The Raising of Chicago 1856

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#1
Chicago, Illinois
The buildings and streets of chicago were lifted in the 1850's. The story goes that the sewers were an afterthought so Chicago had become a muddy, vile mess over time. Ellis S. Chesbrough submitted the plans that were accepted by the Common Council in 1856. Workers would lay the new pipes for the sewage system, pack it all in with several feet of dirt, then raise most buildings with hydraulic jacks.

Here's an interesting snippet from Putnam's Monthly Magazine in June of 1856, just before the lifting gets started,

Both carriage-way and sidewalks are planked—stone being as yet too expensive a material, and too slowly laid for this new and fast metropolis. In the spring of the year, the ground asserts its original character of a swamp. The planks actually float, and, as the heavy wagons pass along, ornamental jets of muddy water play on the every side.
The sidewalks of Chicago are as remarkable, in their way, as the bridges. With almost every block of buildings there is a change of grade, sometimes of one foot, sometimes of three feet, sometimes of five. These ascents or descents are made by steps, or by short,steep, inclined planes of boards, with or without cleats or cross-pieces, to prevent slipping, according to the fancy of the adjoining proprietor who erects them. The profile of a chicago sidewalk would resemble the profile of the Erie Canal where the locks are most plenty. It is one continual succession of ups and downs. The reason of this diversity is, that it was found necessary, at an early period in the history of the place, to raise the grade of the streets. It was afterward found necessary to raise the grade still higher, and again still higher—as each building is erected, its foundation and the sidewalk adjoining have been made to correspond with the grade then last established, and so it will not happen until the city is entirely rebuilt, that the proper grade will be uniformly attained.

According to the Tribune, it was so bad that homes literally floated.

HOUSE MOVING.—We saw yesterday the large old frame building “Tippecanoe Hall,” which has stood time out of mind on the corner of Wolcott and Kinzie street, moving westward to a new location on Kinzie street to the corner of Dearborn, while to save time a bevy of carpenters were at work on a staging rigged in usual form, putting on the siding upon one side, as it passed along. (April 1860)

More floating buildings,

Traveller David Macrae wrote incredulously, “Never a day passed during my stay in the city that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine. Going out Great Madison Street in the horse cars we had to stop twice to let houses get across.”

Things were bad, really bad. I am no expert, but shoddy sewers causing all that trouble? I can't help but wonder about the mud flood.

The Briggs House—a brick hotel—raised, probably in 1866

Briggs_house.jpg

Am I the only one that thinks this looks insane?
Robbins Building
"Another notable feat was the raising of the Robbins Building, an iron building 150 feet (46 m) long, 80 feet (24 m) wide and five stories high, located at the corner of South Water Street and Wells Street. This was a very heavy building; its ornate iron frame, its twelve-inch (305 mm) thick masonry wall filling, and its “floors filled with heavy goods” made for a weight estimated at 27,000 tons, a large load to raise over a relatively small area. Hollingsworth and Coughlin took the contract and in November 1865 lifted not only the building but also the 230 feet (70 m) of stone sidewalk outside it. The complete mass of iron and masonry was raised 27.5 inches (0.70 m), “without the slightest crack or damage.”

robbinsbuilding.jpg

What I find weird about this building in particular, is that it was first built the same year that the raising project was started, 1856. Alan Robbins funded the building, he commissioned Van Osdel to design it. The details are a little sketchy, however,

"It was to be a combination of store, offices, warehouse at the SE corner of South Water (Wacker) and Wells streets, then one of the city’s busiest intersections. Little is known about Robbins. It is clear that he never intended to occupy the building but constructed it as a real estate investment."

So Robbins wanted to build this grand Renaissance style structure... on sifting mud?

And as always, every dip into research brings more questions than answers.

----

I found a very compelling page on archive.org with a cache of quotes from Chicago papers at the time, this is what guided my post. Hope y'all enjoy the brief read!

chicago_dudgeon_hydraulic.jpg
 
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Ishtar

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#2
The weird part is, Chicago continues to rise...it seems like every year I see a substantial street regrading that messes with building and sidewalk aesthetics.

