The DuSable Bridge

DuSable Bridge 333 Michigan Avenue

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> The DuSable bridge is also commonly known as the Michigan Avenue Bridge

> The bridge links the North and South side of the city, connecting the main loop business district to the Magnificent Mile shopping district.

The Michigan Avenue Bridge was built in 1918 and was renamed the DuSable Bridge in 2010 in honor of Chicago's first African American settler, Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable. He established himself near the Chicago River, and his settlement grew into what you now see as the city of Chicago. You'll see the DuSable namesake elsewhere in the city at the DuSable Museum of African American Art as well as a park, harbor, and a high school.

The Bridge That Almost Wasn't

The bridge itself was never meant to be. The 1909 City Plan of Chicago wanted to widen Michigan Ave (formerly Pine St) north of the river. The bridge that resulted instead was a colossal example of how modern ambitions, married with the powerful waves of influence from the Industrial Revolution, created an architectural masterpiece.

This movable bridge was designed as an homage to Paris architecture — the Beaux Arts-inspired Alexander III Bridge, to be exact, which spans the Seine River.

Bas-Relief sculptures are carved into the bridge’s four suspension houses, depicting significant moments in Chicago's history from the first French settlers to the Battle of Dearborn. There is one commemorating the seminal battles of the War of 1812 and, finally, one to honor the Great Chicago fire of 1871.

Elements of a Movable Bridge

The DuSable is a Trunnion Bascule Bridge, an engineer’s label for a movable bridge. Early 20th-Century urban designs were an architectural homage to the Industrial era, where commerce and growth were the nation’s lifeblood. Shipping and trade, often by boat, were profound influences on how and why the bridge was designed as it was. The counterweights that lift the bridge via rotating fixed axles are called Trunnions. The underground weights balance the bridge’s leaves and as a result, don’t require much mechanical support to operate.

The lovers of Chicago's industrial look are far and wide. "New York is one of the capitals of the world and Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic, San Francisco is a lady," writer Norman Mailer wrote. "Baltimore and Washington wink like dull diamonds...But Chicago is a great American city. Perhaps it is the last of the great American cities."

And then, as people changed, so did the bridge. The DuSable used to open thousands of times a year. Now it only opens on a seasonal schedule.

Did you know?

At the time it was built, the DuSable Bridge was the first to have two roadways? The double-decker bridge allowed faster traffic to pass on the top level and slower traffic (traffic visiting the docks) to pass on the lower level.

Cover image source: Harold Deischinger, CC BY 2.0, no changes made.

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The DuSable Bridge

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