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The Chicago Traveler

Chicago River

by Matt B on August 27th, 2007

chicago riverToday’s article was going to be dedicated to one of Chicago’s oldest bridges, but then I realized… what about the River beneath it? At 156 miles (251 km) long, it is not impressively large. However, the Chicago River is a significant piece of the city nonetheless, an incredible example of Chicago’s 19th century civil engineering. What makes the Chicago River so incredible? It flows backwards.

Initially, the Chicago River flowed from west to east into Lake Michigan. But as Chicago continued to boom, sewage being dumped into the river would end up in the lake, which was the city’s drinking water source. In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the river using a series of canal locks, causing the river to flow into a newly completed canal.

You can’t go against Mother Nature completely though. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently discovered that most of the river flows from east to west, away from Lake Michigan. However, deep near the very bottom of the Chicago River, the water still travels from west to east.

chicago riverEvery year for St. Patrick’s Day, the river is dyed green. Don’t worry about the wildlife however; the dye’s secret ingredients are monitored by the EPA and are safe for the river’s fish population.

Finally, the Chicago River has about 45 movable bridges that cut across it, so if you’re traveling Chicago, you’re bound to come across this wet marvel more than once.

chicago riverchicago river
chicago river

Photo credit: (c/o Flickr) Artamnesia, Flipped Out, Giant Ginkgo, christopherdale, Se'or Codo


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POSTED IN: Architecture & Attractions

14 opinions for Chicago River

  • Jon - The DC Traveler
    Aug 27, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    I think the city should keep the river dyed green year ’round. It might actually improve the quality of the water.

  • Matt B
    Aug 27, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Haha, well, the old joke was that the city did SUCH a good job at dying the river green on St Pat’s Day that it pretty much stays that color all year round.

    For those not in the know, the Chicago River has a fairly poor reputation. It was long referred to as “the stinking river” because of all the sewage and pollution. Even as recently as the 1980s, the river was often full of garbage. However, over the past decade, it has undergone extensive cleaning as part of Mayor Richard M Daley’s city beautification program.

  • Lynn
    Aug 28, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Interesting article Matt, and I love the photos! The Chicago River may have a bad reputation, but it sure adds beauty to the city!

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