From the 1850s, untreated sewage flowed into the Chicago
River and was carried into Lake Michigan where it overwhelmed the intake
cribs for pure water, particularly during spring floods. In August 1885,
more than six inches of rain overwhelmed the pumping stations and sewer
pipes, fouling the city's water supply and killing almost 12 percent of
the population with cholera and other diseases.
A solution proposed in 1889 recommended that the Chicago
River be reversed. Instead of flowing into Lake Michigan it would, in
effect, flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The project involved the
construction of a 28-mile channel through a glacial moraine and bedrock
ridge. The Sanitary and Ship Canal would connect Lake Michigan at Chicago
with the Des Plaines River at Lockport. It would also be connected to the
Chicago River and would be deep enough to permanently reverse the flow of
the river. This trade publication, issued at the height of construction,
shows the cableway with moveable towers that was used to hoist and remove
debris from the channel.