|The 1849 Chicago River Flood - A Daguerreotype Photograph.|
There were at least ninety vessels of various sizes on the river, and most were torn from their moorings and hurled them against bridges and decimated many of the wharves too.
As the mass of ice, water, and entangled ships was swept along, a small boy was crushed to death at the Randolph Street bridge. A little girl meets her death as a ship's mast falls into a group of onlookers, a number of men are reported lost upon canal boats which have been sunk.
From the History of Chicago, by Alfred Theodore Andreas:Late in the afternoon a man was spotted waving a handkerchief from a canal boat a few miles offshore, but there were no undamaged boats to send to his rescue. Forty vessels were completely wrecked and dozens were carried into the lake as debris. The lock at Bridgeport was totally destroyed, the Madison, Randolph and Wells Street bridges were swept away, resulting in no bridges left spanning the Chicago River.
"It was then that some bold fellows, armed with axes, sprang upon the vessels thus jammed together, and in danger of destruction. "Among the foremost and most fearless were: R. C. Bristol, of the forwarding house of Bristol & Porter; Alvin Calhoun, a builder, brother to John Calhoun, founder of the Chicago Democrat newspaper, and father of Mrs. Joseph K. C. Forrest; Cyrus P. Bradley, subsequently Sheriff and Chief of Police, and Darius Knights, still an employee of the city. These gentlemen, at the risk of their lives, succeeded in detaching the vessels at the eastern end of the gorge, one by one, from the wreck, until finally some ten or twelve large ships, relieved from their dangerous positions, floated out into the lake, their preservers proudly standing on their decks and returning, with salutes, the cheers of the crowd onshore. Once in the lake, the vessels were secured, in some cases by dropping the anchors, and in others by being brought up at the piers by the aid of hawsers (a thick rope or cable for mooring or towing a ship."
The loss by the flood was estimated at:
Totaling a whopping $108,000 ($3,295,000 today) in damages. The figures given are lower than what the actual loss really was.
- Damage to the city $15,000
- To vessels $58,000
- To canal boats $30,000
- Wharves $5,000
The city went to work with a will to repair the great damage. In the meantime, the river was crossed by a number of ferries. Besides the boat at Randolph Street, a canal boat lay across the river, upon which people were allowed to cross on payment of one cent each. The ferry at the Lake House at the corner of Kinzie Street, Rush Street, and Michigan Street, the safest and the most pleasant on the river, was free. A schooner was used at Clark Street; fare, one cent. Mr. Scranton’s old ferry was running at State Street the fare was the same as the others were charging.
Other temporary appliances were brought into use to bridge over the inconveniences of the next few months. These ferries were generally overcrowded with passengers who, in their eagerness to cross the Chicago river, sometimes rushed aboard, recklessly, and it is a wonder that fatal results did not follow.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
 The first bridge built in Bridgeport was a small bridge (unknown type) over the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, which may have been for the crossing of a road that had come before Archer Road was built. When the canal opened in 1848, the first bridge over the canal (at the lock) was washed away by the Flood of 1849 but was rebuilt. The street leading to the lock site bridge was called Post street, eventually, which connected to Lisle Street (also known as Reuben Street) -- and later renamed Ashland Avenue.