Monday, July 13, 2015

Chicago sewer history ... this will blow your mind

Briggs House, around 1866.

Look carefully at the picture above and you will see an army of men underneath this behemoth of a building. This actually happened. The men are manually raising the building several feet, using devices known as jackscrews. What's more, this surreal activity was taking place all over Chicago. Why so? Well, the drainage in Chicago was so poor at the time, that water borne disease was rife. The people of Chicago had to raise pretty much all the buildings in Chicago to enable the creation of the first comprehensive sewerage system in the United States. 

From 99% Invisible:

George Pullman perfected a method involving hundreds of men turning thousands of large jackscrews at the same time. Many smaller structures, especially houses, were simply moved to new locations. "Never a day passed," noted a visitor at the time, "that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine."

From Wikipedia:

"During the 19th century, the elevation of the Chicago area was not much higher than the shorelines of Lake Michigan, so for many years there was little or no naturally occurring drainage from the city surface. The lack of drainage caused unpleasant living conditions, and standing water harbored pathogens that caused numerous epidemics. Epidemics including typhoid fever and dysentery blighted Chicago six years in a row culminating in the 1854 outbreak of cholera that killed six percent of the city’s population.

By 1860, confidence was sufficiently high that a consortium of no fewer than six engineers—including Brown, 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, printeries, etc., 320 feet (98 m) long, comprising brick and stone buildings, some four stories high, some five, having a footprint taking up almost one acre (4,000 m2) 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) clear 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."

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