Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 164; New Sioux City Public Museum

Currently the Sioux City Public Museum is at the Peirce Mansion at 2901 Jackson St. Plans are moving forward for the new Sioux City Public Museum that will be at the J. C. Penny building in downtown Sioux City. On Sat. June 27, 2009 there was an open house that I attended. Right now the new Museum does not look like much and is in the pre-construction stage. Museum Director Steve Hansen to answer questions and give presentations on the progress of the new museum. Construction should begin in Sept. of 2009 and be near or at completetion in Aug. of 2010. As I have more info. I will post updates.

Article on the open house.;
Museum announces open house at new site

Link to info. on updated progress of new museum.;
Our New Museum - Downtown!

Photo's I took of the new museum as it looks now, and the plans of what it will look like.;

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 163; Update; Sculpt Siouxland

I originally posted about the Sculpt Siouxland project in September of 2008. Here is the original post; Sioux City History & Culture by Bicycle Part 1: Sculpt Siouxland Since the original post there have been new statues added as part of the Sculpt Siouxland project. The new statues were put in place in the last couple of months. As of right now there are no name plates with the statues so I do not know what they are called. When I have the info. I will post another update. For now here are the photo's of the new statues.;

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 162; Update; The Death of the American Linseed Oil Co. Building?

I have found out the fire that damaged the American Linseed Oil Co. Building only damaged the back 20% of the building. State Steel, the company that owns it still plans on restoring/renovating it to be used for their offices. I am glad to see an old historic building that will be renovated anc continue to be used.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 161; What is Worth Saving?

Here is a recent article asking the question what is worth saving when it comes to Sioux City's past.; Historic preservation: What's worth saving? The article asks what is worth saving. There are some good answers like not everything can be save and not everything should be saved. The article also states just because a building is old does not mean it is significant. These answers come from Jim Jung of the city's Historic Preservation Commission and museum director Steve Hansen.

I have discussed this with people. Some think tear it all down to build new buildings. Some think save and restore all old buildings regardless of historic significance. While others think save the buildings that have historic significance and don't worry about the others regardless of how old they are, this is the one I agree with. Save and restore the buildings with historic significance and don't worry about the others. Use the others if they can be used, but if they are razed, so be it. A good example of this is the area just north and west of downtown Sioux City that is being leveled. Granted not all of the hosues are historical homes. But the ones that are are being destroyed along with everything else.

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 160; The Death of the American Linseed Oil Co. Building?

Another recent fire that has partially destroyed an historic building in Sioux City occured at the old American Linseed Oil Co. Building. On the resent past it has been used by Bekins for storage and is owned by the State Steel. I think at one time State Steel was looking at renovating/restoring the old building for office space. Now it's futrue is uncertain and in question and all because of possible arson. With what has happened to this building and the Florence Crittenton Home I can not help but wonder if Sioux City's historical buildings are now targets. The fire in this building and the Crittenton could very well be linked to the same person or people. I hope the criminals are caught before any more buildings are destroyed.

Here is some info. on the American Linseed Oil Co. Building.;
2 blocks south of 4th St on the Northeast corner of 2nd & Court Streets is the American Linseed Oil Company Building. Thomas P. Gere of Sioux City and Rensselaer D. Hubbard of Mankato, Minnesota founded the American Linseed Oil Company at this location in 1883. At that time, flax oil was used primarily in the production of paint and varnishes. The original mill burned in 1890. Later that year, a new mill (pictured above) was designed by Sioux City architect William McLaughlin and constructed on the foundation of the original structure. By the early 1890s, it was the largest linseed oil mill in the world, processing 800,000 bushels of flaxseed annually. It continued to operate as a linseed oil mill until 1928. Since that time, it has been used as a warehouse by Kay Dee Feed Company, the Bekins Company and Grant Tire. The building is owned by State Steel.

I will post more information as I receive it.

Article about the fire;
Fire destroys historic warehouse downtown

Here is a photo of the building;

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 159; The Death of the Florence Crittenton Home?

Recently there have been a couple of fires at some of Sioux City's historical buildings. One of those was the Florence Crittenton. You may remeber I psoted about htis building in this post; Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 110: William Labarth Steele Part 5: Florence Crittenton Center and; Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 66: Florence Crittenton Center In the previous posts I mentioned it is not known what is going to happen to the building. The Crittenton Center who still owns the building received some stimulus money to turn the building into low rent apartments. Which means the building was going once again to serve the community and help those less fortunate by providing a place to live they can afford.

