If any one structure can depict the entire history of Chicago it’s the Michigan Avenue Bridge, formally named since 2010 the DuSable Bridge after Chicago’s first non-Native inhabitant, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable (before 1750-1818)
Constructed between 1918 and 1920, it opened up the area north of the Chicago River and extended the city’s retail quarter into the area that is now known as the Magnificent Mile.
It was designed for the Chicago Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, led by the engineer William A. Mulcahy in consultation with the planner Edward H Bennett (1874-1954), who had co-authored the Chicago Plan of 1909 with the better-known Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912).
There’s more to this bridge than meets the eye as you walk or drive across it.
It’s significant as the first bascule bridge across the Chicago River. All previous bridges over this busy waterway were swing bridges, which were frequently closed to road traffic through the day.
It’s actually two parallel bridges which can be raised separately. If either bascule needs repair it can be fixed in the raised position while traffic continues uninterrupted over the other.
And, though it’s not apparent from street level, it has two decks, the lower deck leading directly to the docks and riverside.
Furthermore, its northern abutment stands on the site of Du Sable’s original residence and the southern abutment occupies the location of Fort Dearborn (1803-4), the US Army base which encouraged the growth of the settlement that became the city of Chicago.
For these reasons the bridge is lavishly decorated with reliefs depicting scenes from the first discovery of the site by Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette in 1673 to the rebuilding after the Chicago Fire of 1871.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Windy City: the architecture of Chicago please click here.