The Illinois and Michigan Canal connected the Mississippi and Great Lakes Basins. making agriculture in northern Illinois profitable by opening-up connections to eastern markets and leading to the creation of Chicago.
Connecting Lake Michigan and the Illinois River was first envisioned by French explorer Louis Joliet and a 96 miles long canal was finally constructed between 1836 and 1848; Chicago was the eastern and LaSalle the western terminus with the latter becoming a transshipment point from canal boats originating in Chicago to steamboats heading for St Louis and New Orleans.
A Cultural Meeting Point between North and South
Canal and Steamboat basins were located at locks 14 and 15 with New Orleans steamboats unloading molasses, sugar, coffee, fresh oranges and lemons whereas the Chicago cargo included lumber, stoves, wagons, and the latest clothing styles from the east. The local farmers hauled corn and wheat for onward shipment to Chicago and points east while passengers hustled to make connections to canal boats bound for Chicago or steamboats headed to St. Louis and beyond.
Mastery of the American Mid-Continent
Canal Commissioners laid out plans for a canal port that would grow into a great metropolis while their fellow citizens patented agriculture and industrial innovations that would make this the richest economic zone the world had ever seen. Illinois became the most populous inland American state, and Chicago the greatest city in the heartland. Now, the Canal Corridor Association has created a living history museum of ethnic diversity, American enterprise, technological invention, cultural creativity and a heritage tourism destination.
The Story of Mobility in America
Maritime Museums in Historic Towns
Lockport is 30 miles southwest of Chicago; it was the canal headquarters with a section running through it at Lock No. 1 from which the town received its name. Downtown Lockport is home to four museums within walking distance of one another. The town also has a unique outdoor museum, known as the Lincoln Landing, directly adjacent to the Canal; it contains numerous historical markers that visitors can explore.
A landmark since 1838, the Gaylord Building exemplifies the canal’s commercial success. This limestone warehouse originally stored canal construction materials and later housed a variety of commercial ventures. Today it serves as a gateway to the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor.
The Illinois and Michigan Canal Museum is comprised of 10 rooms filled with artifacts, pictures and documents relating to the construction and operation of the Canal, as well as period items specific to the region during the height of the Canal’s operation.
The Lockport Gallery celebrates Illinois through changing exhibits featuring paintings, drawings, sculptures, quilts and other media created by the state’s artists and artisans. Located in the historic Norton Building on the banks of the canal, in 1850 it served as a grain-processing facility. Today it is a multi-use facility housing residential lofts, offices and commercial spaces.
The Gladys Fox Museum is in the Old Congregational Church dating back to 1839. Beautifully restored, this historic building is now home to the museum’s collection of historical photographs and memorabilia celebrating Dellwood Park and the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
Connect for Travel along the Illinois and Michigan Canal