Now because of a devastating fire that future in uncertain and in question. Here are the news stories about the fire;
Former Florence Crittenton Home damaged by fire
Fire in second historic building called intentional
Fires damages second historic building
Fire officials: Historic building fire suspicious
Protect empty buildings from possible arson

If it is arson I hope the criminals responsible are caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Obviously these hoodlums doing this have no pride in this community nor do they understand what kind of historical value they are destroying. As I have more information I will post it as it becomes available.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 158; The Death of the John Rochel House

Because of a project to build a new high school by the catholic school districts, supported by the catholic diocese in Sioux City an important part of Sioux City's history is being destroyed. mid-town holding llc bought the property and is the developer who is destroying an entire neighborhood. It is not known whether or not they were hired by the private school district to buy and destroy this entire historic neighborhood for a new school campus. There is also no guarantee at all whether or not a new school campus will be built. This land may sit empty for years to come.

This is very disturbing and aggravating. Sure the neighborhood is not that great and is run down. It is where people with out a lot of income live. They make do with what they have and do the best they can and most of the properties are rentals. But this is no reason for a developer, a private school or a religious organization entity to destroy an important part of Sioux City's history. All this shows if someone has the money they can do pretty much what ever they want. I think the catholic school district and diocese needs to remember a certain historical figure, William L. Steele, responsible for a lot of Sioux City's history in the 1900's that helped them become the church and school district they are today. I imagine Steele is rolling over in his grave if he knows what the school district and diocese that he once did work for is doing. I think he would say shame on you for destroying an important part of Sioux City that he himself helped design. While there may be no Steele designed buildings in the neighborhood that has been leveled and while Steele did not design the John Rochel House he did design a lot of buildings in the surrounding area.

The catholic school district and diocese in question could have easily built their new school, which will no doubt be an ugly monstrosity in a different location. The developer and the catholic school district are not done leveling some of Sioux City's history. The have yet to level an area further north and west of what they already have. I wonder how big of a darn campus does one school district really need? There is plenty of other land that is either empty or has empty buildings on it with no historical value that the private school district and the developer could have purchased for the new campus. Why didn't they? The City of Sioux City is also involved in this, yet because it is not a public project, the public is not informed of it. However one group that is informed of it, the historical preservation commission is given only a 30 day notice, not nearly enough time, to go in and document what they can and if at all possible save the important historical structures that are otherwise razed.

I am going to find out more info on how much historical value the surrounding are had and how much the area that has yet to be leveled has.

Some other ways to look at this, for those that don't think one house or a neighborhood has significant historical value is think about other buildings in your area. How would you feel if some developer bought the property and wanted to level it to build something else. Now go further and compare this to an entire neighborhood. Now go outside of your community and compare it to an historical county, state and federal or National Landmark or building. Where does it stop? I don't know, but I can tell you where it starts. In the local area. Next this will happen at the county level, then state and eventually the federal or national level.

Another thing to consider is a lot of the tenants who are renting won't see a dime of the money being offered by the developer and they have no money to relocate. This will impact the economy and put a further burden on a bad situation with the economy. When a developer and a private school district destroys an entire neighborhood such as it is, run down or not, it is not progress or good sound development. It is a mistake.

There a total of 4 entities who share in the responsibility for destroying this historical part of Sioux City's past. Up until now I have talked about 3 of them, the developer, the catholic school district and the catholic diocese. The 4th is the former owners of the properties that have been or are going to be purchased by the developer. These owners sold out a very large and important piece of Sioux City's past. Apparently nothing is sacred anymore in the name of progress and some people have a price at which they will sell regardless of the consequences of doing so. Just as developers will buy at any price, again despite the consequences. In all honesty I sincerly hope the private school district is unable to raise the rest of the mone and the school is never built. I also hope the developer is unable to sell the properties to anyone and loses their shirt over it. It would be poetic justice. How? Well John Rochel lost his shirt in the late 1800's during the depression of the time that hit. As a result he was forced to move to another less ornate home on Summit St, not to far from his original home.

Some of the people who support this effort, to destroy an entire historic neighborhood in Sioux City, feel buying these properties, destroying an entire historical area of Sioux City's past is a good idea because they think a majority of the people who live in this neighborhood are either on drugs or part of some sort of criminal element. When asked to provide statistical proof of this they rebutted with they do not need to do so because they witnessed this for themselves. Granted it may be true that they witnessed some sort of criminal behavior, I am hard pressed to believe a majority of the people who reside in this area of Sioux City are drug addicts or criminals. I refuse to believe that until statistical proof is provided showing this to be true. Granted on the other side of the coin I have no proof that a majority of the people who live there are not criminals or are not on drugs. Then again I have never claimed nor will ever claim that they are not on drugs or are not criminals unless I have proof. I really dislike it when someone makes a bold statement and uneducated statement, such as "90% of the people are on drugs or criminals", with out any sort of proof. Yes this area does have an/or attract part, not all, of the city's criminal element. But that does not mean everyone living there is a criminal as some people have suggested. A lot of these people are decent hard working individuals who are trying to live their lives, provide for their families and are doing what they can to get by. The last thing they need is to be uprooted and left on their own to relocate.