Unfortunately, I’m not finding any official news sources about recent infrastructure changes.
 

KorbenDallas

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#3
The streets of Chicago in the first half of the 19th century were virtually impassible for much of the year. Chicagoans realized, however, that horses struggling knee-deep in the muddy city streets was no laughing matter - especially when the poor road conditions meant a 12 mile trip would equal a full day of travel. - source
Thank you for bringing the topic up. The first question I asked myself when I learned bout this issue a while back was, "For how long did the citizens of Chicago failed to recognize that they had this sewer issue?" Chicago area was first settled in circa 1780, and the town was incorporated in 1830s. According to the official narrative anyways.

KD: This is a fascinating issue, isn't it? Are we faced with the historical introduction of the reason why Chicago is buried under 4-14 feet of dirt, or with a legitimate situation where whole blocks were raised, and moved? By saying that I mean blocks being moved as a unit in 1850s. Or could it be that the levels of water suddenly decided to rise? Judging by just about every other 19th century city facing a similar issue of buildings' first, second stories buried in dirt, the issue is not unique. Yet every city makes their issue a unique one. This way the similariry pattern gets broken, I guess.
  • By 1860, confidence was sufficiently high that a consortium of no fewer than six engineers — including James Brown, James Hollingsworth and George Pullman - took on one of the most impressive locations in the city and hoisted it up complete and in one go. They lifted half a city block on Lake Street, between Clark Street and LaSalle Street; a solid masonry row of shops, offices, printer shops, etc., 320 feet long, comprising brick and stone buildings, some four stories high, some five, having a footprint taking up almost one acre of space, and an estimated all in weight including hanging sidewalks of thirty five thousand tons.
  • Businesses operating out of these premises were not closed down for the lifting; as the buildings were being raised, people came, went, shopped and worked in them as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. In five days the entire assembly was elevated 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 m) in the air by a team consisting of six hundred men using six thousand jackscrews, ready for new foundation walls to be built underneath. The spectacle drew crowds of thousands, who were on the final day permitted to walk at the old ground level, among the jacks.
  • The largest job of building raising ever effected has just been completed in this city by Messrs. Hollingsworth & Coughlin, in the elevation of the Robbins’ iron block, corner of Wells and South Water streets, to grade, a height of twenty-seven and a half inches. The block is very solidly constructed, of iron and heavy masonry; is five stories in height, eighty feet in width, and one hundred and fifty in depth, and with the immense stock of merchandise it contains, is calculated to weigh at least twenty-seven thousand tons. In addition to this mountain weight, the stone sidewalks, two hundred and thirty feet in length, have been raised with the building, and the whole has been done without the slightest crack or damage, and so quietly that there has never been apparent any evidence that its foundation consisted of jackscrews and not of solid stone and bricks. To effect this truly Herculean task, the contractors have employed no less than one thousand five hundred and eighty jack-screws and four hundred thousand feet of lumber, and with these appliances have done it all in the short space of twenty-one days from the time when they first got possession of the premises. This positively wonderful feat well establishes the confidence hitherto felt by the property owners and builders of Chicago in the ability of Messrs. Hollingsworth & Coughlin, to move anything moveable and its success has already brought them offers to make a trip to Paris, France, for the moving of some heavy blocks of buildings there which European mechanics frankly confess to be beyond their power. It has often been said that American mechanics only wish to know what is to be done, and they will find a means for doing it, but a stronger exemplification of this has never been offered than in the present instance, and after this the story of the man who “went back and drawed the cellar too” can scarcely be deemed improbable.
    • It may not be out of place to say, as showing the confidence reposed in the contractors, that the architect of the work- J. M. Van Osdel, Esq. - than whom there is not a more particular man in the business, has only visited the scene three times since the commencement of the work. The Times (London), December 12, 1865
chicago_rasing_1_3.jpg

Below we have an alleged photograph of the Briggs Building being moved in 1855. Whether this image proves that the building was actually moved I do not know, but they were doing something.

