Monday, November 23, 2015

Raising Chicago's Street Level to add Sewers

(Update: Neil Gale's blog)

Edward Mendel - Chicago Historical Society, 1857, Public Domain
Chicago Historical Society, 1857 or 66, Public Domain
On the same day that Facebook had a posting about Raising Chicago, it was also the subject of the Chicago Tribune's Sunday Flashback Column. (Update: another article)

After a couple of decades of growth, the problem of building a city on shallow land became obvious, the roads were mud because they could not install a sewer system. And recurring epidemics of cholera motivated the city government to do something. The problem was that any sewer pipes laid beneath the streets would be below the river/lake level. So the Chicago Board of Sewerage Commissioners decided to lay the pipes on the existing streets and bring in fill to create new streets that were anywhere from six to fourteen feet higher than the existing streets. New buildings were built with their entrance floor at the new height. But what about the existing buildings? Beginning in 1855, contractors would raise buildings by placing hundreds, even thousands, of jackscrews under a building, or even a block of buildings,

Photo by Johnalden
This illustration of a jackscrew is fully extended. Note the bar on the ground that is put in one of the holes at the top to turn the screw.

Excerpt from above photo
This detail from the raising of the Briggs Hotel shows the man-sized jacks that were used and that each one had a man to operate it. That was the key. Each jack was turned the same amount at the same time so that the building maintained uniform stresses across the foundation. The Briggs Hotel remained in operation while it was being raised! This was typical of most buildings. George Pullman's first company was raising buildings. His contracts specified that he would not disturb a guest or break a pane of glass. Other contractors used hydraulic jacks.

Paul Petraitis posted
Nice collection of frame buildings near LaSalle and Randolph, 1858, Hesler photo.

Dennis DeBruler It looks like the streets have yet to be raised in this area.Paul PetraitisPaul manages the membership, moderators, settings, and posts for 1844 Chicago. I agree
Joe Falco Look at all of those wood ballon-frame structures.
Hidden History posted  (source)
Chicago raised its city several feet higher during the late 1800s!
As Americans moved from the rural areas to cities during the mid-1800s, many cities began to grow. Chicago, which was built right along Lake Michigan, often found itself flooded and sewage was often filling the streets. As the town grew, this problem amplified until 1855, when the city began the process of raising the city. Because the city was only a few feet above Lake Michigan sewage wouldn’t properly drain, and the Chicago Board of Sewerage Commissioners determined the best way to end the problem was to raise the city by 4ft.-14ft. based on the location.
During the two decades that the city took to raise itself, city drainage pipes were installed, and dirt and new foundations were placed under buildings. Many businesses and hotels were raised inch by inch, while still being open to visitors and guests, and once part of a block, weighing roughly 35,000 tons, was even raised using 6,000 jackscrews and hundreds of men. One man even recorded that he saw a building being raised every day by this strenuous work. This process was possible because modern skyscrapers and building materials like iron weren’t commonly used and most buildings were heavy and well built.
George Pullman was one of the masterminds behind the project and would later make his fortune in building sleeping cars. Today such a feat would be nearly impossible, yet in the late 1800s, Chicago raised its city higher to be able to continue to grow spurring the town to new growth during the turn of the century. The photos from the Chicago Historical Society show a street and a hotel being raised while people go by as if nothing is happening.
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Hidden History posted again
[The comments indicate that Seattle and Sacramento also raised their streets.]
Dyadya Abdul ...and this is how George Pullman made his initial fortune that he then investing in founding the Pullman Car Company.

One problem with the business of raising buildings is that after the last building was raised, you are out of business. But this provided Pullman the seed money he needed to create his sleeper car business.

One thing that struck me when looking at the pictures was how big Chicago had grown in just a couple of decades.

Update: Another article on the raising of the streets from an Andy Mueller posting. The next time I go north of Goose Island to check out the abandoned tracks and industries, I need to also go west into Bucktown because it is supposed to have some of the homes where they just built a new entrance into the second floor.

A posting of an article that has some interesting photos. The project was a real boon for the company that made jackscrews. 600 men used 6,000 jack screws to raise an entire city block of buildings.

HOW CHICAGO LIFTED ITSELF OUT OF THE SWAMP AND BECAME A MODERN METROPOLIS Actually, only a couple of paragraphs over half way down the article talk about raising the streets so that sewers could be installed. ( has the same article.)

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