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 of 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 1st Saturday of the month from May- November. Tours last about an hour and a half, walking half a mile along the gravel path through the woods. Due to the natural setting of the portage and Mud Lake area, it’s best to wear long pants, walking shoes.

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 of Pullman, the origins of Chicago’s labor union movement, the story of the Pullman porters, and the development of the Pullman Company.

Take walking tours 11am to 3pm, Tuesday to Sunday through the distinct 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

You may notice the tower of this 16,000-square-foot, seven-level mansion 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 has been 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. Entrance to the mansion is located out back, in the door to the servant’s quarters.

Tours are required, and they take place Wednesday through Sunday at 12, 1, 2 & 3pm. The cost of the tour is a very reasonable $10. 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.

Illinois State Museum - Lockport Gallery

Visit the Illinois State Museum’s Lockport Gallery in the historic Norton Building. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, quilts, and other decorative and ethnographic arts are showcased in rotating exhibitions.

Open weekdays 9-5pm and 12-5pm Sundays, regularly changing exhibits feature works created by past and contemporary Illinois artists and artisans. The building was once used as a warehouse to store, process, package, and distribute barrels of grain in the canal’s heyday, and also served as a nautical store, a corporate office, and most importantly, a sleeping quarters for mule tenders. Parking is plentiful and free. Located right next to the I&M Canal “Gaylord Donnelley” trail, so bring your sneakers along for a leisurely stroll down the canal.

Illinois State Art Museum
Ottawa Toll House
Ottawa Tollhouse

As you drive through downtown Ottawa along LaSalle or Columbus Streets, two blocks from the Reddick Mansion, you will cross 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, and you will find the last remaining toll house on the I&M Canal.  Call the Ottawa Visitor Center orvisit their website to set up a tour, or 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 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 attractions, all in walking distance.