Briggs_Building_movement_1855.jpg

Judging by the below technique, the endeavor appears questionable at the least. Yet, it was supposedly done just like that.

raising-chicago_x.jpg


Raising_Chicago_1.jpg

On the 155th anniversary of the project’s launch, Lilli Carre made a comic about the raising and transporting of the city's buildings.

Raising_Chicago.jpg

Raising-Chicago-Lilli-Carre-1.jpg Raising-Chicago-Lilli-Carre-2.jpg Raising-Chicago-Lilli-Carre-3.jpg Raising-Chicago-Lilli-Carre-4.jpg
I would definitely like to know what they used in 1850s to bring millions of tons of dirt to the city of Chicago. How many horse carriages they used for it and where all the dirt came from. :unsure:

Another thing to think about is the general hypothetical absence of the sewer system in Chicago prior to these raising activities. Such elaborate buildings were being constructed without a sewer system in place? Where else do we see a similar issue? The Palace of Versailles in France?
 

Ice Nine

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#4
All this drawing does is make me laugh.
One freaking horse and some logs, " hey buddy get off that pallet, you're just adding more weight"

raising-chicago_x.jpg

I've been doing some searching, and again no real photos of any of this. Just the same few drawings scattered about. Hey maybe there are no photos because the buildings were moving so damn fast the photographer couldn't get a picture.

This sure reminds me a whole helluva lot of what they did in Seattle. Wow

Excellent thread.
Also it's a real shame they went to all of that work moving buildings and then to have a devastating fire in 1871.

I don't have time to check right now, but I wonder how much of the burnt part of the city overlaps the moved part of the city.
The burnt district
 

Ice Nine

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#7
It's more than one horse and some logs. There is a capstand there with ropes and pulleys to get a big mechanical advantage.

Search building move pics. It looks about the same today.
I didn't notice the capstand, thank you for pointing it out. It would help, but it still seems that poor horse has quite a bit of work to do.

And I am looking at the more modern methods, if anybody else is interested.
Structure relocation
 

Casimir

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#9
Below we have an alleged photograph of the Briggs Building being moved in 1855. Whether this image proves that the building was actually moved I do not know, but they were doing something.

I'm having trouble distinguishing what all that black space on the bottom left is. According to the sketch there should just be another street there, right? Is that a shadow, some corrupted space on the photograph or what? You can see the raising mechanisms alongside the bottom of the building but the black space oddly trails the bottom as well. I'm the last guy to want to point out something useless but my eyes must be deceiving me, that almost looks like a shadowed pit of some sort.

I remember having to read a book about the history of Chicago during uni, its development and how it was in the sweet spot for the push west etc. I thought it was the most bland, boring shit I'd ever been forced to read- now I bet if I go back for further review it would be wrought with inconsistencies.
 

Ice Nine

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#10
Note the complete lack of Chicago in that wiki article. Wouldn't that be the best example of this technology?
Also no mention of Seattle either and some major building moving was going on here too.

And @Casimir, it doesn't look like a shadow, but a big gaping hole in the ground, they might have had to tunnel under the building some to be able to get all the supports under it. Just my best guess.
 

Onijunbei

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#11
The pictures remind me of how they lift and settle trailer homes after or before transport
 

ISeenItFirst

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#12
I didn't notice the capstand, thank you for pointing it out. It would help, but it still seems that poor horse has quite a bit of work to do.

And I am looking at the more modern methods, if anybody else is interested.
Structure relocation
Yeah, it actually looks like the horse is tied to the pulleys. So yeah, apparently that horse is pulling it alone, with rollers and pulleys. Wow.
 

Ice Nine

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#13
Yeah, it actually looks like the horse is tied to the pulleys. So yeah, apparently that horse is pulling it alone, with rollers and pulleys. Wow.
Yeah too bad they didn't have a couple of these tractor/engine things to help them move buildings.

This is a post card from 1900, Germany and I have no idea why it says 2000 on the bottom right hand corner. And also right before 2000 it says Jahre and I know a little German and "jahre" means year.

