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Illinois & Michigan Canal
By Canal Corridor Association


The Illinois and Michigan Canal was the final link in a national plan to connect different regions of the vast North American continent via waterways. Linking the waters of the Illinois River (and ultimately the Mississippi River) with those of Lake Michigan was an idea that went back to Louis Jolliet and the early French fur traders of the 1670s.

Construction of the I&M Canal and the sale of canal lands brought thousands of people streaming into northeastern Illinois in the mid to late 1830s, and those who braved the hazards of this frontier quickly realized the necessity of improving transportation. Contemporary accounts of stagecoach travel emphasize the perils and discomforts of traversing rutted paths that passed for roads. Much of the region consisted of wet prairie, and spring rains and melting snow turned the trails into impassable quagmires.

Thus, few events in Illinois’ history were more eagerly anticipated than the opening of the I&M Canal. The most massive public works project ever attempted in the young state of Illinois, digging began on the 4th of July in 1836. In 1845, with construction of the I&M Canal stalled due to the State of Illinois’ near bankruptcy, investors from England and France put up $1.6 million to complete the canal. The investors were not disappointed in their returns, and the I&M is one of the few American canals to have more than paid for itself.


The opening of the canal in 1848 heralded a new era in trade and travel for the entire nation. Passengers increasingly chose the all water route to the East, bypassing the Ohio River route. Freight could go from St. Louis to New York in twelve days via the I&M Canal and the Great Lakes, while the Ohio River route might take 30-40 days. Packet boat companies touted their role in a new transportation network by noting that the packets connected with a daily line of steamboats bound for St. Louis, enabling travelers to make the 400-mile trip between Chicago and St. Louis in 60-72 hours, at a cost of only $9.

The results of the canal in the Midwest were profound. The canal made Morris the center of commerce in Grundy County and brought Morris into direct contact with Chicago. Here farmers from all over the county brought their corn, wheat, and oats for shipment to Chicago, and in return the canal brought wheelbarrows, lumber, and the latest clothing fashions and furniture.

The I & M Canal continues to be a source of interest and economic influence for the area. We invite you to take a tour of the Canal that runs through the County.

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