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hiking, history, and the i&m canal

Last Sunday, we all headed out for a day about town in beautiful Lockport, IL. The focus of our trip was the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal (I&M). The I&M Canal was commissioned in 1823 in order to connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River (via the Illinois River). This marked the first complete shipping passage from the east coast to the gulf of Mexico upon its completion in 1848. The Canal cost $6.5 million to build and stretches 96 miles from the mouth of the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Illinois River at LaSalle. The Canal–in its original state–was 60 feet wide and six feet deep. Now, from observation it looks to be about three feet deep and 20 feet wide, as it slowly trickles its way around river rock and through a thick sludge of mud and leaves. It closed for good in 1933.

So, the three of us journeyed back through time as we walked onto the porch of the old I&M Canal Headquarters building, which is now the site of the Will County and I&M Canal Historical Museum. With a creak, we opened the screen door and stepped inside the cramped foyer lit dimly by a single incandescent bulb overhead. We paid our modest $7 admission fee and had the museum to ourselves. (Seriously, other than a single volunteer sitting alone in the back room, we were the only time travelers this day.) We saw all kinds of cool stuff–turn-of-the-century doctor’s equipment and supplies, old tools and sewing machines, looms and spinning wheels, an original civil war Union Army uniform, old maps and all sorts of local 19th century artifacts. We even walked inside the original iron vault to see bits of history strewn about yet to be cataloged. (I think the museum needs more volunteers.)

After our visit in the museum, we continued our journey through history to walk along the historic I&M Canal tow path. We strolled (and Aidan “scooted” a while) along the path that mules used to tread upon, towing the heavy barges with long ropes through the canal. The mules would tow a barge the distance that they could walk in a single day. (Incidentally, the towns that grew up around the canal were spaced about this same distance.) During our walk, we took our time and enjoyed the fall colors and the cool autumn breeze. We visited Lock 1 along the canal, took some photos, and read the interpretive signs. All in all, it was a beautiful fall day for such an adventure. Perhaps we’ll travel there again soon.

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