River Run

3400 N Rockwell St, Chicago, IL 60618

312 River Run is one of the newest parks and it has the city’s longest pedestrian riverfront bridge. The 1,000-foot winding pathway juts out over the river’s edge and connects to the Riverview Bridge. It’s much more than other linear public spaces like The 606 or the Riverwalk—this piece of infrastructure connects two large parks, Clark Park and Horner Park, on opposite sides of the North Branch.

3400 N Rockwell St
Chicago, IL 60618

2. North Avenue Bridge

W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

In 2006, the North Avenue Bridge near Goose Island was deteriorating. At the time, steel was too expensive so welding another bascule bridge was out of the question. The length was too short for suspension bridge and a cable-stayed bridge would have had towers that blocked the skyline too much. So, engineers developed a hybrid suspension and cable bridge which was completed in 2008.

W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60642

3. Chicago Avenue Bridge

W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60654

The original Chicago Avenue Bridge from 1914 is no longer. The historic ponty truss bascule bridge was in bad shape, and could not be saved or even given away for free. Currently, there’s a temporary concrete bridge bearing the old bridge’s sign—construction on a new bridge will begin in 2021.

W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654

4. Chicago & Northwestern Railway Bridge

Chicago, IL 60654

At the time of its opening in 1908, it was the longest and heaviest bascule bridge. Unlike like other structures on this list, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Bridge cannot be crossed. The landmark bridge remains in a standing position all year, aside from its annual inspection. The site is home to many bridge firsts: the first bridge across the Chicago River, the city’s first railroad bridge, and another bridge that was one of the first all-steel bridges in the country.

5. Outer Drive Bridge

N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60611

This bridge was one of the most important Public Works Administration projects in Chicago—spanning over the mouth of the Chicago River it is the link between the North Side and South Side. The hulking, double-decker bascule bridge was finally completed in 1937. Some say it was the longest and widest bascule bridge in the world, which is an impressive feat for such a heavy style.

N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60611

6. Chicago River moveable bridges

Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601

The bridges across the downtown stretch of the Chicago River, between Michigan Avenue and Orleans Street, are some of the most iconic. It’s what comes to mind when you think of Chicago bridges. Most of these bridges are more than 90 years old, except for the Dearborn Street bridge which was constructed in 1962. These are excellent examples of Chicago’s bascule bridges—essentially a moveable bridge that lifts up with the help of a counterweight. What’s especially noteworthy are the bridge-tender towers at each end which have designs that incorporate Art Deco, Beaux-Arts and Modernism styles.

Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago, IL 60601

7. BP Pedestrian Bridge

337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601

This pedestrian bridge is striking—the silver, scaley squiggle reaches over six lanes of traffic. The playful structure allows people to cross from Millennium Park into Maggie Daley Park. It was designed by Frank Gehry, the same architect responsible for the Pritzker Pavilion, and completed in 2004.

337 E Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601

8. St. Charles Air Line Bridge

1500 S Lumber St, Chicago, IL 60607

This one is for the bridge nerds out there. Built in 1919, the St. Charles Air Line Railroad bridge once held the world-record for the longest bascule bridge at 260 feet. However in 1930, the river was straightened out and the bridge was shortened thus loosing its title. This particular design is called a Strauss Trunnion bascule bridge, which was built all over the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

1500 S Lumber St
Chicago, IL 60607

9. Canal Street Railroad Bridge

1856-1880 S Lumber St, Chicago, IL 60616

This vertical-lift bridge is a designated Chicago landmark. Rather than lifting open from one side, like a bascule bridge, the entire center part of the bridge was raised to let ships through. At the time of operation, it could lift 111 feet in the air in 45 seconds. During the peak of Chicago manufacturing in the early 1900s, the bridge was crossed by about 300 trains and raised 45 times per day.

1856-1880 S Lumber St
Chicago, IL 60616

10. 41 Street Pedestrian Bridge

E 41st Pl, Chicago, IL 60653

This blue, snake-like structure looks as if it was caught mid-slither. The innovative bridge is more than interesting design—it is a critical connector to the lakefront for South Side neighborhoods. On the North Side, there is a way to get to the lakefront every few streets. Until this bridge was built, residents would have to walk quite far to access the Lake Michigan on foot. The 1,500-foot bridge sweeps over multiple lanes of traffic, Metra Electric tracks, and a CN railroad track making more parks and beaches accessible.

E 41st Pl
Chicago, IL 60653

11. Jackson Park

Jackson Park, Chicago, IL

There are a few notable bridges in Jackson Park including one that was originally constructed for the World’s Fair. However, we’d like to point out the charming wooden footbridges in the Japanese Gardens. Compared to the rest of the bridges on this list, they are much tinier and easy to miss. While they don’t do the heavy lifting of a bascule bridge, they are still significant. There’s something peaceful about their organization and how the silhouette hops over the lagoon.

Jackson Park
Chicago, IL