Please note in this blog post I have not, nor will I name the catholic school district or diocese that is doing this and the name of the developer is in lower case letters. This is my way of showing disrespect toward both entities. I have no respect at all toward the developer and have lost a lot of respect for the catholic diocese and school district because of this. In fact I am debating with myself whether or not I will continue working with the archivist at the diocese office in my research in to the history of the catholic church in Sioux City. In the course of my research I was being loaned documents that I digitally scanned and when I returned the documents I would include a copy of the digital scans on a CD, thus helping to further preserve the documents. Now because of this I am not sure if I will continue with that effort.

I usually try not to interject my personal feelings and opinions in these historical posts. But this one I had to say something about and express my concern, attitude and disgust toward what is happening.

Obituary for the John Rochel House;
Born/Built/Created/Constructed Date; 1881
Death/Destruction/Demolition/Razed Date; July 10, 2009
Preceded in death by who knows how many other historical buildings in this area all in the name of so called progress.
After 128 years of life may the John Rochel rest in piece, or rather pieces.

Here is a link to the article about the death of the John Rochel House.;
Efforts to save 1881-era house fall short

This brings to mind a commercial I hear or see every now and then about preserving the local history of our communities. In the radio version you hear someone talking about the place they got married, it goes something like this; "My husband and I got married at the gas station on the corner." There is a pause between before the words gas station because if you have never heard the commercial before you expect the person to say church. A similar commercial talks about an historical school building that goes something like; "I went to school at the shopping mall on (enter street name here)." Again there is a pause before the words shopping mall because you expect to hear the person say the name of the school. I can imagine at some point in the near future people who grew up in this neighborhood and lived in these houses, including the John Rochel house will say something to the effect of; "I grew up and/or lived in the new (enter name of the private school)." Or something similar if the school is not built. Again I ask where will it stop?

Here are the photo's I took of this beautiful and historic house and the surrounding area. Keep in mind these will likely be the last photo's that have possibly been taken of the house before it is destroyed. The houses in the back ground, some of whcih could be historical homes, may soon be gone as well.;

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I&M Canal Path

Completed in 1848 and in operation until the railroad caused it to cease to operate the Illinois & Michigan Canal was a major part of industry and the economy in Illinois. Here is a brief history of the canal and the people who helped make it happen, including what it is today;

Building the Canal

The I&M Canal brought people and prosperity to Chicago and the entire Midwest. It revolutionized the transportation system of Illinois and helped establish Chicago as a passageway for goods and people traveling throughout the continent. Today, Illinois is still a leader in transporting goods and people, but few realize that it all started with the I&M Canal.

Throughout history water has been the best way to transport people and goods. From 1673 on, explorers, politicians, investors, travelers and farmers alike saw the advantages of building a canal near Chicago that would link the waters of Lake Michigan with those of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, thus providing a water passage all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1825, when the Erie Canal opened as a link between the Great Lakes and Eastern seaboard, the proposed Illinois canal gained impetus because its construction would provide a continuous water highway stretching from New York to New Orleans.

After years of planning, the Canal Commissioners began building the I&M Canal in 1836, but faced numerous hurdles including a shortage of workers, and a national financial panic in 1837. Irish, as well as German, Swedish and other immigrants, attracted by the promise of abundant jobs, flocked to Illinois to begin the arduous work of digging the canal by hand.

The workers lived in rude shanties, and many died of diseases, including cholera and dysentery. During the summer months the men feared contracting malaria. On one occasion, workers, arguing that the whiskey would protect them from the disease, demanded that they be supplied with whiskey before they venture into the water to fabricate the canal's foundation. The hard-pressed contractor relented. In many cases canal workers were paid a dollar and a gill of whiskey per week.

The economic crisis of the late 1830s and early 1840s resulted in wage reductions for canal workers, and violence erupted on several occasions. For several years virtually all work on the canal was halted. By the early 1840s the state of Illinois was virtually bankrupt. Although unfinished, the completion of the I&M Canal was the one tangible hope for a brighter future. Fortunately, loans from European and American investors allowed the project to carry on, and the canal was completed in 1848.

Canal Operation

Even before it opened, the canal attracted people to the Midwest. As a result land values along the canal and in Chicago skyrocketed. Indeed, it was one of the most frenzied periods of real estate speculation ever. Chicago's incredible growth stemmed largely from the I&M Canal. By 1848 Chicago's population was around 20,000. This figure is modest by today's standards, but it represented a 500 percent increase in just 10 years.

