Category Archives: Architecture

Solution to the September Puzzler

The September Puzzler was:

 “This scene took place in 1857 at the northeast corner of Randolph and Wells Streets in Chicago.  (see the previous post above)

What was going on there? And why?” 

Among the entries were some very imaginative offerings. Thank you all for your contributions!

So now I give you the text-book solution:

Chicago was built on a swamp. The terrific pace of  development and population growth had generated a massive amount of filth, and the Chicago River became a convenient dumping destination. Pollution became a major problem, with the poor drainage of the slow river and the back-up waters from the surrounding marsh exacerbating the conditions. The downtown area, centered on the swampy land, was literally stuck in the mud. Achieving the goal of freeing the city mired in muddy streets and walkways once and for all begged for a bold and imaginative decision. George Pullman, later of sleeping car fame, was contracted to come up with such a plan and he did. He proposed to “jack-up” the city.

So, what’s happening in the picture is the raising of the Briggs House Hotel in 1857 to a position higher than the Chicago River. The project was part of an effort throughout downtown that included raising the buildings and placing a bridge-like structure beneath them and their streets and sidewalks. The caption with the picture reads, “The men under the building are working in complete harmony to turn jacks and keep the building intact.” Remarkably, employees and residents continued working and living in the buildings throughout the project. And some hotel guests even slept through the work itself!

Now, as you walk in the Loop, most of your route will take place as high as 20 feet above actual ground level.