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.
The town that built the canal.
Start your visit at the Public Landing, once a bustling place where wagons loaded with grain met canal boats, now a park and parking lot. Be sure to visit the impressive stone warehouses at either end of the landing. The Norton Building, to the south, houses a gallery of the Illinois State Museum. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Gaylord Building to the north has canal exhibits, visitor information and a fine restaurant.
On State Street, Lockport’s main street, note the historic storefronts and canal town architecture. The white frame building that now houses the Will County Historical Society & Archives at State and 8th streets, was once the I&M Canal Commission headquarters. Learn about the canal builders who worked here, and see early artifacts.
The massive limestone walls of the I&M Canal Lock No. 1 are a mile south of the Public Landing. As you walk along the Gaylord Donnelley Trail, bear in mind that in Lockport the canal was once twice as wide as it is today, allowing boat captains to pass each other and transact business. When the canal was active, this part of the trail was underwater.
Visit the historic residential neighborhoods up the gently hilly terrain of the Des Plaines River Valley.
Unique downtown shopping includes Canal House Antiques, which specializes in American country furnishings, accessories and folk art; Thimbles, which draws quilters from throughout the area for its extensive selection of fabrics, quilting-related products, classes and finished quilts; and Betsy’s Yarn & Tea Shop offering great selections of both tea and yarn located in the historic Norton Building.
Lockport celebrates their heritage at Old Canal Days – with a carnival, Artisans’ Faire, musical guests and history tours along the I&M Canal and at the Heritage Village. The Summer Art Series features art at multiple locations. During Summer Art Series weekend (end of July), there is pop-up shopping, a Saturday night gala, and Sunday High Tea.
The Lockport Classic Car Show & Food Court is held every Monday evening from June through August and includes a farmers’ market, live bands, inflatables, face painting, and free shaved ice. Lockport also hosts the largest annual World War II-era re-enactment in the area with uniformed re-enactors representing soldiers from the United States, England, France, Poland, Russia, Italy and Germany and 1940s-era military vehicles at Dellwood Park September 12-13.
Lockport can boast of one of the only AAA four diamond award-winning restaurants in the area. Tallgrass is known for its quaint setting in a brick-and-stone building as well as its sumptuous three-, four- and five-course menus. Another fine dining restaurant is the Public Landing Restaurant housed in the Gaylord Building.
Or check out the Vegan Café, and Naked Sprouts Organic Market, which sells good-for-you sundries and made-to-order smoothies and juices. For those with a sweet tooth, stop at Hollingworth Candies for its signature toffee as well as homemade cashew brittle, caramel apples, sea salt toffee, sea salt caramels, and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Park in one of the lots west of State Street off 8th or 9th streets (Route 7), at the ends of the I&M Canal Public Landing.