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 and a stone’s throw from the Illinois River and many recreational activities. Enjoy walking and bike riding on the trail, canoeing and kayaking in 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 county 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.
An oasis of small town charm and recreational opportunities to be explored.
Picturesque Lemont is known for 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 DesPlaines 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 brew-pub and nearby recreation.
Just 30 miles from Chicago
If you can only make one stop to discover the I&M Canal, it should be to Lockport. 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 walking distance of each offer.
90 miles from Chicago
Situated on the Fox and Illinois rivers, Ottawa was platted by the Canal Commissioners at the same time as Chicago. 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.
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas held their first of six political debates in Ottawa at Washington Square during the 1858 U.S. Senate Race. The site features a commemorative bronze monument to the two men who, on August 21, 1858, argued for three hours before a throng estimated at 10,000 on the subject of the introduction of slavery into new western states.
Some Ottawa citizens participated in the Underground Railroad, and John Hossack, who lived in a classic Greek Revival manor house still in existence on the south bluff overlooking the Illinois River, became an abolitionist hero when he was prosecuted for harboring a fugitive slave. Other destinations in Ottawa include the Reddick Mansion, the historic downtown surrounding the LaSalle County Courthouse, and the Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum features exhibits about the history of Scouting in the United States as well as a section dedicated to local Ottawa history.
Wiliiam 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. Many Boy Scouts still make annual pilgrimages to the bronze memorial statue of a Scout dedicated in 1941 to W. D. Boyce located in the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery.
40 miles from Chicago
Joliet, second only to Chicago as the largest I&M Canal town, 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. 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 Theater 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 industries such as riverboat gaming and baseball. While in 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, stop by Bicentennial Park to view Joliet’s impressive lift bridges and watch the boats and barges on the waterway.
98 miles from Chicago
Workers digging the I&M Canal discovered a large vein of limestone in the Utica area. The stone was ideal for making cement, which was used to construct the I&M 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. Utica is the gateway to Starved Rock State Park and its Main Street offers shopping and dining.
78 miles from Chicago
Seneca with strong roots to the canal was established in 1854. It is home to the M.J. Hogan Grain Elevator, the oldest surviving grain elevator along the canal. Before the I&M Canal opened, farmers had to bring their grain by wagon to distant markets. After the canal opened in 1848, they could deliver their grain locally to canal-side elevators for storage before it was shipped to Chicago and eastern markets. When canal boats arrived, the captain would blow a large horn and residents would gather to get fresh lemons, oranges, sugar, molasses, and tobacco. Farmers brought their corn and wheat, and workers loaded and unloaded coal, limestone, agricultural implements, furniture, and lumber.
85 miles from 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 Illinois River rapids. Across the Illinois River, the 510-acre Illini State Park offers picnic facilities, hiking trails, a boat ramp and views of the Illinois River rapids and the Marseilles Lock and Dam. The Marseilles Lock and Dam is part of the Illinois Waterway The complex includes the lock, dam, a control station, boiler house, and a 2.5-mile section of navigation canal.