It was referred to as a “wonder of America and the world” by Chicago city planners and citizens in March of 1867 when a two-mile tunnel opened under Lake Michigan, allowing the city access to clean water.

The tunnel is the legacy of Ellis Chesbrough, an ambitious engineer with the city who proposed the tunnel to somewhat skeptical politicians, who eventually financed the project.

In his book, The Tunnel Under the Lake, Riverside resident Ben Sells chronicles the story of Chesbrough and his two-mile tunnel. Dug mainly by Irish and German immigrants, the tunnel is these days little known chapter of Chicago history.

Sells originally had planned to write about the water cribs in Lake Michigan, but research led him to Chesbrough and the focus of the book changed. He is not often mentioned in Chicago’s long and interesting history, and not much is available on the man. 

Sells noted that one of the two plaques on the historic Chicago water tower was dedicated to Chesbrough but was missing. As far as can be determined, there are no relatives of Chesbrough and so his story seems to stop with Sells book.

An interesting man in his own right, Sells said the story of water and Lake Michigan came to him, since he spends much time on the Lake as a sailing captain and owner of one of the oldest sailing schools on the lake. 

Additionally, Sells, who may be more familiar to readers as Riverside’s village president, has also been a syndicated columnist, lawyer and author of books on law and psychology. He has been one of the more progressive village presidents and has seen much happen in the town during his tenure,

You can learn more about Sells and the story of Ellis Chesbrough, at a July 27 presentation of The Tunnel Under the Lake at the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road. The event begins at 7 p.m. in the Great Room. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. In addition to discussing the book and fielding questions, Sells will also sign books.