Chicago Portage National Historic Site
Chicago Portage House

Come visit Chicago’s birthplace! Walk the paths originally traversed by Native Americans, famed explorers, and early settlers. Marvel at the 20-foot-tall monument depicting Father Marquette, Louis Jolliet and their native American guide landing their canoe. See the vital crossroads where French fur traders would “portage” their goods across a narrow marshy area separating the waters of the Great Lakes from those of the Mississippi River.

Free tours are available at 10am on the first Saturday of the month from May-November. Tours last about 90 minutes and involve walking half a mile along the gravel path through the woods. Due to the rustic natural setting of the portage and Mud Lake area, long pants and sturdy walking shoes are recommended attire.

  • Location: 4800 Harlem Ave. Berwyn, IL 60402
  • Information: (773) 590-0710
  • Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Pullman National Monument

Travel back to the 1880s in this time capsule neighborhood. Immerse yourself in the tumultuous life and utopian vision of George M. Pullman and his Palace Car train industry at this national monument. Park rangers tell the stories of the immigrants who worked and lived in Pullman, the origins of Chicago’s labor union movement, the iconic Pullman porters and the development of the Pullman Company.

Walking tours are offered from 11am to 3pm daily, except for Monday. Stroll through the distinctive neighborhood where Pullman’s employees lived and worked. The visitor center features exhibits and a video presentation about Pullman, his company, and the nation’s first model planned industrial community.

Pullman House
Hegeler Carus Mansion
Hegler Carus Mansion

The stately tower of this 16,000-square-foot, seven-level mansion is visible from the highway. This Second Empire-style house museum is a showcase of premier 19th century architecture and design. W.W. Boyington, the architect of Chicago’s famed Water Tower, designed this as a home for the Hegeler family in 1874. The mansion’s interior remains virtually unchanged.

Brilliant restoration of several key rooms is underway, and in many cases, you can see the literal “before and after” examples of woodwork and plaster restoration. Interpretive guides focus on the Hegeler, Matthiessen, and Carus families, affluent zinc manufacturers drawn to the area by large mineral deposits. Edward Hegeler founded Open Court Publishing Company and published many philosophical journals and books.

Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday at 12, 1, 2 and 3pm. The cost is a very reasonable $15. Before you leave, be sure to stop by the downstairs gift shop to check out their fine selection of vintage items and the museum’s unique collection of books related to philosophy and Victorian life.

Carbon Hill School Museum & Historical Society

Step back in time inside this 1893 original schoolhouse displaying hundreds of artifacts depicting immigrant turn-of-the-century life. You can sit at the desks, read through the old books, and see photos depicting classes and school history from 1893 to 1955. The historical society has an extensive collection of regional coal mining data, as well as materials on local history and regional maps.

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Ottawa Toll House
Ottawa Tollhouse

As you drive through downtown Ottawa along LaSalle or Columbus streets, you’ll cross over a wide, grassy “ditch” that was once filled with water, carrying boats down the Illinois & Michigan Canal!

Head north on Columbus Street and turn left just before you get to the canal. There you will find the last remaining toll house on the I&M Canal. Call the Ottawa Visitor Center or go to their website to set up a tour. Peek in the windows to see a rope-bed where naps were once considered comfortable and view an actual “toll log book.” In its heyday, seven different toll collectors worked along the I&M. This particular toll house was actively used from 1848 to 1926. It was still listed in Ottawa city directories as the “I&M Canal Collector’s Office” until 1935.

Afterwards, stroll down the I&M Canal towpath trail, explore Ottawa’s impressive murals, or visit the nearby Fox River aqueduct. Ottawa is filled with restaurants, shops, parks and more, so be sure to take advantage of these amenities and attractions, all within walking distance.

Isle a la Cache Museum

Explore the relationship between Native Americans and the nation’s early French voyageurs at this 18th century fur trade museum. Highlights include interactive exhibits of the Great Lakes fur trade of the 1700s, in addition to a replica Native American longhouse. The Island Rendezvous, an annual historical re-enactment. Nearby walking trails offer beautiful views of the Des Plaines River.

  • Location: 501 E. Romeo Road, Romeoville, IL 60446
  • Information: (815) 727-8700 Isle a la Cache website
  • Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10am-4pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm, Monday Closed
Joliet Iron Works Historic Site
Iron works

The empty ruins of Joliet’s iron and steel works, once the second largest steel mill in the country, make for a truly remarkable historic site. Venture onto the bike and walking trails that wind between the hulking remnants of gigantic blast furnaces and kilns where workers labored in sweltering conditions. Interpretive signage tells the story of the iron-making process and the immigrants who worked there. Bicycle tours and interpretive hikes are available.

