In the course of our daily reporting, we often uncover unusual projects, places, or connections that don't make the final cut. Instead of keeping it to ourselves, we're pleased to share our weekly architrivia. 

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, American cities boomed. Fuelled by a strong influx of immigrants and countrymen attracted by the industrial development occurring across the United States, the urban population exploded, jumping from just under 11% in 1840, to more than 51% in 1920. The lack of housing, sanitation, and transportation infrastructure resulted in harsh living conditions in the country's urban centres, where large epidemics decimated thousands each year. In 1854, 5% of the Chicago population died from a cholera outbreak caused by the city's lack of drainage, which created stagnating waters and muddy streets that accelerated the propagation of diseases.

Raising an entire city block on Lake Street, image via Wikimedia Commons

In 1855, the Chicago Board of Sewerage Commissioners recommended that the rapidly developing city should install a comprehensive storm sewer system, which would be the first of its kind to be built in America. However, because of Chicago's elevation at the time — only 90 to 120 centimetres above the shores of Lake Michigan — underground sewers would not have been able to properly drain greywater into the Chicago River. The only solution to save the city from the mud was to raise its entire elevation.

The raising of the Briggs House, image via Wikimedia Commons

So for the next two decades, all buildings along the streets of Chicago were raised from 1.2 to 4.3 metres above ground level. While dozens of men were turning large jackscrews to raise entire blocks from their foundations towards their new height, new foundation walls and sewage infrastructure was built underneath them. The streets were then filled up to the doorstep of the raised buildings, where the lives of residents and business owners unfolded as nothing happened. Smaller wooden houses were often moved to the outskirts of the city to make way for larger developments in the downtown area.

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