The Building of the Iron Pearl Street Bridge

The first “formal” bridge in McHenry that spanned the Fox River was located at Pearl Street, just east of Riverside Drive (known as Water Street in the 1880s). Bridges or ferries had been at this location before McHenry was even settled in the 1830s. In the fall of 1880, it became clear to the residents that the Water Street wooden bridge needed to be replaced. The village trustees called a meeting on Aug 14th, 1880. Sixty-nine people voted in all, with the majority voting in favor of a new bridge. The Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company submitted a bid for an iron bridge that would cost a little over $8,000. The village board approved that cost and proposed that the state or county assist in paying for it.

Pearl Street Bridge - Old Bridge
Picture of the bridge from the 1970s compliments of the McHenry Public Library collection.

In early October 1880, the contractors arrived and started planning the bridge. Construction of the bridge began late October/early November and was to be completed at the beginning of February. The original wooden bridge was torn down after the initial foundation stonework had been laid in mid-December. By that time, the Fox River had frozen over so people could cross safely and not be inconvenienced. The bridge went up rather quickly, and construction finished in the first week of January, 1881.

During construction there was only one reported accident involving a large stone that fell and flattened a worker’s toes. When work was finished, two carts loaded with stones and drawn by teams of horses slowly plodded over the bridge to test its strength.  It was noted that each team weighed about 6,130 lbs. The contractors offered to double the weight to show the bridge’s ability to stand weight.  However, the town commissioners didn’t think it was necessary as they were delighted with the bridge as well as the work done by the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company.

1872 map
Map of McHenry from 1872, note the lone bridge crossing the Fox.

In late April of that year, the bridge’s strength was tested when heavy winter snow melted leading to high spring river waters when the snow melted. That April of 1881, the Fox River became a roiling rapid. Johnsburg had a wooden bridge across the Fox River a few miles north of McHenry. The rapids were so fierce that they overtook that bridge and sent it downriver towards the McHenry bridge. Yet, with all the ice, water and a neighboring town’s bridge that came at it, the new structure held up quite well with only minor damage. The Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company sent out a crew to fix the bridge within a matter of days.  The iron structure stood in McHenry until December 1976, when it was replaced with the bridge that is there today. Parts of the dismantled bridge remain at Terra Cotta Industries in Crystal Lake forming the entrance to their employee parking lot. Even today, there has been discussion of using some of the remains of the old bridge along the McHenry Riverwalk.

Sources
 

“Board of Supervisors.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jan. 1881: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Bridge Is Finished.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The Bridge Question.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The Bridge Question.” McHenry Plaindealer 26 Jan. 1881: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Contractors Arrival.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Oct. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Contractors Arrival.” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Dec. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Construction Accident.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Oct. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The Freshet and the New Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Apr. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The McHenry Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jan. 1881: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Mr. Chairman and the Board of Supervisors.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“New Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Dec. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“A Petition For Circulation.” McHenry Plaindealer 28 Jul. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Resolution Passed.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Apr. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 July 2016.
“Road Commissioners Financial Statement.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Apr. 1881: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Special Election.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Aug. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 July 2016.
“Work Finished.” McHenry Plaindealer 5 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Work Starts.” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Dec. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.

McHenry, Illinois: The Official City Website. City Of McHenry, n.d. Web. 14 May 2016. Path: http://www.ci.mchenry.il.us/departments/downtown/riverwalk.html.
Everts, Baskin and Stewart.  McHenry Township: 1872, McHenry County, IL  [map].1872. Scale undetermined; using “Historic Map Works by Proquest”. <http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en> (15 July 2016).
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