1848 was a pivotal year in northern Illinois. The opening of the I&M Canal in April brought prosperity to the region by opening new trade markets and making passenger travel quicker. In January the first telegraph message was received in Chicago, bringing the region into communication with the rest of the country. Construction on the first railroad in Chicago began the same year. The Chicago Board of Trade was founded in March 1848, in anticipation of the increase in grain trade brought by the I&M Canal. The first steam-powered grain elevator also opened in 1848, and were soon to become a prominent feature in Chicago's skyline. After the Mexican War dramatically increased the size of the nation, Chicago and northern Illinois were transformed from a frontier into a metropolis linking both halves of the country.

In its first few years the canal exceeded the expectations of even its most ardent supporters. Corn and wheat flowed into Chicago in huge quantities, as did lumber cut from the hardwood forests of Michigan and Wisconsin, making Chicago the lumber capital of the world. Beef , pork, stone, coal, sugar and salt were among the commodities shipped on the canal.

The canal contained 17 locks, plus two near Chicago, four aqueducts, and a pumping station at Bridgeport in Chicago. It covered 96 miles, from Chicago to La Salle. The water supply came via the Chicago, Des Plaines, Little Calumet, Kankakee, and Fox rivers. The canal was 60- feet wide at the top, 36- feet wide on the bottom, and six- feet deep. Bridges, dams, locktenders' houses, and the towpath for the mules that pulled the boats were also constructed along the canal.

The I&M Canal carried on a lively passenger trade between 1848-1852. Canal packet boats carried thousands of people back and forth between Chicago and La Salle. Within five years, however, the completion of railroads that paralleled the canal route ended passenger traffic. The I&M Canal established Chicago as a transportation hub. Trains, cars and trucks, and airplanes all followed in its wake.

The canal had an immediate and lasting impact on the Midwestern economy. First and foremost, it opened the region to development. Before the canal, northern Illinois had no paved roads or railroads. Farmers and others found it difficult to ship goods to market. Without reliable transportation, many farmers only grew enough to supply themselves or their local community with food. During rainy seasons the few trails turned into rivers of mud, and in the summer, clouds of dust choked horses and people alike. With the canal open, a journey that in 1818 took fur traders three weeks, and in the 1830s took farmers days on muddy roads, took only 24 hours on a canal boat. Suddenly people, corn, wheat, stone, and other products poured into Chicago, and finished goods from the East Coast streamed into the West.

The I&M Canal was the last great American waterway built during the canal era. In the 1850s and 1860s the nation increasingly shifted to rail transport and thousands of miles of railroad were built. Railroads had many advantages over canals: they could run all year long, while canals were closed during the winter when the water froze; were faster and more flexible than canals, could be built anywhere and could build spurs to existing industries. Despite these advantages, the I&M Canal remained profitable until 1866, and shipped a record tonnage in 1882. The canal could best compete with the railroads by shipping heavy bulk items such as limestone, coal, and salt, and this competition kept railroad rates lower, giving Chicago an advantage over other Midwestern cities like St. Louis.

After 1900 use of the canal declined dramatically. There was a brief resurgence during World War I, but after this the canal fell into disrepair and was dubbed a "tadpole ditch." The opening of the Illinois Waterway in 1933 ended the shipping history of the canal, and saw the beginning of its transition to recreational use.

Passenger Travel on the Canal

With the opening of the I&M Canal in 1848, people in northeastern Illinois experienced a revolution in travel. In April of that year passenger boats began making the 96-mile trip from Bridgeport to LaSalle, and vice versa. For five years, before railroads paralleled the route of the I&M Canal, thousands of people experienced the joys and travails of traveling via canal packet boats. Indeed, the I&M Canal ushered in a new era in trade and travel for the entire nation. As the final link in a series of waterways, the I&M gave travelers the option of taking an all water route that connected Buffalo, Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans. These water highways provided a mud and dust-free alternative to overland travel.

In the nineteenth century, boats that traveled a regular route and carried passengers and mail were called packet boats. (The term packet originally meant a parcel of letters.) There are numerous accounts of travel on American canal packet boats, by esteemed literary figures such as Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

In general, people enjoyed traveling on packet boats during the day. In fair weather one could loll about on the deck, enjoying the passing scenery. Some played cards or backgammon, while others sang or read the latest newspapers. Since a trip on the I&M took anywhere from 17-24 hours, meals were also served. The sleeping arrangements aboard packets, however left much to be desired. As many as 120 people were crammed into the small cabin. Children slept on the floor, while wooden shelves served as beds for the adults. The fear of malaria meant that all windows were ordered closed, making for a long hot night in close quarters. Thus, we can conclude that travel on packet boats was something of a Jekyll and Hyde experience: pleasant during the day, much less so at night.

