How Chicago Reversed the Flow of the Chicago River

How Chicago Reversed the Flow of the Chicago River

The Chicago River is one of the main reasons that the city exists, with the Chicago Portage linking the Great Lakes, Mississippi Valley, and even the Gulf of Mexico. Not only is the river known for its natural history, but for its man-made history as well. During our Chicago Architecture River Tour, you will learn the story behind the iconic skyline that defines Chicago, and the river that runs through it.

Changing the Flow

Chicago River

Up until 1900, the Chicago River flowed directly into Lake Michigan, but so did all of the sewage generated from the city. The Des Plaines River, which is located west of Chicago, flowed into the Illinois River, which eventually makes its way into the Mississippi. The residents of the city received their drinking water from the part of the lake that is near the mouth of the Chicago River. Unfortunately, that water was polluted and caused outbreaks of waterborne diseases like typhoid.

The Sanitary District of Chicago had to come up with a plan to eliminate the city’s sanitation issues. At the top of the list was constructing a canal that connected the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River. This project made it possible for a regulated amount of water to leave Lake Michigan via the Chicago River and then eventually flow into the Illinois River.

To reverse the flow of both the Main Stem and the South Branch of the Chicago River, a series of canal locks were used. This project caused the river to empty into the newly finished Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Even into the 1980s, the river was known for being polluted. However, in the 1990s as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s beautification efforts, the Chicago River benefitted from extensive cleaning.

Enjoy the Beautiful Chicago River with Shoreline

Along the Chicago River, you can see some of the most iconic buildings in the entire city. Here at Shoreline Sightseeing, we offer a Chicago Architecture River Tour, giving participants the chance to relax and take in the beautiful skyline. Entertaining guides will discuss the history of these landmarks such as the Trump Tower, Marina City, and the Wrigley Building.

For more information about the Architecture River Tour or any of the other tours and cruises we offer, feel free to contact us at 312-222-9328.