N. Clark Street

Historical Summary

Looking south along the N Clark St bridge

The North Clark Street river crossing has been in use for more than 170 years. The first bridge at the Clark Street crossing was a floating bridge built in 1840. In 1856, a new swing bridge was built at this crossing. This swing bridge was destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt in 1872. In 1888, the last swing bridge was built at Clark Street. Construction of the current bridge marked the end of the swing bridge era on the Main Branch of the Chicago River.

Bridge tender houses are placed on the northwest and southeast corners of the bridge. These houses are similar to those on the N. La Salle Street bridge.

There have been some interesting events at this bridge.

In 1937, a visitor to Chicago climbed onto the truss twenty feet above the roadway. He fell asleep there and could not be roused from below. A fireman had to carry him down. When questioned, he claimed an “acquaintance overdosed him with liquor” and he was grateful for the nap.

In 1942, a pedestrian was observed with an object resembling a fire extinguisher. He dropped it on the bridge and ran away. The object, which was thought to be a bomb, was placed such that raising the bridge leaves would have crushed it, possibly exploding it. A quick-acting police officer threw the object into the river. A liquid chemical poured from the object as it sank but there was no explosion.

In 1943, one of two painters working on the bridge lost a pair of eye glasses in the gear box. While trying to retrieve the glasses, the two discovered a loaded 20 millimeter anti-aircraft shell. No additional information was provided as to how the shell might have ended up there or what happened to it. It is reasonable to assume it was removed without incident.

In 1985, conceptual artist Michele Fitzsimmons and photographer Diane Schmidt produced a book entitled “The Chicago Exhibition.” This project involved photographing a number of Chicago landmarks as backdrop for a series of artistic nude poses. The Clark Street bridge is a prominent feature in the photograph entitled “North Bank of the Chicago River.”

In October 2007, a concert of the Clark Street Bridge Percussion Orchestra was staged as a part of Chicago Artists Month.