Even chief engineer William Gooding recorded some of the calamities that overtook him on a canal packet trip. The German canal driver complained of one horse in the team “vot wouldn’t go,” but Gooding laconically remarked that the driver was “as obstinate as the horse and a great deal less sensible.” The captain and crew were ‘hard cases” who seemed in no hurry, to the consternation of the passengers. The “villainous smell” of whiskey and tobacco constantly permeated the closed cabin, but Gooding reached the end of his endurance when he discovered that the boat contained no food, “except a little ginger bread, which a poor, half-starved, cadaverous looking passenger had thoughtfully stuffed into his pockets.”

By the end of 1852 the Chicago And Rock Island Railroad paralleled the canal, effectively ending the I&M canal packet boat. But the canal’s role in changing the face of travel did not go unrecognized. One local historian noted the impact of the packet boat trade. “As the horses drawing them trotted along through the country, it seemed a decided improvement to the settlers over the old ox team, beset by mosquitoes, and moving at a snail’s pace, without mentioning the inconveniences incident to camping in all kinds of places, as well as hunting stray oxen in the morning… The change from the ox team to the packets was as great to the early settlers, as that of the boat to the palace [Pullman railroad] cars has been to later generations.”

National Significance of the I&M Canal

The I&M Canal was the final link in a national plan to connect different regions of the vast North American continent via waterways. Linking the waters of the Illinois River (and ultimately the Mississippi River) with those of Lake Michigan, the idea of the canal went back to Louis Jolliet and the early French fur traders of the 1670s.

Since the birth of the new nation, American leaders had recognized the urgent need for a network of “internal improvements” to ease the problem of continental transportation. The success of the Erie Canal, completed in 1825, marked a period of intensive canal building in the U. S. Indeed, the years from 1790-1850 have been characterized as the Canal era. This chapter in our nation’s history has been largely overlooked, as most historians have focused on the railroads as the prime force behind America’s development.

The I&M Canal is nationally significant for many reasons. In 1827 the Federal Government gave the State of Illinois nearly 300,000 acres of prime farmland, the sale of which would finance construction of a canal. The I&M Canal shares with the Wabash Canal in neighboring Indiana the distinction of being the first American canals to receive federal land grant toward its financing. This precedent is of great historical interest, as it later served as the model for the first federal land grant to support a railroad-the Illinois Central Railroad.

In 1843, with construction of the I&M Canal stalled due to the State of Illinois’s near bankruptcy, investors from New York, England and France put up $1.6 million to complete the canal.

On its completion in 1848, the I&M Canal created a new transportation corridor. Travelers from the eastern U. S. took the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York, where steamboats brought them through the Great Lakes to Chicago. Transferring to canal boats, a 96-mile trip on the I&M Canal brought them to LaSalle/Peru. Here people boarded river steamers bound for St. Louis and New Orleans. During the years of the California Gold Rush many emigrants traveled part of the journey on the I&M Canal. During the nation-wide cholera epidemic of 1849, the disease came to Chicago via passengers on the I&M Canal.

Abraham Lincoln trumpeted the effects of the I&M Canal. While acknowledging that the I&M Canal was entirely within the confines of one state, (Illinois) he noted that its benefits extended far beyond those borders, reducing the cost of transporting goods, thus benefiting both buyers and sellers. “Nothing is so local as not to be of some general benefit,” wrote the future President. “the benefits of an improvement are by no means confined to the particular locality of the improvement itself.”

While the canal enjoyed only five years free of railroad competition, these years were absolutely critical in launching Chicago on its path to urban greatness, and in spawning a dozen other towns along its banks that would soon industrialize and help consolidate the western end of the American Manufacturing Belt in northern Illinois. The opening of the Illinois & Michigan canal radically reduced the costs of transferring goods, particularly grain, lumber, and merchandise, between Midwestern prairies and the East via the Great Lakes trading system. For the first time, the canal allowed goods from the southern U. S., including sugar, salt, molasses, tobacco, and oranges, to be shipped to Chicago. By cutting travel times, the I&M Canal also precipitated a new era of travel for people from the south to the north, and vice versa.

Architecture and the Canal

Whatever your taste from Greek Revival to Italianate to Romanesque Revival to Queen Anne—-one can find a wide variety of architectural gems in the I&M National Heritage Corridor. There are many nationally recognized architectural and engineering structures preserved throughout the corridor. Many towns, including Morris, Lockport, and Ottawa, have well-preserved downtowns.

The I&M Canal brought new kinds of architecture to the area, including grain elevators, the "cathedrals of the prairie," and huge warehouses. The canal itself was an engineering triumph, with its limestone walls and wooden locks, yet it did not disrupt the landscape as much as the railroads and highways later would. The towns that grew up along the canal developed thriving commercial districts, which soon came to be surrounded by residential areas. Today, along the leafy streets of canal towns, many of these homes are still providing visitors with views of our shared architectural legacy.

