The river seems to be most widely known for being dyed green for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and is also known for having its direction reversed at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Chicago River flows backwards, away from its mouth at Lake Michigan, and the river is actually higher than the lake. A lock raises and lowers watercraft that enter and leave the river. Despite the St. Patrick's Day dye job, the river is naturally a greenish hue, caused by the clay that forms the river bed and natural algae growth. Some buildings along the river use similar green hues in their fasçades to pay homage to the river.
Hover over a bridge to see the name, click on the bridge to be taken to its page.
38 movable bridges span the river today, down from a high of 52 movable bridges that once crossed the north, south and main branches of the Chicago River. The bridges include trunion bascule, Scherzer rolling lift, swing bridges and vertical lift bridges.
In 1853, an excursion boat called the SS Eastland capsized and rolled over at its mooring at the Clark Street Bridge. 844 souls perished in the disaster, most of the victims trapped below deck as the ship rolled over. A memorial marker is placed at the spot.
A 1908 railroad bridge, parallel to the Kinzie Street Bridge, is fixed in the open position, a Chicago historical landmark. The Galena & Chicago Union Railroad built a pontoon bridge at the location in 1852, the first railroad bridge to span the Chicago River. The original was replaced with a swing bridge that was too fragile, and it was replaced by another swing bridge in 1898. The Army Corps of Engineers ordered all the swing bridges in the North Branch removed to clear river navigation, so the current single-leaf, single track bascule bridge was built. The Galena & Chicago Union Railroad was the precusor of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. (The C&NW carried the transcontinental railroad from Chicago to Council Bluffs, Iowa where it met up with the Union Pacific.) The bridge in question once carried tracks that served the Merchandise Mart, continuing below the massive building to Navy Pier. Long abandoned, the only freight carried by the bridge in recent years served the printing facilites of the Chicago Sun-Times until 2001.
After the paper moved its printing operation, the line was abandoned and the bridge parked in a permanently open position. Because of the historical significance of the G&CU Railroad and the C&NW Railway in Chicago's development, the bridge was declared a Chicago landmark in 2007.