Modern Steel Construction » Steel in the News » Steel Shots: Happy 90th Anniversary, Wells St. Bridge!

Steel in the News

Back to all posts

Steel Shots: Happy 90th Anniversary, Wells St. Bridge!
Posted by Tasha Weiss on February 10, 2012 at 1:18 PM.


Opened on February 11, 1922, the Wells Street Bridge spans the Chicago River, standing east of the Franklin Street Bridge and southeast of the Merchandise Mart. Connecting the Near North Side of the city with “The Loop,” this double decked bascule bridge carries three lanes of traffic south over the river with sidewalks on both sides of the street, and the upper deck serves as a track for two of Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ train lines. (Click the photo to view an aerial shot of the bridge’s position amongst three other Chicago River bridge crossings - we’ll make it easy on you, it’s the second bridge from the background)  Photo: MSC


Tomorrow marks 90 years of service for Chicago’s Wells Street Bridge, the city’s seventh downtown bridge to join the nonagenarian club. The bridge continues to serve as a main pedestrian and transportation crossing structure over the Chicago River, connecting the north and south sides of the city.


wellspr-2.jpg“Making Way for a New Bridge” was the December 5, 1921 headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune, reporting a weekend effort to replace the existing double-decked swing bridge at N. Wells Street with a new bascule bridge. Trains were stopped at the old bridge at 8 p.m. that Friday night and resumed crossing on the new bridge at 7 a.m. Monday morning - after only 59 hours. The official dedication and opening of the bridge took place on February 11, 1922, and also signified the beginning of the bascule bridge era.


To minimize traffic problems during the project, it was important to maintain rail service during the six years the bridge was under construction. The leaves of the bascule were built in the raised position while the existing bridge stayed in service. When the new bridge was almost complete, the old swing bridge was rotated open, cut up, and floated away. The leaves were then lowered and the new bascule was completed. This construction technique was first developed at W. Lake Street eight years earlier and perfected at N. Wells Street.
The bridge house plaque summarizes the key players in the design and construction of the bridge. Hugh E. Young was the design engineer and Edward H. Bennett was the consulting architect.


During the 1920s the Wells Street Bridge was raised about 2,500 times per year. As commercial river traffic migrated to the Port of Illinois, the number of lifts declined. Today this bridge is raised about 40 times per year to accommodate the migration of sailboats to and from the harbors in Lake Michigan, and it carries approximately 8,500 pedestrians, 8,500 vehicles, and 400 trains each day.


For more information about the Wells Street Bridge, contact Jim Phillips (who provided this commentary) at 312.540.0696 or visit the website at There you’ll find additional photos, project drawings, and videos about the bridge including a narrated tour. At the website’s left-hand column you’ll also see a list of multi-media pages for other Chicago Loop bridges.

Bookmark and Share