  • Location: North Scott Street and Columbia Street, Joliet, IL 60432
  • Information: (815) 727-8700 Iron Works website
  • Hours: 8am – Sunset
Polk Brothers Park at Navy Pier

Discover the I&M Canal through art. Come explore the three mosaic bench sculptures and connecting walkway that form Water Marks. Designed for the canal’s sesquicentennial by the Chicago Public Art Group in 1998 and constructed using tiles made by hundreds of people throughout the area, Water Marks represents one fo the largest public art projects in the country. Each bench is uniquely themed. Find the brass plaque for more info.

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Bronzeville Neighborhood

Catch intriguing glimpses into the cultural urban past of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, known in the early 20th century as the Black Metropolis. During the “Great Migration,” thousands of African-Americans came to escape the oppression of the South in search of jobs and a better life. Amid newly opened coffee shops and restaurants, you’ll find spectacular displays of 19th & early 20th century architecture and some of Chicago’s most celebrated public art works.

St. James at Sag Bridge

Visit this beautiful limestone Roman Catholic Church, constructed in the 1850s on a hill above Archer Avenue. This 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 Indian trail, which later became Archer Avenue.

  • Location: 10600 S. Archer Ave, Lemont, IL 60439
  • Information: (630) 257-7000 St. James website
Canal Origins Park
Origins Skyline

Stroll the nearly 3 acres of this outdoor interpretive site and nature park located where the I&M Canal began in Chicago at the confluence of and Bubbly Creek and the south branch of the Chicago River. Exhibits include 100 concrete-relief sculptures and interpretive panels with historic images, bilingual text, and illustrations that illuminate Chicago’s heritage as a canal town. Landscaping features native plants, flowers and grasses.

  • Location: 2701 S. Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60608
  • Information: (312) 747-6184 Canal Origins Park website
  • Hours: Dawn to dusk
Reddick Mansion

Reddick Mansion, an Italianate fantasy of red brick and cream limestone was built in the 1850s by William Reddick, a county sheriff, state senator and founder of the local glass industry. Exhibits tell of Reddick’s life and political career, the Lincoln-Douglas debate, and the I&M Canal.

  • Location: 100 West Lafayette Street, Ottawa, IL 61350
  • Information: (815) 433-6100 Reddick Mansion website
  • Hours: Wed thru Mon from 11-3:00pm | Closed Tuesday
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Evergreen Cemetery

One of the oldest cemeteries in the area, it contains the Victorian monuments of Civil War veterans, famous locals, and the large boulder marking the grave of Potawatomi Chief Shabbona, known for warning white settlers of coming attacks during the Black Hawk War of 1832.

Aux Sable Creek Aqueduct

The village of Aux Sable is long gone but several canal structures remain. One of four aqueducts on the canal, the Aux Sable Creek Aqueduct is a 136-foot-long “bridge” that carries the canal over Aux Sable Creek. Just west of the aqueduct is Lock 8 and its associated locktender’s house. In the 1830s, Matthew Neary, an Irish immigrant, was awarded the contract to build the section of the I&M Canal around Aux Sable including the lock and aqueduct. His workers, also mostly Irish, earned a dollar a day and lived in shantytowns – hastily built towns of crude wooden shacks – in the Aux Sable area.

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Historic Dresden

Drive by the tavern, barn and cemetery that are all that remain of the tiny town of Dresden, which grew until the railroads bypassed it in 1852. Before the canal opened in 1848, people traveling by wagon or stagecoach along the rough roads could find a hot meal or a good night’s sleep at the Rutherford Tavern. Now a family farm, this site offers special events and activities throughout the year, including Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactments, a petting zoo and steam train rides.

  • Location: Cemetery Rd and Hansel Rd, Channahon, IL 60410
  • Hours: Dawn to dusk
McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum

The Chicago River was a major artery of commerce for the fur traders. As Chicago grew, the river took on a different character with its world-famous movable bridges. Beginning at river level and spiraling five stories up, the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore a historic landmark bridgehouse.

  • Location:  99 East Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601
  • Information: (312) 977-0227 Bridgehouse Museum website
  • Hours: 10am-5pm, Th-M, May-October
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