Germany_in_XXI_century._House.jpg
 

KorbenDallas

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#14
Chicago has some fascinating history, the true essence of which appears to be hidden from us. We have this current "raising the city" situation. We also have the mysterious 1871 Urban Fire followed by the 1893 Expo and its destruction.

What those people could accomplish back then just does not fall in line with "horses struggling knee-deep in the muddy city streets". Did it really take them Chicagoans 30 years to figure out their sewer system was not working (or may be absent altogether)?

Rule #1 - No Photos
This one I could not stress enough. History gave us sketches, and omitted all the important photographs. But here are some of the Chicagoans accomplishments.

The Great Chicago Lake Tunnel
"In the mid-nineteenth century, Chicago was one of America's fastest growing cities. Lake Michigan provided a plentiful and easily accessible supply of fresh water. But the city dumped its sewage into the Chicago River, and since the river ran into the lake, the water supply near shore grew increasingly contaminated. Pipes that drew water from 150 feet offshore and even 600 feet out into the lake proved inadequate by the 1850s, when spring rains carrying pollution from Chicago's sewers, distilleries, and slaughterhouses contaminated the water supply.

Ellis S. Chesbrough solved the problem in 1863 by designing a tunnel under the lake that would bring fresh water from two miles offshore. The tunnel was to be 5 feet wide and lined with brick, and would extend through the clay bed of Lake Michigan to a distance of 10,567 feet. Work started in 1864, and was far enough along by 1867 that this pamphlet could give a detailed description of the progress. A notable feature of the plan was the Two-Mile Crib, a mammoth timber intake structure launched in 1865 and placed in clean, deep waters on top of the lake-end of the tunnel. It is shown here in cross section, along with the tunnel under the lake." - source

1867 Pamphlet
La_Salle_Tunnel_80.png

2 miles long

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_01.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_77_1.jpg


And here is a pictorial version of how it was allegedly built.
Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_01_x.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_11.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_12.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_13.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_14.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_15.jpg

Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_16.jpg
Lake_Michigan_Tunnel_17.jpg

LaSalle Street Tunnel
The LaSalle Street Tunnel was Chicago's second traffic tunnel under the Chicago River. It was started November 3, 1869, and completed July 4, 1871. It was designed by William Bryson who was the resident engineer for the Washington Street Tunnel. It was 1,890 feet (576m) long, from Randolph Street north to Hubbard (then Michigan) Street, and cost $566,000.

KD: Those people allegedly built tunnels like these with ease, yet they could not install a sewer. They also preferred to draw pictures instead of taking photographs.

 
OP
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RowOfEleven
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#16
Another thing to think about is the general hypothetical absence of the sewer system in Chicago prior to these raising activities. Such elaborate buildings were being constructed without a sewer system in place? Where else do we see a similar issue? The Palace of Versailles in France?
On Versailles, this is exactly the connection I made. The great stink was not a local thing it seems. I do wonder why cities would be built in such short-sighted ways.

We have Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, NYC, Boston, DC (I could keep going) that are built exactly on the water table. Who does that? Most of those cities would be under marshy water if we didn't make efforts to stop it. Hell, Sicily and Amsterdam gave up and let their streets become rivers. And of course, the sewer problem plagued most of these cities too.

Were there cities built in the 18th-19th centuries that didn't have this kind of problem?
 

KorbenDallas

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#19
Interesting how it also sounds similar to what they did in Prague, Czech Republic.
In the 13th century the city level was several meters lower than today’s level. When Prague’s New Town was developed all the dirt they excavated from the area was brought into Old Town to artificially increase the level of the street to prevent it flooding.
What's funny, to elevate the level, they brought so much dirt, that all you see in the images below ended up deep below the current street level. It happened way before any cars or trains were around. What did they use to bring enough dirt to bury the entire city? Horse carriages?

They did it to avoid some water related dangers. Where is the water they were so concerned about? :)

underground-prague.jpg

Pragues-Underground-City_1.jpg

Pragues-Underground-City.jpg

Under the cobbles - Prague's Underground City
Take an Underground Tour of Prague from Beneath the City's Streets - CitySpy // Prague, CZ
Underground: Tunnels Below Trdelnik
 
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