December 6, 1866: Chicago: First Water Supply Tunnel

1206 chicago lake tunnel detailDecember 6, 1866: “First water supply tunnel for U.S. city completed for Chicago, IL; Chicago Lake Tunnel extended 10,587 feet under Lake Michigan to an inlet crib; 5 feet in diameter, final cost of $380,784; March 17, 1864 – work started; March 25, 1867 – water allowed into the tunnel. Pumping station with the standpipe tower still stands at the intersection of Michigan Blvd and Chicago Ave., escaped destruction in the 1871 Chicago fire.”

1206 Bricking TunnelThe two-mile tunnel under Lake Michigan proposed by Ellis Chesbrough in 1863 brought him international fame when it was completed and, with its remarkable Two-mile Crib intake structure, was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world. Tunnel construction began in May 1864 and then continued for 24 hours a day and six days a week. A lower semicircular arch was dug and built about six feet in advance of the upper arch. Two men could work side by side, with the miners in front and the masons laying brick about 10-20 feet behind.

1206 Digging TunnelTwo small mules were found to work in the tunnel, pulling railroad cars to move clay out and building materials in. Digging proceeded first from the shore end and later from the lake end of the tunnel. Chesbrough and a few other dignitaries descended into the tunnel to remove the final inches separating the two tunnels in November 1866. The mayor placed the final masonry stone, and fresh water from the lake entered the tunnel for the first time with great fanfare in March 1867, bringing pure unpolluted water into the city through the structure.”

1206 Crib Structure in LakeCommentary: The purity of the water from this tunnel was grossly overstated in this article and in the minds of Chicagoans in 1866. Cholera and typhoid fever continued to kill tens of thousands of people in Chicago because the city’s sewage was also discharged into the lake for many decades after 1866.

References:

“Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

“The Lake Tunnel in Chicago.” Website http://www.lindahall.org/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/civil/lake_tunnel_2.shtml Accessed December 5, 2012.

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