In the late 1800s, the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago undertook an impressive engineering project to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. To document this feat, photographers surveyed the river system shooting more than 20,000 photos using six-by-eight-inch glass plate—a process that involved great precision so that multiple images aligned to create one continuous scene. A century later, author Michael Williams stumbled across the bulky negatives, buried in the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District archives.
A few years back, a sample of the collection—with text by Williams and Richard Cahan—was on display at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. “The Lost Panoramas: Chicago and the Illinois Valley a Century Ago” features sweeping scenes of the riverbed and its state-of-the-art infrastructure and provides a fascinating view of a true city on the make.