Illinois and Michigan Canal

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The Illinois and Michigan Canal ran 96 miles (155 km) from the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago on the Chicago River to LaSalle-Peru, Illinois, on the Illinois River. It was finished in 1848 when Chicago Mayor James Hutchinson Woodworth presided over its opening; and it allowed boat transportation from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The canal enabled navigation across the Chicago Portage and helped establish Chicago as the transportation hub of the United States, opening before railroads were laid in the area. Its function was largely replaced by the wider and shorter Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900 and it ceased transportation operations in 1933.

Illinois and Michigan Canal Locks and Towpath, a collection of eight engineering structures and segments of the canal between Lockport and LaSalle-Peru, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.[1][3]

Portions of the canal have been filled in.[1] Much of the former canal has been preserved as part of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.



In 1824, Samuel D. Lockwood, one of the first commissioners of the canal, was given the authorization to hire contractors to survey a route for the canal to follow.[4]

Construction on the canal began in 1836, although it was stopped for several years due to an Illinois state fiscal crisis related to the Panic of 1837. The Canal Commission had a grant of 284,000 acres (1,150,000 km) of federal land which it sold at $1.25 per acre (309 $/km²) to finance the construction. Still, money had to be borrowed from eastern U.S. and British investors to finish the canal.

Most of the canal work was done by Irish immigrants who previously worked on the Erie Canal. The work was considered dangerous and many workers died, although no official records exist to indicate how many. The Irish immigrants who toiled to build the canal were often derided as a sub-class and were treated very poorly by other citizens of the city. The canal was finished in 1848 with a total cost of $6,170,226. Pumps were used to draw water to fill the canal near Chicago, soon supplemented by through the Calumet Feeder Canal and the DuPage River supplied water farther south. In 1871 the canal was deepened to speed up the current and to improve sewage disposal.

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