Although there is much industrial, utilitarian architecture along the corridor, more ornate buildings also are found. The Second Empire style of the massive Hegeler-Carus Mansion (1874) in La Salle provided an elegant framework for the printing presses of the Open Court Publishing Company, which were housed in the two-story basement. The Italianate Reddick Mansion (1858) in Ottawa, opposite historic Washington Square (site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858), is a sumptuously appointed nineteenth-century home.

Some of the most impressive structures in the corridor are built of native limestone. This stone was used to great advantage in buildings such as the L-shaped Joliet Public Library (1903), designed by noted Chicago- architect Daniel Burnham, and the Joliet Penitentiary (1858). Many limestone churches are also prominent in the corridor. St. James of the Sag Church in Lemont dates back to 1833, with the present structure erected in 1853 and later modified. Used not only for public buildings but residential and industrial structures as well, the distinctive limestone is also evident in many homes throughout the region, such as the Fitzpatrick House in Lockport.

Area residents not only designed and constructed fine buildings, they also published manuals which showed the common man how to build his own house. In 1857 Ottawa native William E. Bell published a book called Carpentry Made Easy, detailing an ingenious method of building called the balloon frame. The method was developed in the 1830s by Chicagoan George Washington Snow. This simple method, utilizing standard size boards and machine cut nails, allowed even unskilled workers to build houses, quickly, cheaply, and easily. Balloon frame construction helped to make possible the incredible growth of the western U.S., where trees were scarce. Wood from the Midwest, cut into standard-size boards, was shipped by rail to the West. Most wooden buildings erected today still use a method of construction derived from this system.

Any discussion of agriculture in Illinois must begin with the prairies. Contrary to some reports, which state that 2/3 of Illinois once contained prairies, other researchers have used a figure of 50% or less. Clearly, pre-settlement northeastern Illinois contained far more than prairie. All of the river valleys were fringed by forests, and wooded areas (prairie groves) were common. Wood was perhaps the most important commodity, essential for building houses, heating, and cooking. In fact, prairie lands were considered worthless by some due to the lack of timber.

The first wave of Europeans to settle in Illinois, beginning around 1800, were frustrated in their attempts to grow crops. The plows that they brought with them from the east could not break through the deep roots of the prairie plants. Around 1837 a Will County farmer named John Lane invented a new steel plow from old saw blades, and within years the plow became the new symbol of a prairie transformed. Illinois’ rich prairie soil now became some of the world’s most productive farmland.

However, farmers still faced a major impediment: a lack of a reliable means of transporting crops to market. Before the canal, the only way to move goods was by horse or mule power. Chicago had emerged as a major settlement in the late 1830s, but it was many miles distant from the richest farmland. Thus, farmers grew only enough to meet local needs. In 1848 the canal created a new transportation corridor that linked the rural districts of LaSalle, Grundy, and Will counties with the increasingly urban enclave of Chicago. Farmers now had an incentive to plant more acreage, giving agriculture a major impetus.

The opening of the canal in 1848 had a profound impact on agriculture in northeastern Illinois. According to Sauer (1918, pp. 72-3) the prairie soil of northeastern Illinois grew corn more readily than any other crop. “Previous to the building of the canal, however, its bulk had made it unprofitable except for home consumption, and wheat, being of less bulk relative to its value, was the chief cash crop. The canal, by reducing the cost of shipping, made corn the most profitable crop of the prairie. As a result the production of corn increased tremendously, whereas the growing of what was almost abandoned.” Corn also had the added advantage of being used as livestock feed. The canal propelled corn to its pre-eminent status as the major cash crop of northeastern Illinois, a position it has held ever since. Thus, the pattern established by the canal continues to hold true today, over 150 years later.

Large-scale agriculture also led to the destruction of Native American burial mounds. Fortunately, two of these have been preserved at the Briscoe Burial Mounds near Channahon. Agriculture has also been a threat to other archaeological sites, most notably the Zimmerman Site near Utica, opposite of Starved Rock. Also known as the Grand Village of the Illinois, the town once was home to as many as 10,000 Native Americans. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in Illinois, yet it was threatened with development until the State of Illinois purchased the land in 1991.

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, individual farmsteads steadily grew in size, as did productivity. Total acreage devoted to farming decreased dramatically, however, especially in Cook and Will counties. A great deal of research has been done on the changes in agriculture in Will County (Will County Rural Historic Structural Survey, 2003). This report notes that a significant portion of Will County agricultural land was obtained by the U. S. Army in 1940, land that became the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. Today of course, this same land is being reclaimed as a natural area by the federal government and local partners. The accelerating pace of farmland being converted to other uses is illustrated by the fact that between 1964 and 1992 the number of farms in Will County declined from over 1,800 to barely 1,000. Most of this decline is due to the increasing suburbanization of the United States, as urban areas around big cities continue to spread and sprawl at an uncontrolled rate. The tension between these two very different types of land usage is illustrated by an incident that occurred in the late 1980’s, when a Will County farmer was arrested after residents of a nearby subdivision complained to police that he was plowing his fields at night.

