Chicago River

river in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The Chicago River is 156 miles long (251 km)[1] and goes through the city of Chicago, Illinois, including the center of the city (the Chicago Loop). The river is not long, but it is known for being the reason why Chicago became an important place, as the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways. The river is the only river in the world to be reversed (which is, made to flow backwards, in the opposite of its natural direction) by civil engineering.[2]

A view of the river


The river during nighttime

In the 19th century through civil engineering, the flow of the river was reversed to head toward the Mississippi River basin, away from Lake Michigan. This was done for reasons of sanitation through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The Chicago River is also noted for the local custom of dyeing it green on St. Patrick's Day.[3] The tradition of dyeing the river green happened by accident in 1961 when plumbers used fluorescein dye to trace sources of illegal pollution discharges.[4] Now, the river is dyed using forty pounds of powdered vegetable dye for environmental safety reasons.[5] The river is controlled for boats or ships going through the river.[6]

The river going to the center of the city

The river is memorialized, in part, by two horizontal blue stripes on the Municipal Flag of Chicago.[7] The river also serves as inspiration for one of Chicago's symbols: a three-branched, Y-shaped symbol (called the municipal device) is found on many buildings and other structures throughout Chicago; it represents the three branches of the Chicago River.

Main Stem

The Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day
The river during the 2014 North American polar vortex

The Main Stem flows 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west from the direction at Lake Michigan;[8] passing under the Outer Drive, Columbus Drive, Michigan Avenue, Wabash Avenue, State Street, Dearborn Street, Clark Street, La Salle Street, Wells Street, and Franklin Street bridges en route to the North Branch at Wolf Point.

At McClurg Court it passes the Nicholas J Melas Centennial Fountain, which was built in 1989 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago; between May and October the fountain sends an arc of water over the river for ten minutes every hour.

For the Chicago Cubs rally and parade for their 2016 World Series Championship celebrations, the river was dyed Cubs blue.[9]

North bank


On the north bank of the river, near the Chicago Landmark Michigan Avenue Bridge, is Pioneer Court, which marks the site where Jean Baptiste Point du Sable came to Chicago.[10] Point du Sable is known as the founder of Chicago. On the south bank of the river is the site of Fort Dearborn. Well known buildings surrounding this area include the NBC Tower, the Tribune Tower, and the Wrigley Building.



The river turns slightly to the south west between Michigan Avenue and State Street, passing the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 35 East Wacker, and 330 North Wabash. Turning west again the river passes Marina City, the Reid, Murdoch & Co. Building, Merchandise Mart, and 333 Wacker Drive.


  1. "About Friends of the Chicago River". Friends of the Chicago River. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  2. Hill, Libby (2000). The Chicago River, A Natural and Unnatural History. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press. pp. 139–151. ISBN 1-893121-02-X.
  3. "Dyeing of the River". St. Patrick's Day Parade. Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee of Chicago. 2009. Archived from the original on March 18, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
  4. Battle, British (March 20, 2003). "Other cities dye-ing to know what turns Chicago River green". The Columbia Chronicle. The Fairfield Mirror, via UWIRE. Archived from the original on April 19, 2009.
  5. Lydon, Dan. "The Man Who Dyed the River Green: Stephen M. Bailey". Archived from the original on June 23, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2011.
  6. García, Carlos M.; Oberg, Kevin; García, Marcelo H. (December 2007). "ADCP Measurements of Gravity Currents in the Chicago River, Illinois". Journal of Hydraulic Engineering. 133 (12): 1356–1366. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9429(2007)133:12(1356).
  7. "Municipal Flag of Chicago". Retrieved 2010-05-12.
  8. "Chicago River & North Shore Channel River Corridors & Wilmette Harbor" (PDF). Illinois Coastal Management. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  9. staff, Chicago Tribune. "Chicago River is dyed blue for Cubs celebration". Archived from the original on 2019-02-23. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  10. Baumann, Timothy E. (December 2005). "The Du Sable Grave Project in St. Charles, Missouri". The Missouri Archaeologist. 66: 59–76.

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