The Michigan Avenue Bridge was built in 1920 to connect the north and south sides of Chicago with a grand boulevard. The bridge was part of Daniel Burnham’s Plan Of Chicago, an ambitious vision that encouraged modernization of the civic infrastructure.
A New Type Of Bridge
The Michigan Avenue Bridge is a double-deck trunnion bascule bridge. What that means is that it’s a two-level drawbridge that’s balanced with counterweights. It was the first bridge of its kind and it’s still a technological marvel; it only requires two 108-horsepower motors to raise and lower the bridge. This bridge replaced the Rush Street bridge, which was a swing bridge. The newer type allowed for larger vessels to sail down the Chicago River.
Bridgehouses Tell Chicago’s Past
On either side of the bridge and the river are bridgehouses. Sculptures on the walls of all four tell the story of Chicago’s past in bas relief. Commissioned by William Wrigley, Jr., the northern bridges feature The Discoverers and The Pioneers. “The Discoverers” are sculptures of Louis Joliet, Jacques Marquette, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and Henri de Tonti. “The Pioneers” shows John Kinzie.
On the south side of the river, commissioned by the B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund, “Regeneration” illustrates workers rebuilding the city after the Great Chicago Fire. Defense depicts the Battle of Fort Dearborn, which is appropriate since the fort was located at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River.
McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum
If you’d like to learn more about the Chicago River and the Michigan Avenue Bridge you can visit this museum. You can even see the bridge’s gear room. Stop by during spring or fall when the bridge is scheduled to open and you can see it in operation.
Connecting the North and South Sides of Chicago
The completion of the Michigan Avenue Bridge was one of the biggest factors in the development of what would become the Magnificent Mile. Previously the road north of the river was Pine Street. After the bridge connected the two banks of the river Pine Street was widened and renamed Michigan Avenue to correspond to the street on the south side. The boulevard provided easy access from Chicago’s financial district to the luxurious residences of the Gold Coast and ushered in an era of development.
There are stairs on the northwest side and southeast side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge that provide access to Chicago boat tours. The dock on the northwest side also has water taxis.