Morris

70 miles from downtown Chicago, but a world away.

Morris is a quintessential rural Midwestern town filled with unique, small shops – some old and some new – most in historic buildings, sitting right along the I&M Canal, just a stone’s throw from the Illinois River and many recreational activities:

  • Walk and bike the scenic trail
  • Go canoeing or kayaking in the waters of the canal or the Illinois River

The I&M Canal made Morris an important center for agriculture, industry, trade and government. Downtown still thrives as the seat of one of Illinois’ most fertile agricultural counties. A huge grain elevator visible over the treetops along the Illinois River is a reminder that corn is still a vital part of Morris’ economy today.

Lemont

An oasis of small-town charm and recreational opportunities to be explored.

Picturesque Lemont is known for its church spires, limestone buildings, and neighborhoods rising on the bluffs above its downtown. Three waterways – the narrow I&M Canal, the wide Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the marshy Des Plaines River – help define the community. Native Americans traveled the river by canoe on their trading trips between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan. The I&M Canal made this natural passageway navigable for commerce in 1848, and in 1900 the Sanitary and Ship Canal created a modern shipping channel. Today, you can enjoy a walkable downtown, boutiques, restaurants, a new brewpub and nearby recreation.

Lockport

The town that built the canal.

If you can only make one stop to explore the I&M Canal, it should be in Lockport, only 30 miles from Chicago. Lockport was selected by the Canal Commissioners to be their headquarters in 1830 and you can still see the influence of that decision today. The canal, the headquarters, a two-block-long public landing, and the Gaylord and Norton buildings flanking the public landing still form the center of the community and offer visitors history, architecture, and trails all within easy walking distance of each other.

Ottawa

Town of two rivers and site of important I&M Canal landmarks.

Situated on the Fox and Illinois rivers, Ottawa was platted by the Canal Commissioners at the same time as Chicago, 90 miles away. Ottawa prospered because the canal made it possible to transport the sand, gravel and clay that were mined here. Ottawa has two of the canal’s most important landmarks – the huge Fox River Aqueduct and the last remaining tollhouse, a tiny wood frame structure on Columbus Street. By 1871, boat captains had paid enough tolls to retire the debt that the state incurred in building the canal.

Other landmarks in Ottawa include the ornate Reddick Mansion, nearby Third District Appellate Court Building, and the historic downtown surrounding the impressive LaSalle County Courthouse. Ottawa’s Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum features exhibits about the history of Scouting in the United States as well as a section devoted to local Ottawa history. William D. Boyce, founder of American Scouting, bought and later built a mansion in Ottawa, his adopted hometown and was buried in Ottawa Avenue Cemetery in 1929.

Some Ottawa citizens participated in the Underground Railroad, including John Hossack, who used his Greek Revival manor house on the south bluff overlooking the Illinois River as a “station” on the secret route. A prominent Ottawa businessman, Hossack became an abolitionist hero when he was prosecuted for harboring a fugitive slave.

Joliet

An important transportation hub once known as the “Crossroads of Mid-America.”

Second only to Chicago as the largest I&M Canal town, Joliet attracted workers from around the world to quarry stone, manufacture steel and build the railroads that turned this tiny town into a 19th century powerhouse. Forty miles from Chicago, in Joliet the I&M Canal has been submerged underneath the Illinois Waterway and is no longer visible. Downtown Joliet contains numerous businesses and institutions, including the spectacular Rialto Square Theatre movie palace built in 1926.

Like many “rust belt” industrial towns, Joliet suffered greatly during the 1970s and ’80s, but has recently revitalized its downtown center by featuring entertainment such as riverboat gaming and baseball. While downtown, stop at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. Located at the historic crossroads of Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway, this award-winning museum features exhibits about local history and serves as a Route 66 Welcome Center. Before you leave, head over to Bicentennial Park to view Joliet’s impressive lift bridges and watch boats and barges on the waterway.

Utica

The gateway to Starved Rock, situated 98 miles from Chicago.

Workers digging the I&M Canal discovered a large vein of limestone in the Utica area. This stone was ideal for making cement, which was used to construct the canal’s locks. Utica’s cement industry was its economic backbone through the 1800s. Today, its limestone and sandstone are still mined for gravel and sand. Visit the LaSalle County Historical Society’s Museum, housed in an 1840s canal warehouse built from area sandstone. Utica is the gateway to Starved Rock State Park and its Main Street offers shopping and dining.

Channahon

Located at the confluence of the Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers, situated 50 miles from Chicago.

While the village of Channahon was recently incorporated in 1962, native americans resided in this fertile area surrounded by 3 rivers for thousands of years. Its name derives from the Potawatomi phrase “meeting of the waters”

Seneca

A former shipping center for grain and goods.

Established in 1854, Seneca, located 78 miles from Chicago, has strong roots to the canal. It is home to the M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator, the oldest surviving such structure along the I&M Canal. Before the canal opened, farmers had to bring their grain by wagon to distant markets. After the I&M opened in 1848, they could deliver their grain locally to canal-side elevators for storage before it was shipped to Chicago and eastern markets. Farmers brought their corn and wheat, and workers loaded and unloaded coal, limestone, agricultural implements, furniture, and lumber. When canal boats arrived, the captain would blow a large horn and residents would hurry to get fresh lemons, oranges, sugar, molasses, and tobacco.

Marseilles

Once the home of mighty hydraulic power, 85 miles southwest of Chicago.

Although the I&M Canal is dry in Marseilles, you can still see its outline and the massive mill buildings that were fueled by the river rapids. Industrialists located mills and factories in Marseilles because of the combination of canal transportation and the waterpower provided by the Illinois River rapids. Across the river, the 510-acre Illini State Park offers picnic facilities, hiking trails, a boat ramp and views of these rapids and the Marseilles Lock and Dam. Part of the Illinois Waterway, the Marseilles Lock and Dam complex includes the lock, dam, a control station, boiler house, and a 2.5-mile section of navigation canal.

La Salle

The western terminus of the I&M Canal, 98 miles southwest of Chicago.

Established by the Canal Commissioners as the canal’s western terminus, La Salle was an economic crossroads where I&M Canal boats met Illinois River steamers. From here, finished goods from the east streamed west, products from the south came north, and raw materials from the Midwest poured into Chicago and eastern markets. Today, downtown La Salle offers shopping, dining, and theatre. Lock 16 Visitor Center is housed in a restored 1910 building that was once home to a horse buggy maker and includes café and gift shop.

Peru

River town, home of Westclox watch factory, 105 miles southwest of Chicago.

Peru and La Salle competed to become the I&M Canal terminus, but the Canal Commissioners selected LaSalle because they controlled the land there. Peru prospered much like La Salle, thanks to canal traffic and Peru’s abundant coal mines. Note the statue of Peru native Maud Powell on Main Street. Born in 1868, she was a world-renowned concert violinist.

Peru’s downtown first developed along the riverfront, but was eventually moved up the bluff away from flooding. See the historic waterfront buildings and dine in the eclectic restaurants.