Industry and the I&M canal

Illinois' industrial prowess began with the I&M Canal. The canal’s proximity to a rich bounty of natural resources, including coal, limestone, and sand, led to the development of new industries. Today industry is still critical to the local economy. Petrochemical plants in Lemont and Joliet continue the tradition of heavy industry, and there are also steel mills and numerous sand and gravel operations in the corridor.

In the nineteenth century the canal provided waterpower to a number of industries, particularly in Lockport. The water level dropped 40 feet at this point, requiring five locks. Hiram Norton became one of Will County's richest men when he acquired the leases for the Hydraulic basin in Lockport. This powered a variety of milling operations. The Norton family's fortunes were tied to the canal, and they became bankrupt in 1896, as a result of declining use of the canal.

A thriving coal industry developed around La Salle and Morris in the mid 1850s, but it largely died out by WWI1 as more abundant and cheaper sites were developed further south. The St. Peter sandstone found between Ottawa and Utica provided almost pure silica sand and was used in a variety of industries, including glassmaking. There were many breweries in Joliet and Morris including the Gebhard Brewery, founded in 1866. Marseilles had a large paper and cardboard industry, later taken over by Nabisco. The Westclox factory in Peru became one of the world's largest manufacturers of alarm clocks.

In digging the canal, large quantities of a magnesium-rich limestone called dolomite were exposed. Within a few years a new industry was born, and dozens of quarries opened in Lemont, Lockport and Joliet, creating thousands of new jobs. This heavy, durable stone was easily and cheaply transported on the canal, and was used in many buildings throughout the corridor, including the Joliet Penitentiary and the Chicago Water Tower. By about 1900 the local building-stone industry was largely eclipsed when superior Indiana stone came to be favored. Today the regional stone industry produces crushed stone, used in the construction industry and for erosion control along lakes. Quarries still operate in the corridor at McCook, Romeoville, Joliet, and Lemont.

In August 1998 the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site [INSERT PHOTO] opened, telling the story of one of America's most innovative manufacturing plants. Located along a stretch of the I&M Canal, this cultural park is devoted to the history of the iron and steel industries. Originally opened in 1869, the Joliet plant soon added Bessemer converters to convert iron into steel. As a major producer of steel rails and barbed wire, the Joliet Iron Works dominated Joliet's economy for many years.

Many industrial barons played larger roles in their communities than just providing jobs. Two German immigrants with backgrounds in engineering, Frederick W. Matthiessen and Edward C. Hegeler, opened a zinc-smelting and refining works in La Salle in 1858. Matthiessen donated the land for the state park that bears his name. Hegeler bankrolled the Open Court Publishing Company, and another industrialist, Louis Gebhard donated the land for Gebhard Woods State Park.

Dubbed "Porkopolis," nineteenth-century Chicago became famous for its slaughterhouses and meat- packing industry. A number of former canal workers labored in meat- packing plants, many located near the I&M Canal along the South Branch of the Chicago River. Working conditions in these plants were horrendous, and Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle (1906) exposed the unethical practices and unsanitary conditions of the meatpacking industry. This remarkable book led to tough federal regulation of the industry.

The twentieth century brought new innovations in industry along the canal. World War II transformed the town of Seneca from a sleepy agricultural hamlet into a vital cog in the war effort. Due in part to its proximity to the Illinois River and several rail lines, Seneca was chosen to manufacture thousands of landing ship transports. These amphibious vehicles were used in many campaigns, including the invasion of Europe (D-Day) in 1944. At the start of the war the town's population was barely a thousand, but by 1944 the plant employed over 10,000 workers. After the war the town resumed its smaller size and more leisurely pace.


The I&M Canal was the first in a succession of waterways that shaped the development of northern Illinois. Canals played a central role in shaping the American economy. During the canal era in the U. S., from about 1790-1860, over 3,000 miles of canal were built. In 1825 the Erie Canal opened a water route to the West. The I&M followed soon after, giving Illinois the key to the mastery of the mid-continent. The I&M Canal created new trade and passenger routes, and transformed the frontier into a transportation center. By 1900 the I&M had largely outlived its usefulness, although it continued operating until 1933. The larger Sanitary and Ship Canal opened in 1900. The Cal Sag Channel, completed in 1922, also served industry. The Illinois Waterway, opened in 1933, established a deep-water shipping route between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. Today this route continues the tradition of water transport that helped define the Midwest. The latest link, the St. Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959 and connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes allowing ocean-going ships to dock at Lake Calumet.

