The Tunnel under the Lake recounts the gripping story of how the young city of Chicago, under the leadership of an audacious engineer named Ellis Chesbrough, constructed a two-mile tunnel below Lake Michigan in search of clean water.
Despite Chicago's location beside the world’s largest source of fresh water, its low elevation at the end of Lake Michigan provided no natural method of carrying away waste. As a result, within a few years of its founding, Chicago began to choke on its own sewage collecting near the shore. The befouled environment, giving rise to outbreaks of sickness and cholera, became so acute that even the ravages and costs of the U.S. Civil War did not distract city leaders from taking action.
Chesbrough's solution was an unprecedented tunnel five feet in diameter lined with brick and dug sixty feet beneath Lake Michigan. Construction began from the shore as well as the tunnel’s terminus in the lake. With workers laboring in shifts and with clay carted away by donkeys, the lake and shore teams met under the lake three years later, just inches out of alignment. When it opened in March 1867, observers, city planners, and grateful citizens hailed the tunnel as the "wonder of America and of the world."
Benjamin Sells narrates in vivid detail the exceptional skill and imagination it took to save this storied city from itself. A wealth of fascinating appendixes round out Sells’s account, which will delight those interested in Chicago history, water resources, and the history of technology and engineering.