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Long before highways and railroads turned Chicago into the transportation hub of the U.S., it was the Illinois & Michigan Canal that literally put the city on the map. In 1673, the French-Canadian explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette were the first non-Native Americans to travel from the Illinois River to Lake Michigan via the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers. They noted in their journals that a canal could be built to connect these waterways to allow for a navigable channel of travel stretching from the Great Lakes to the vast Mississippi River system.

The promise of a canals future potential for spreading commerce from the settled east to the western frontier led to the founding of Fort Dearborn to protect the Chicago River harbor. The potential also led to treaties with Native Americans and the creation by the state of Illinois of a canal commission that would build and operate the waterway. Chicago was founded to be the commercial transfer point between Lake Michigan vessels and canal barges. When the canal opened in 1848, the flow of commerce across the continent changed forever.

In this PowerPoint presentation, we will explore the story of the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal and its eventual replacement by newer canals, railroads, and expressways. We will take a virtual tour of its surviving structures from Bridgeport in Chicago to its terminus in Peru, Illinois 96 miles to the southwest.  Registration required.

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