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The Chicago River

The Chicago River

A Natural and Unnatural History

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Libby Hill


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
322 pages, 6 x 9, 78 illustrations


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About the Book

Chicago owes its existence to the Chicago River. Had the Chicago portage French explorers Jolliet and Marquette used to access the Mississippi River system not been so near to Lake Michigan, the city would never have developed into the nation’s central transcontinental shipping point. The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History presents the story of the making and perpetual remaking of the river by everything from preglacial forces to the interventions of the emerging and mighty city of Chicago. Libby Hill brings together years of original research and the contributions of dozens of experts to tell the Chicago River’s epic tale from its conception in prehistoric bedrock to the glorious rejuvenation it is undergoing today, and every exciting episode in between.


Libby Hill has been enamored with the Chicago River since strolling along its North Branch many years ago. She has a master's degree in library science and a master's in geography and environmental studies and has been both a school librarian and a college instructor. She volunteers throughout Evanston on environmental projects.


“An impressively thorough, unexpectedly engaging account of the lazy stream that is Chicago’s raison d’être.”
—Deanna Isaacs, Chicago Reader

“A fascinating book . . . a remarkable document . . . a great enjoyment. . . . There are a million things in this book that surprised me.”—Rick Kogan, WGN Radio

From geology to the human dramas and epic engineering that brought us today’s river system, it is all here. Hill is a river enthusiast and a meticulous detective. The book has an abundance of maps and intriguing photographs, and when documents were contradictory or nonexistent, Hill and her husband went into the field to track down evidence.”—River Reporter

“A great guide to the geologic origins of modern Chicago [and] a fine guide to the making of Chicago.”
—Dolores and Roger Flaherty, Chicago Sun-Times

“Libby Hill’s The Chicago River is the result of years of painstaking research and presents an outstanding historical survey of the Chicago River from its creation by pre-glacial forces, to the days of the French explorers using it to access the Mississippi, to its contemporary presence in one of the most densely populated urban areas in the Midwest. The Chicago River is a highly recommended, rewarding read for those with an interest in Chicago, natural history, environmental issues, and Midwestern history.”—Midwest Book Review

“Anyone who reads this book will never again take our hometown stream for granted. It’s a must read for all Chicago buffs.”—Bill Hinchliff, veteran docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation