Chicago Sewers Digital Collection

CPL's Digital Collections document life in Chicago through archival images, documents and artifacts.

103rd and Rockwell Streets, inspecting tile, 1936


The sewer systems and passageways that lie beneath our feet are critical to the health and well being of the city. Offering a rare look at the “underbelly” of Chicago, this collection features historical construction photographs of sewers and tunnels.

In 1855, Boston engineer Ellis S. Chesbrough was invited to Chicago to design the first comprehensive system of underground sewers in the United States. His work lifted the city to make room for the new sewers which became the most extensive in the world. In the more than 150 years since, Chicago’s Department of Water Management continues to service and maintain this underground system.

Take a look at these wonders in images from the 1920s to the 1960s as you start above ground and work your way below the surface along Avenue JCalifornia and Elston avenues among others.

The Chicago Sewers Collection is housed in the Special Collections and Preservation Division at Harold Washington Library Center.

Questions or concerns about rights and access to this digital collection? See our Copyright and Takedown Policy.

Acknowledgment of Harmful Materials

Chicago Public Library collects images, documents and other archival materials from different communities and time periods to preserve and make available the cultural and historical record. As historical objects, some of these materials contain harmful or disturbing content. CPL presents these artifacts as an unfiltered social record and does not endorse the views expressed therein.

Related CPL Collections

  • Chicago Sewers Collection: The complete list of photographs, glass plate slides and documents, rich with geographic and technical details.

Chicago Sewers and Tunnels Blog Posts

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