Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Illinois and Michigan Canal Passage Driving Tour

The canal was dug out by migrant workers between 1836 and 1848.  The 96 mile water highway opened a water passage between New York harbor and the Gulf of Mexico.  The passageway linked the Illinois River and Lake Michigan.   It closed in 1933 when the US Army Corps replaced the canal for shipping when they rebuilt the Illinois Waterway from Chicago to the Mississippi.  What has been built is a far cry from the manual labor needed in the mid 1800s to get the boats down the channel!   Pictured below is a statue of a locktender opening one of the locks which allowed boats passageway through.
 A staff member at one of the museums John toured Saturday suggested that we take highway 6 to see some of the historic landmarks along the canal.  We certainly appreciated that advice as it made for a nice trip home.  We took that highway, then, instead of interstate 55- for a portion of the trip.  True, it is a bit poky as the 75 mile route took us through small towns.   It was also necessary to take some time finding and  looking at historic landmarks along the way.   Some of the historic landmarks were a bit of a challenge to find!
One of the landmarks is an old mule barn, built in 1834.  It was first a granary, then was later used as a place for mules rest and eat.  Mules were needed to pull 150 ton boats down the canal.  They were led along the canal's towpath by mule drivers- young boys who walked an average of 10-15 miles a day.  Wild Bill Hickok was once a mule driver.  It was a hard life as mules could be stubborn, and it was a bit of a challenge to avoid tangling tow ropes when two boats passed each other.

What was nice about this road trip was that we were not driving through endless miles of flat land and corn fields.  Instead we encountered gentle rolling river hills as well as some forest land.  Pictured above is the Aux Sable aqueduct, a 136-foot-long "bridge" that carries the canal over Aux Sable Creek.
The boulder above marks the burial spot of Potawatomi Chief Shabbona, known for warning white settlers of coming attacks during the Black Hawk War of 1832.  He was shunned by his tribe and cheated out of his land by settlers.  His grave is located east of the town of Morris in Evergreen Cemetery.
What is nice about this road trip is that there are at least 3 state parks along the way.  However, for this trip we did not have the time to stop and hike in them.  We still had some beautiful natural areas to view.  At one stop, to look at a locktender's house, I happened to espy a great blue heron standing in a nearby creek.
I will write more on this interesting trip in my next posting.  

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