Clark Street Bridge

Clark Street Bridge

Clark Street Bridge in Chicago. Another bascule bridge over the Chicago River.

Do you know how Clark Street got its name? It is named after George Rogers Clark, the Conqueror of the Old Northwest, Hannibal of the West and Father of Louisville. And he received all these titles before his 30th birthday.

His main lifetime achievement was capture of the Northwest Territory from the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Back in the 1780s Northwest wasn’t Oregon and Washington as we have it now. It was the territory of present time Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Northwest frontier was very different at the birth of the United States.

George Rogers Clark was a leader of Kentucky militia. Without support from the regular army, either in men or money, he led several expeditions to capture the British-held villages and forts. He did that mostly through peace negotiations and captured most settlements without firing a shot.

By the end of the war Thomas Jefferson (back then Virginia Governor) promoted Clark to brigadier general. He became a war hero. His feats were greatly celebrated and romanticized.

But after the war his life turned sour. Clark had financed most of his military campaigns on his own with money he borrowed. For some reason both Virginia and the United States Congress refused to reimburse his efforts. And the creditors kept knocking on his door.

Finally, as compensation for his wartime service, Virginia gave Clark a gift of 150,000 acres of land that became today’s Clark County in Indiana. But Clark was “land-poor,” meaning that he owned a lot of land but didn’t have the money to develop it. At the end most of the land was seized by his creditors.

Clark fell into a depression, started drinking heavily, his left leg got amputated after the accident. Finally he had a stroke and died.

His younger brother William was caring for Clark in his last years of life. And William became even more famous than his older brother. Remember Lewis and Clark Expedition? That’s William Clark, younger brother of George Rogers Clark.

Think about these twists and turns of human life next time you walk across Clark Street Bridge.