Historic Michigan Avenue: The Chicago Bridgehouse Museum

I’ve been intrigued ever since I learned of the Bridgehouse Museum on Michigan Avenue. It was awesome to discover that you can actually go inside of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum has exhibits inside and gives a glimpse of the machinery behind this engineering wonder. I had the opportunity to visit as part of my Chicago History class at North Central College. We also walk right past on our Architecture Walking Tour for Design Lovers and Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour.

Where to Find the Bridgehouse Museum

Located inside the southwest tower of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the bridgehouse museum uses the Chicago River and the historic Michigan Avenue Bridge to tell the story of a city that grew from a “mudhole to a metropolis.” The first floor of the bridgehouse museum allows you to go into the gear room and look at the motor and gears that open and close the double-leaf, double-deck bascule trunnion bridge. How’s that for a handful of words?

Bascule means “seesaw” in French, describing how the bridge works. As the counterweight pulls down the bridge comes up and vice-versa. Apparently the motor of the bridge has about the same power as a 1950s Volkswagen Beetle. The counterweight and gravity do most of the work to lift and lowe. The bridge continues to function today. You’ll see it raised more frequently during the spring and fall. That’s when ships, mostly recreational sailboats, sail up and down to the different harbors.

A River Runs By It

Chicago bridgehouse museum gears motor

The river, of course, is what made Chicago. We’re a strategically located city – connected with the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. One image that one can never forget shows a man standing at the edge of “Bubbly Creek,” which flows into the south fork of the river. It was disgusting, filled from meatpacking waste, like blood and offal. The decomposing entrails gave off gas that made bubbles.

The museum tells of the efforts of the Friends of the Chicago River. This non-profit is dedicated to cleaning up the river. There’s also displays about recreational activities and wildlife that thrive in the river’s ecological system.

If you were walking over the Michigan Avenue Bridge you probably wouldn’t even know that a museum is there since it’s down on river level. As a museum that uses an artifact (the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Bridgehouse) to tell the story of Chicago, it’s a simple exhibit that still provides a dense amount of information in a compact space, not unlike the small skyscraper exhibit in the Marquette Building or the scale city model inside the Santa Fe Building of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Similar to what you experience on our “Loop Interior Architecture Tour,” the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum is a prime example of a Chicago detour that many Chicagoans don’t even know exists.

— Brian Failing: Research & Collections Intern and Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

be a
curious
person!

SIGN UP FOR OCCASIONAL UPDATES FROM CHICAGO DETOURS.

Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

Book a virtual tour

Fill in your details below