Celebrate Irish Heritage
Soak up the charming small-town atmosphere of three distinctive communities along the I&M Canal while discovering the history of the Irish immigrants who built the vital passageway.
Start your tour in Lemont
ST. JAMES AT SAG BRIDGE CHURCH AND CEMETARY
Begin your visit to Lemont at St. James at Sag Bridge Church and Cemetery. Here you will see a beautiful limestone Roman Catholic Church constructed in the 1850s on a hill above Archer Avenue. The parish was founded in 1833 by Irish canal workers, many of whom are buried in its adjoining cemetery. A rough log cabin served as the first church building and was located directly on the original Native American trail, which later became Archer Avenue.
Consecrated in 1837, the St. James at Sag Bridge Cemetery contains the graves of numerous Civil War veterans. The limestone Stations of the Cross lining the church and cemetery walkway were constructed in the 1920s and donated by parishioners in memory of deceased family members. The land on which both the church and cemetery are situated was purchased and later donated by two early Irish settlers, John Sullivan and James Murphy. Their direct descendants are still active parishioners today.
St. James at Sag Bridge, 10600 S. Archer Ave., Lemont, IL 60439. There is free parking available at the church. Learn more about this historic church and environs when you visit the website.
Continue on to downtown Lemont
DOWNTOWN LEMONT, THE I&M CANAL TRAIL AND MORE
Lemont’s impressive church spires and cozy neighborhoods rise on the bluffs above its downtown and three waterways –the narrow I&M Canal, the wide and bustling Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the marshy Des Plaines River.
Shop, dine, and enjoy Lemont’s 19th century architecture or walk its 5-mile canal trail segment, leading to the Heritage Quarries Recreation Area and The Forge: Lemont Quarries. Observe the native yellow limestone in Lemont’s canal walls, its scenic hills and vibrant downtown businesses. Chicago’s famed Water Tower owes its construction to the tons of yellow stone shipped to Chicago by canal from Lemont.
The many public art displays found downtown tell compelling stories from the community’s history. Be sure to see the large mural at Budnik Plaza on Canal Street, depicting the life of quarry workers and mosaics throughout the downtown depicting Lemont’s colorful past. You’ll also see the life story of local aviator Rudy Kling depicted in the “Pride of Lemont” mural on Front Street. Explore downtown businesses housed in preserved limestone buildings. In these buildings, you’ll find local makers who took a leap to create one-of-a-kind food, shops, and adventures.
Check out the exhibits, library, and gift shop of the Lemont Area Historical Society and Museum, located at 418 Main St. Situated on the south side of downtown in Lemont’s historic Old Stone Church, a building which once served as a recruiting station during the Civil War, the Museum is open five days a week. The Historical Society also offers walking tours of downtown Lemont.
Downtown on the street or adjacent to the I&M Canal. There is free public parking available in several village lots and on-street parking at numerous locations, including Stephen Street, Main Street, Canal Street, Lemont Street and Front Street.
WHERE TO EAT (AND DRINK)
Hughie McClafferty’s, 118 Stephen St.
Pollyanna Brewing Co, 431 Talcott Ave.
Nick’s Tavern, 221 Main St.
Wooden Paddle, 212 Stephen St.
Barrel & Vine, 206 S. Main St.
Corner Store Tavern, 103 Stephen St.
Digs on Canal, 316 Canal St.
Hughie Mcclafferty’s is an Irish pub opened by Donegal natives, serving up classics like bangers and mash, fish and chips and Guinness stew—plus live music on the weekends and a traditional Irish session on Monday nights. Pollyanna Brewing Co. offers medal-winning flagship beers and seasonal brews to sample alongside live music, trivia nights, tours, and other events. Enjoy a Full Lemonty Golden Ale on their patio overlooking the I&M Canal.
Nick’s Tavern has been serving “the granddaddy of all burgers,” their 1 lb. Big Nick for over 75 years. Grab a wood-fired pizza or craft cocktail at Wooden Paddle, new American food and cocktails from Barrel & Vine or elevated southern comfort food at Corner Stone Tavern. For live music, comedy specials and outdoor seating in the heart of Downtown, don’t miss Digs on Canal, named for our earliest Irish immigrants that built Lemont and this incredible canal!
Drive on to Utica
LASALLE COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM & CANAL MARKET
Headquartered in an old stone warehouse used during the canal era, the museum features exhibits primarily centered on LaSalle County history. Explore the museum’s extensive campus, which includes a Canal Warehouse, Heritage Center, Blacksmith Shop and One-Room School House.
Shop for quality antiques, collectibles, vintage and handmade items as well as artisan and homegrown products at the seasonal Canal Market. This weekly, open-air market is sponsored by the Historical Society and held at the corner of Mill and Clark streets on the Museum grounds. Check online for dates.
Near the LaSalle County Historical Society Museum, 101 E. Canal St. Visit the Museum website for hours, admission fees and other visitor information.
WHERE TO EAT
End your tour in LaSalle
ST. PATRICK'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
Step inside the first church established in the Illinois Valley and the oldest living parish church in Illinois. St. Patrick’s Church was first conceived in 1838 to minister to Irish-Catholic immigrants working on the I&M Canal. The parish outgrew its original log church and construction of the current limestone building began in May 1846. Completed in 1848, the same year that the I&M Canal opened, the church was designed and built by Patrick Joseph Mullaney. The magnificent building was consecrated on April 11, 1853.
Free parking is available at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 725 4th St.
ST. VINCENT CEMETARY
The first person buried in what local residents refer to as “the Irish cemetery” was Sister Vincentia on July 21, 1857. The cemetery was named after her. Also buried in St. Vincent is the first priest to die in LaSalle, Rev. M.L. O’Reilly, who was buried on May 3, 1867.
The lot at St. Vincent Cemetery, 2990 St. Vincent Ave. (815-223-0494)
St. Vincent Cemetery Alternate address: 371 N. 2979th Rd.
I&M CANAL BOAT
Step aboard the I&M Canal Boat and enjoy the scenery and relaxation of a mule-pulled ride on the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal. “The Volunteer” is a 76-foot-long, 70-passenger boat docked in downtown LaSalle, only 5 miles from Starved Rock State Park. Have fun learning a little history as lively period-dressed guides tell the stories of the I&M Canal Passageway.
Every boat trip begins with “Mule Tending 101” as the guides introduce passengers to the intrepid canal mule, Moe. The Captain regales everyone with tales of life on the canal while his deckhands guide the vessel a mile up the canal to the Little Vermillion aqueduct and back. Special guests like Mary Todd Lincoln, knitting in the corner and sharing fantastic stories of her time in the nation’s capital with President Lincoln, have even been known to ride the boat.
Purchase boat tour tickets online or at the I&M Canal Visitor Center and Lock 16 Café and Gift Shop (754 First Street). Tours run May through October (though you can purchase tickets for the season year round). Visit the online calendar to see available dates. (815-220-1848)
The lot for the I&M Canal Boat, two blocks south of downtown LaSalle, where Ill. Rte. 351/Joliet Street crosses over the I&M Canal.