Chicago River Timeline

Learn about the colorful history of the Chicago River.




Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable establishes the first permanent European settlement near the mouth of the Chicago River



The Chicago River is channelized, turning the sandbar into a navigable channel.


Chicago is founded


Illinois & Michigan Canal was built to connect the Chicago River to the Illinois River and down to the Mississippi River.



The Chicago River was reversed in order to send pollution away from the Lake, the City’s primary source of drinking water. The lock that helps limit the amount of water taken from Lake Michigan not built until 1938.

Southeastward view of the Chicago River over Wolf Point around 1900
Photo credit: City of Chicago


US Clean Water Act signed into law, revolutionizing attitudes and policy around human interaction with water.


Establishment of Friends of the Chicago River after Chicago magazine publishes Our Friendless River, inspiring stewardship, policy, and partnerships to improve the rivers.


Friends of the Chicago River hosts the first Chicago River Rescue Day. Now known as Chicago River Day, 2017’s cleanup day attracted over 5,000 volunteers who participated in clean-ups along various stretches of the Chicago River.

Photo: MPC


Chicago River Corridor Development Plan is released. This plan set forth a shared vision for the river and outlined specific recommendations for public and private land use to enhance the river’s natural areas.



Construction of Riverwalk between Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Ave.


Chicago River Corridor Design Guidelines and Standards are released. These standards addressed development options along the river to enhance open space, recreational opportunities, economic and environmental vitality of the riverfronts.


Chicago Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Plaza on the Riverwalk at State and Wabash is completed.


WMS Boathouse at Clark Park opens.

Photo: Chicago Park District


Completion of Riverwalk from State to LaSalle.

Photo: City of Chicago


The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District begins disinfecting water from the O’Brien Wastewater Treatment Plants, upstream of Chicago in Skokie, eliminating harmful bacteria from effluent and making the Chicago River


Our Great Rivers: A vision for the Chicago, Calumet and Des Plaines rivers is released. A partnership of The City of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Planning Council, and Friends of the Chicago, the vision, articulates Chicagoans’ desires for more inviting, productive, and living rivers.


Completion of Riverwalk from LaSalle to Lake, which includes sections such as the floating gardens pictured here.

Photo: MPC


Park 571 Boathouse opens, providing more opportunities for recreational programming and interaction with the river.

Photo: Tom Harris


Adoption of the North Branch Framework Plan, the first plan under the Mayor’s Industrial Corridor Modernization initiative.

Future of the Chicago River

Nine leading architectural firms with experience in developing innovative riverfronts, parks, and public spaces, were engaged to provide their visions for a unified aesthetic along Chicago’s riverfront.