On September 3, 1892, President Frank Wenter of the Board of Trustees of the Sanitary District dug the first shovelful of the Sanitary and Ship Canal. He broke ground for an architectural marvel: the reversal of the Chicago River.
It was a necessary step for a city with a rapidly expanding and expelling population. The Chicago River functioned largely as a sewer. Effluvia ran from the city into Lake Michigan, the source of fresh water. Several outbreaks of cholera hit the city, although the 1885 epidemic is a myth. The Union Stock Yards contributed to the filth, exemplified by Bubbly Creek. The offal decomposed at the bottom of the River, causing the bubbles. The Sanitary and Ship Canal led the sewage south.
Completed in 1900, the canal created a shipping route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Its 28 miles were named a Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium in 1999 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 20, 2011. Chicagoans should be flushed with pride over the achievement!
Architecture and design radio show 99% Invisible reported on the massive undertaking in “Reversal of Fortune.”
Raise your shovel (or maybe dig a hole with it) and cheer!