Chicago River Blues

My grandfather, Philip G. Connell, was a bridge builder, an engineer, a Scot and a proud Princeton man. He worked for his family company, Fitzsimons & Connell, which was a Chicago based Dredge & Dock company that was among the major contractors that built the famous bridges over the Chicago River.

As kids, we frequently heard about our grandfather’s bridges, and there was one story that I particularly remember from the ‘50’s. While performing an excavation of the riverbank for one of the new bridges, the crew discovered a family of newly hatched Mallard ducks in the middle of the excavation site.

My grandfather, an avid sportsman and conservationist, ordered the entire job shut down for a few days until the ducklings were old enough to follow their mother to safer waters. The Chicago Tribune newspaper clippings and awards from various conservation groups were displayed around my grandparents’ house for many years thereafter.

I took the photographs in this gallery when my cousin John Connell and I returned to our grandfather’s hometown to see the bridges that we had both heard so much about as kids.

Seeing these bridges is a tutorial about the design evolution of mechanical bridges such as Trunnion, Bascule, Double Leaf and others. There is also an excellent boat tour of the Chicago River sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation that is highly recommended.