Ghost Bridge Piers of a Former Railroad Line in Lemont, IL

Looking from the Lemont Road Bridge east towards this bridge in Lemont, IL, you’ll see bridge piers in front of it, just to the railroad bridge's immediate west, which hold no tracks or road. Despite their redundancy, they're quite easily visible

So why do these piers exist, and what was the bridge they used to carry used for?

From what I’ve been able to tell, they are remnants of a former bridge which once stood here (over the Des Plaines River), before the Sanitary & Ship Canal was built. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District built the currently standing bridge around 1900. This bridge carries the BNSF Chillicothe Subdivision

Note the piers in the foreground. FRRandP photo.

My initial thought was that they were simply bridge piers from an earlier mainline bridge, except that didn't appear to be the case, as the piers have been there since at least 1938. It turns out that my initial thought was true, but I was wrong on the reasons why the piers remain today. 

Image: 1938 Illinois Aerial Imagery

I've seen only one piece of photographic evidence of this former line, and it's very subtle, but it shows that both bridges were used at the same time at one point, both the mainline bridge which is obviously still in service, and this bridge, which appears to have been used in the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal and the channelization of the Des Plaines River. 

"It was 1899 when the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was being completed - and this photo was taken of the two bridges that spanned the waterway. On the left is the Stephen Street/Lemont Road bridge, which was used for vehicle traffic - mostly horse and buggy at the time. The bridge was removed in the early 1980s." (Lemont Patch)

Image: Lemont Historical Society. Note the tiny wooden trestle next to the bridge which still stands. This line would have continued north to the Des Plaines and to a quarry. 

If you look very closely at the bridge on the right in the above photo, to its immediate left you'll see a rail line that was either used for construction of the bridge and canal, or quarrying, or most likely both.

LiDAR data shows the right of way continuing adjacent to the mainline north and easterly. 


And the final piece of this puzzle is the USGS Historic Topo Map Explorer, which shows the lands where this bridge led to were used for quarrying, like much of Lemont.

USGS Historic Topo Maps (Sag Bridge and Romeoville, 1933-73)

UPDATE: This was originally posted in February of 2020, and since that time the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago has posted more photos of the area, which refute my hypothesis that this was used for a quarry, at least initially. 

MWRD: "A photo from August 2, 1899, shows a new railroad embankment in right foreground with the original embankment to left with train passing. The exact location is unknown, but it’s from a series of photos taken near Lemont, Illinois, along the nearly completed Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Included is an enlarged view showing (presumably) a brakeman on top of the rail cars.".

While the MWRD doesn't specify a location, it looks exactly like Lemont, IL, and this photo shows a mainline train with boxcars along the temporary trackage. Dennis DeBruler notes that this temporary right of way was used in the re-routing of the Des Plaines River to build the Sanitary & Ship Canal.

Another angle shows the temporary bridge in an even better view.

MWRD: "Construction of the Santa Fe Railroad bridge over the Des Plaines River between Lyons and Forest View on November 15, 1898. The bridge was one of many the Sanitary District (now MWRD) built during construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal."

Now we know with certainty that the ghost piers that remain in sight in the Des Plaines River even today were part of a temporary mainline bridge across the river. Quarrying on either side of the river remains a distinct possibility with this line, but that's not why the bridge was built. 

Once again I am in the debt of the MWRD for preserving and sharing their history as much as they do, and I wish other agencies in the area were anywhere near as great as they are towards that end.

Thanks as always for reading!


  1. Mid 80's Climbed up in the control room of the swing bridge that was downstream of these bridges. That would be the one that carried lemont road over the canal, Had my hard hat and safety vest on for stealth. All the windows were gone and the controls were ripped out, lot's of guano too.

  2. Dennis DeBruler commented the following but I accidentally deleted it; “My theory is that the piers were for a temporary bridge for the old Santa Fe route while the Sanitary District built the canal and the new route. Your historic photo shows that the new route was higher than the old one.”


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