The old Jefferson Street stone bridge was constructed by Henry and Haley in 1871, and connected Jefferson Street on the east side of town to Exchange Street on the west. The stone arch bridge spanned the Des Plaines River for about 30 years until it was destroyed by dynamite in 1900.
The arch stone bridge was soon replaced by a steel-framed bridge, which was planned under the supervision of the Sanitary District of Chicago and constructed by J. G. Wagner & Company, beginning in 1899. Under an agreement with the sanitary district, both of the Cass Street and Jefferson Street bridges were constructed at the same time.
In an effort to interrupt public travel as little as possible, the ordinance provided that the Jefferson Street Bridge would not be razed until the new Cass Street Bridge was completed and ready for public travel. It also was agreed that a temporary bridge near Jefferson Street would be erected during the construction phase. Once completed, the new steel-framed bridge would serve the needs of the city until it was replaced in 1932.
Looking south down the Des Plaines River, the Then photograph shows the old Jefferson Street Bridge and Dam, circa 1885. Just north of the bridge, and out of view to the right, is the Illinois and Michigan Canal and locktender’s house. The I&M Canal ran through Joliet on the west side of the Des Plaines River.
In 1892, the Sanitary District of Chicago was created, and construction began on a large canal to improve transportation and dilute the city’s waste and move it downstream. The section of the new Sanitary and Ship Canal from Chicago to Joliet was completed by 1902. Improvements to the Illinois and Des Plaines rivers continued into the early decades of the 20th century, and the newly completed Illinois Waterway was opened in 1933.
During the construction of the Illinois Waterway, a new Jefferson Street bridge was designed for the city of Joliet to span the Des Plaines River. Designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company, the new bridge was constructed by the Mississippi Valley Structural Steel Company of Chicago at a cost of about $160,000.
The span of the Jefferson Street Bridge is approximately 220 feet across and contains a steel-grate deck and a 13-foot wide sidewalk on each side of the bridge. The bridge has reinforced concrete abutments and piers and a one-story bridge tender’s house at the southeast pier. The key feature of the rolling lift bascule bridge is the use of a roller and track upon which the bridge rolls to open rather than rotating around an axel as a trunnion bascule bridge does.
Built in conjunction with the construction of the Illinois Waterway, the Jefferson Street Bridge is one of several built between 1932 and 1935 in Joliet. From McDonough Street on the south to Ruby Street on the north, Joliet has six lift bridges that span across the Des Plaines River. The modern Scherzer Rolling Lift bridges are found at McDonough, Jefferson, Cass and Jackson streets. The Ruby Street Bridge is a bascule trunnion style bridge. The Joliet Railroad Bridge is a vertical lift (truss) bridge.
Outside of Chicago, Joliet has the largest number of operable lift bridges in the Midwest. The Now photograph shows a view of the Jefferson Street Bridge today.