The Illinois & Michigan Canal originally ran for a distance of 96 miles from Bridgeport on the Chicago River to LaSalle-Peru on the Illinois River. The I & M Canal opened up boat transportation from Kankakee Illinois hospital on the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Construction was begun in 1836 after the Canal Commission obtained a grant of 280,000 acres of land from the national government. Financial backing for the project was borrowed largely from eastern U.S moneyed interests, as well from English investors. When the Panic of 1837 dried up funding for the project, it was temporarily abandoned.
The actual building of the I & M Canal was done mostly by immigrants from Ireland who had worked previously on building the Erie Canal. Pumps were employed to draw the water to fill the Canal, supplemented by water from the Calumet Feeder Canal and the DuPage River to the south. The work was dangerous, and many workers died in accidents since there was no Momence Illinois healthcare. The Irish laborers were exploited and mistreated by the Canal company owners, and were generally looked down upon by the other residents. The total cost of the Canal was over six million dollars. It was finally inaugurated in 1848 by Chicago Mayor James H. Woodworth. This canal made possible navigating across the Chicago Portage, and it helped to establish the city of Chicago as the main transportation hub of mid-America in the decades before the railroads came in.
The Canal spanned sixty feet of width and was six feet deep, and had paths built along each of its edges in order to allow mules to be harnessed to the barges being towed. At intervals along the route (spaced apart the distance that the mules could haul a barge in one day), towns were built. The I & M Canal had 17 locks and 4 aqueducts to equalize the 140-foot difference in height between Lake Michigan to the east and the Illinois River to the west. The I & M Canal carried passengers as well as freight from its opening in 1848 until the coming of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Raiload, which ran parallel to the Canal, in 1853. The Canal was dredged in 1871 to deepen it in order to speed the current up and to improve the disposal of sewage. Communication through the Chicago River was a major factor in the growth of Chicago after its devastating fire in 1871. Also, all the city’s wastes flowed through the river to be dumped eventually in Lake Michigan. Inasmuch as the Lake was the main source of city drinking water, this practice thoroughly contaminated the city’s water. After a great storm in 1885 caused flooding which washed river refuse and contaminated Chicago water, the alarmed Illinois legislature took action in 1889 to construct canals and channels to turn the flow of the rivers from Lake Michigan rather than to it; and to divert contaminated water downstream, where it would be diluted by the Des Plaines and Mississippi Rivers.
The Canal’s shipping peaked in 1882, although its Momence healthcare facilities continued to be used through 1933. The I & M Canal was largely replaced by the bigger Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, which opened in 1900 and is still being used today. After it suspended operations in 1933, most of the original I & M Canal was filled in. At the present time there remain eight Illinois and Michigan Canal Locks and Towpath National Heritage Corridor parks, declared a National Monument in 1964, which are happy to welcome visitors and draw many tourists from throughout the Midwest.