Sunday, February 28, 2016

Street and Pedestrian Tunnels under the Chicago River

Almost every picture of the Chicago River from the 1800s shows many masted ships on the river. So the swing bridges were open very often. This tied up street traffic enough that a couple of tunnels were built under the river. These tunnels allowed many people to escape the 1871 fire because the swing bridges were made of wood and quickly burned. (Chicagology)

Search for "three tunnels" in Baer.

Washington Street between Franklin and Clinton

Rotwang Manteuffel posted
Chicago had three streetcar tunnels under the Chicago River. These were La Salle Street, Washington Street, and Van Buren Street. The latter was the oldest and only occasionally used in revenue service. Here a Green Hornet PCC car is climbing out of the Washington Street tunnel on the east ramp. The ramps for this tunnel were of temporary construction because the tunnel was to be incorporated into the streetcar subway which was never built.
John Barry: The tunnels under the Chicago River dated to cable car days beginning in the late 1880s. Back then, the river was spanned by multiple operating drawbridges, and to my knowledge, nobody developed technology to allow a cable line to cross a drawbridge. Hence the tunnels.
I suppose it might have been possible, but it would have been very involved: the cable on the line in question would have to have been in two parts from two different power houses. One of two would probably have driven an auxiliary cable on the bridge itself through a gearbox and clutch--and that's presuming a single leaf bascule bridge. If the bridge were a double leaf design, such machinery would have been needed on both sides, and there would have been a gap in the middle that the cable car would have to have negotiated on momentum alone.
No wonder cable lines didn't cross drawbridges.
John Adrian: With a GMC on the surface.
Edward Kwiatkowski shared
Paul Webb shared

Raymond Kunst posted
Raymond's comment:
The Washington Street Tunnel was the first traffic tunnel under the Chicago River. J.L. Lake was awarded the contract to construct the tunnel in July 1867 and its construction was completed January 1, 1869. This tunnel was 1605 feet long, from Franklin Street west to Clinton Street, and cost $517,000.
Originally built of masonry with one lane for pedestrians and 2 lanes for horse-drawn traffic, by 1884 it was leaking and had been closed. In 1888 the West Chicago Street Railroad leased the tunnel. If they repaired it and built a vehicle bridge they could use the tunnel exclusively for cable car service. Construction began in 1888 and the tunnel was reopened August 12, 1890
The reversing of the Chicago River in 1900 lowered the water level and exposed the roof of the tunnel in the riverbed. Several ships ran aground on it, damaging the roof. In 1904 the Federal government declared it a hazard to navigation, it was closed on August 19, 1906.
Washington Street Tunnel, East Entrance
Photographer: John Carbutt:
A comment notes that the buildings are wooden so the picture was taken before the 1871 fire. Scroll down in the "posted" link in the caption for some more pictures of the tunnel.

Glen Miller's comments for his posting of the above picture:
The Washington Street Tunnel beneath the Chicago River, opened 1 Jan 1869 and was the first in the U.S. built for vehicle traffic under a river. It was closed in 1906 after they reversed the Chicago River, it exposed the roof of the tunnel. After several ships ran aground, the Federal government declared it a hazard to navigation. It reopened for cable car service in 1913 after it was deepened and used till 1953.

Riley Franson posted
1951 Washington Street Bridge, looking east. You can see the east entrance to the tunnel in background.
[You can see a westbound streetcar heading into the tunnel.]
Beer drinking, bicycle riding, Chicago photography club posted
Raymond Kunst shared

"In the Great Fire of 1871 this tunnel served as an escape route for fleeing the city. [The wooden swing bridges burned.] The tunnel had a history of impeding river traffic, with an occasional ship grounding on its roof. The tunnel was lowered eight feet and converted to a street car tunnel in 1910. This tunnel was in use until 1953." [ChicagoLoopBridges]
Chris La Course posted
Washington Street tunnel under the Chicago River, 1911.
Beer drinking, bicycle riding, Chicago photography club posted
Mitch Markovitz Check out the "L" cars.
Raymond Kunst shared

After almost five years, I came across a photo of the Clinton Street portal.
Martin Sorenson posted
Chicago circa 1911. "Under the tracks, Washington Boulevard, Chicago & North Western Railway station." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative.
Ken Morrison: under the tracks...and under water. behind that person standing between the 2 sets of streetcar tracks, the streetcar tracks are descending into a tunnel traveling under the Chicago River.
There were 3 such tunnels-Washington, Van Buren, and LaSalle.
John J Kulidas posted
Street car in 1958 entering the tunnel near Washington and Franklin. Picture the Trolley dodger.
Scott Greig: That's pre-1954. The last of the old "red rockets" were removed from service May 30, 1954.
Manny Gomez: Definitely looking west on Washington because of the NWR clock.
Richard Ragnar Sammartino: This is Washington looking west between franklin and Wacker, when it goes up to meet upper wacker. Tunnels were more common when the rivers were busier. [A reminder that in the 1800s the river was full of schooners.]

Paul Webb shared
Mike Breski: Cars are late 30's-40's.
Jon Habermaas: According to route # it is an Ogden car. I knew Madison and Milwaukee cars used the tunnel but apparently there were other routes too

Jose Ilarraza-Boyed posted
Washington Street Tunnel - 1864.
Yes. There was tunnel UNDER the Chicago River to get to the Loop from the West Loop.
Dennis DeBruler shared
LaSalle Street also had a tunnel under the river. These tunnels were later used by streetcar companies. They helped save a lot of lives during the 1871 fire because they were still usable for escaping the loop after the bridges caught on fire.
As a comment indicated, the wires would be telegraph wires because the telephone did not come to Chicago until 1877.

The above was the eastern portal.
Gregory Jay Valent commented on a post

LaSalle Street between Randolph and Hubbard (then Michigan) 

Please follow the "Chicagology" link in the caption.

Glen Miller posted
A 1908 color postcard shows the LaSalle Street tunnel after it was converted for electric street car use. The elevated train tracks that run along Lake Street are visible on the far left.
Richard Pitchford posted
LaSalle and Randolph, 1909, Chicago
The south end of the LaSalle Street tunnel at Randolph Street on March 25, 1939.


Mark Kocol commented on the second photo of a post
Another one under Van Buren just recently unearthed,

A blog posting

The fourth of six levels of tunnels in Chicago. (source)

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