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The Case of a Buried Bridge, the Million Dollar Bridle Path, and the North Side Sludge Line

District photograph 13775 taken on February 23, 1928, looking east from the McCormick Road bridge over National’s lateral channel, showing a north-south bridle path bridge spanning the east-west lateral channel connecting the NSC with a National clay pit west of McCormick Road.

On a May, 2023, spring day, an underground directional drilling machine for a new pipeline bumped into a solid object and stopped. The object was a quarter mile south of Howard Street and about 60 feet east of McCormick Boulevard. The machine operator was puzzled. Nothing was shown on the construction plans. The construction crew mobilized to find out what happened. Nothing appeared on the surface, a parking lot, to reveal what was underground. A fence, 80 feet east, marked the top of the west bank of the North Shore Channel (NSC). Behind the fence, two concrete walls running east-west about 30 feet apart were found protruding from the channel bank. Puzzled, they asked themselves, Could we have hit the north of the two walls if the walls were extended?

The District’s resident engineer couldn’t answer the question and a quick call was made to the downtown design office. A few days later, on May 10, the District’s Assistant Director of Engineering, emailed me as follows: “We have two mysterious walls on the west bank of the NSC that protrude below the surface and interfere with our new sludge line from OWRP (O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant) to SWRP (Stickney WRP). I was wondering if you might have an idea of the origin of these walls. A few pictures are attached for your reference.” I responded that the walls were constructed by the National Brick Company under a permit issued by the District in May, 1913, and he included a historic District photograph taken on February 23, 1928, of a bridge at the location.

District photo taken on May 5, 2023, at 2:41 PM, looking east, shows the north wall at left, the North Shore Channel in the background, and the south wall at right obscured by foliage. These two walls, about 30 feet apart, are parallel and only extend a short distance. Later it was learned that they supported the west end of a bridge superstructure spanning the NSC 100 years ago. These walls were built by the National Brick Company (National), and National’s lateral channel connected to the NSC between these two walls.

Download the PDF to read the rest of this modern day detective, excavation story that also involves a District financial scandal from the 1920s. Contemporary and historic photos and drawings included.

Buried Bridge-Northside Sludge Pipeline
Download PDF • 15.49MB


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