The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History

The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History

by Libby Hill


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In this social and ecological account of the Chicago River, Libby Hill tells the story of how a sluggish waterway emptying into Lake Michigan became central to the creation of Chicago as a major metropolis and transportation hub. 

This widely acclaimed volume weaves the perspectives of science, engineering, commerce, politics, economics, and the natural world into a chronicle of the river from its earliest geologic history through its repeated adaptations to the city that grew up around it. While explaining the river’s role in massive public works, such as drainage and straightening, designed to address the infrastructure needs of a growing population, Hill focuses on the synergy between the river and the people of greater Chicago, whether they be the tribal cultures that occupied the land after glacial retreat, the first European inhabitants, or more recent residents.

In the first edition, Hill brought together years of original research and the contributions of dozens of experts to tell the Chicago River’s story up until 2000. This revised edition features discussions of disinfection, Asian carp, green strategies, the evolution of the Chicago Riverwalk, and the river’s rejuvenation. It also explores how earlier solutions to problems challenge today’s engineers, architects, environmentalists, and public policy agencies as they address contemporary issues. 

Revealing the river to be a microcosm of the uneasy relationship between nature and civilization, The Chicago River offers the tools and knowledge for the city’s residents to be champions on the river’s behalf.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809337071
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 02/21/2019
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 115,202
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Libby Hill is an environmentalist and educator who has worked as a librarian and a college instructor. She can be found in the woods or on the beach volunteering for ecological restoration projects, writing for her local newspaper, or working with others on regional environmental issues. 

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Tables xi

Preface xv

Chronology xix

Introduction 1

Part I Prehistory through the Eighteenth Century

1 Location, Location, Location 7

2 Geological Foundations: Bedrock and Ice 14

3 Branches and Forks 21

4 The Natural Chicago River: Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral 28

5 Tribal Land 33

6 Passages and Treaties: On the Path to a Canal 38

Part II The Nineteenth Century

7 The Illinois and Michigan Canal 47

8 Redesigning the Harbor 54

9 Early Commerce and the River 64

10 North Branch Settlement 71

11 Clean Stream to Open Sewer 78

12 The I&M Canal: Shipping Channel to Open Sewer 86

13 Toward the Sanitary and Ship Canal: From 1880 to Shovel Day 91

14 Building the Channel That Saved Chicago 104

Part III The Twentieth Century

15 Reconnecting the City and the River 117

16 The North Shore Channel and the North Branch 121

17 The Ascendance of Federal Authority 138

18 Straightening the South Branch 150

19 Transforming the Skokie Marsh 158

20 The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Modern Sewage Treatment, and the Tunnel and Reservoir Project 168

21 Citizens and Their River 177

Part IV Early Years of the Twenty-First Century

22 The MWRD and Disinfection 191

23 Invasive Asian Carp: The Case of the Sanitary and Ship Canal 201

24 Greening the Watershed 213

25 The Evolution of a Riverwalk 226

Retrospective 239

Acknowledgments 249


A Organizations 257

B On the Water 258

C Fish Species Collected by the MWRD in the Chicago Area Waterway System since 1974 263

Glossary 265

Notes 271

For Further Reference 289

Index 291

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