By Frank Osterland
Reprinted from Positively Naperville Vol. 1 No. 10, June 2002
“Last one across is a dirty rat!”
My friend was egging me on as we raced across the old swinging bridge. If you’ve ever been on a bridge like that, you’ll know that running is something to be avoided. One person running at a time is bad enough, but two racing across at the same time is something else. With each step, even while walking, the boards beneath you move in another direction. Each motion starts another and soon the whole thing is whipping around with you on it. The only sensible thing to do is to just stop and hope the whole thing will just go away.
The old swinging bridge exists now only in the memories of a few of us Naperville old timers. In its day, it was the only dry-feet crossing of the DuPage River between the Main Street Bridge in downtown and the Burlington RR Bridge west of the forest preserve.
The old swinging bridge and its surroundings have given way to the Naperville Riverwalk. Another bridge, south of the Centennial Beach bathhouse, has taken its place. In its heyday, it served workmen for the Naperville Nurseries as easy access when crossing the river between their headquarters on Oswego Road and the properties west of the bathhouse.
Just what was the old swinging bridge? It was a suspension bridge with heavy cables of woven wire, passed across the river and anchored securely on large trees on the other side of the stream. How many cables? Enough to carry wooden boards about four or five feet in length, placed crosswise, and secured to the cables.
These planks served as the walkway. A number of upright 2 x 4s, connected by heavy wires, served as a railing to provide a small degree of assurance against falling off.
I must have been just a few years old when I had my first encounter with the bridge, encouraged by my parents. I’m sure it was scary, but I had plenty of occasions to overcome any scaredy-cat feelings in the following years.
Quarrying had ceased along the DuPage in the early 1900s and the area was overgrown with fast-growing cottonwood trees and underbrush. It was a wilderness with appeal to youngsters and oldsters, alike. Footpaths criss-crossed the areas along both sides of the river. Many of them converged on the old swinging bridge.
The DuPage River was an attraction in itself. Jokesters referred to it as the “roaring DuPage.” Some appreciated its simple charms. Others, like my dad, enjoyed sitting on its banks, fishing with long cane poles for an occasional German carp or bull-head.
On hot summer days, the bridge provided access to the clear, cool waters of the quarries south of the river. We referred to them simply as “the big and the little quarries.”
The little quarry was hidden away in seclusion. As a result, we boys found it an ideal place for summer time skinny dipping. Nowadays, it serves as a reflecting pool for high-rise residences.
The old swinging bridge also gave us westside boys one of our few occasions to earn a dollar or two. We had to cross it on our way to Naperville Nurseries. We were hopeful of being hired to pull weeds from seedbeds on spring and summer mornings. Jobs were dished out on a first-come basis, so we had little time for fooling around on the bridge when we had more important things on our minds.
There were plenty of other opportunities for monkeyshines on the bridge. Two lively youngsters jumping up and down on opposite ends of the span could really make it gallop! Running across, even when alone, was always a challenge.
In the end, of course, the bridge had to give way to better things such as the Naperville Riverwalk.
I only hope the person who cut those cables took time for one last romp. The old bridge deserved to go down swinging!