In July 1871 the I&M played a central role in one of the boldest engineering feats ever attempted-—the reversal of the Chicago River. Contemporary observers called the river a "sluggish, slimy stream, too lazy to clean itself." Sewage and other waste dumped into the Chicago River, which emptied into the lake, had polluted Chicago’s water supply for years. The canal was deepened, allowing the waters of Lake Michigan to flow down the canal and into the Illinois River. Residents of canal towns, afraid of diseases being brought by the canal, were furious, and complained of the terrible smell, and reduced property values.

However, this achievement did not constitute a final solution, and in 1900, the Sanitary and Ship Canal permanently reversed the flow of the river. Many people today confuse the much wider and deeper Sanitary and Ship Canal with the I&M Canal; they run parallel to each other. The Sanitary and Ship Canal also performs the same functions as the I&M, namely the shipping of bulk goods and the transport of sewage. Most nineteenth- century canals were replaced by railroads or other means of transportation, but here in Illinois water is still an important means of delivering goods.

People Before Us

People have lived in the Heritage Corridor for at least 10,000 years. Although little is known about the first Native Americans who lived here, we do know that by 2,000 years ago they had developed elaborate civilizations. By 1700 the rapid spread of large-scale pioneer settlements seriously jeopardized Indian cultures. Tribes forced from their homelands in the eastern part of the U.S. encroached on the territories of Midwestern tribes, resulting in wars and the disruption of tribal traditions. The Black Hawk War of 1832 ended in defeat for a mixed band of Indians, and as a result the federal government implemented its policy of removing all Native Americans from Illinois. The tribes were forced to sign the Treaty of Chicago in 1833 and gave up their territories in exchange for lands west of the Mississippi River.

Remnants of the Indian tribes that once inhabited northern Illinois can be found in Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Indiana. Today over 20,000 Native Americans live in Chicago alone, but most are not related to the tribes that once held sway here.

The French also had a hand in shaping our culture. French Canadian fur trappers and missionaries began to arrive in the Midwest in the late 1600s. Many Frenchmen intermarried with the Native Americans and some adopted their customs. Two of the most famous Frenchmen in Illinois were Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette. In 1673, following the suggestion of Native Americans who had long known of the route, they traveled from the Illinois River to the Chicago River and on to Lake Michigan. Jolliet was the first, but by no means the last, to suggest that a canal be built to connect Lake Michigan and the waters that flowed to the Mississippi River.

The English were also a presence in northern Illinois. The Kinzies, early Chicago's "first family," were among the earliest English traders at Fort Dearborn. By 1850 the English were an important presence in La Salle and Grundy Counties. Many were farmers, and by the 1860s others had moved into mining.

Towns along the I&M National Heritage Corridor tell the story of the many immigrant groups who came to live and work in the region. The people who came to Illinois in the early nineteenth century were either recent immigrants or migrants from the eastern part of the US. In either case, they constituted a special breed, willing to start fresh, take any job, and work hard in a largely undeveloped place. They shared the American dream of freedom and economic prosperity.

The Irish, German, and Scandinavians were among the earliest groups to make the bold choice of living on the prairie frontier. These groups all worked on the construction of the I&M Canal. They transplanted their culture as best they could, but many of the amenities that they had grown accustomed to were not available in the Midwest.

The Irish began arriving in northern Illinois in large numbers in 1836, to work on the I&M Canal. They continued to pour into the area during the Great Potato Famine of 1845-7, during which time the population of Ireland decreased by over two million people through death and emigration. After 1848 many Irish moved to the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, where they worked in meat-packing plants and brickyards. Other Irish spread throughout northern Illinois, often becoming farmers in canal towns.

From 1860-1920 hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in the United States. Most were from southern and eastern Europe. Poles, Italians, Czechs, Greeks, Slovaks, Russians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, and Slovenians all flocked to the Corridor, taking jobs in a variety of industries. The tradition of closely-knit ethnic neighborhoods still characterizes many communities in the corridor today.

African Americans have lived in northern Illinois since the earliest days of the fur trade. The earliest African American in the corridor was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first known person to settle in what is now Chicago. In the early nineteenth century, portions of the Heritage Corridor were stops on the Underground Railroad. This informal network of individuals ferried blacks to freedom in the North. One of the stops was the American House Hotel in Joliet. The first blacks to migrate to the region in large numbers arrived to work on the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal between 1892 and 1900, and migration from the south increased dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century.

Today, the Chicago-area and surrounding communities have become even more ethnically diverse. Immigrants from all over the world are attracted to the jobs and quality of life here. In recent years Illinois has seen an influx of people from Asian countries such as Korea, India, and Japan. In addition, immigration from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba have added to the rich ethnic mix of the canal region.

Natural History

Imagine yourself sitting by a large tropical ocean. Marine invertebrates swim through coral reefs, warm breezes caress you, and the pungent smell of salt fills your nostrils. Welcome to northern Illinois, 400 million years ago. What is now Illinois was once 20 degrees south of the equator. The limestone (dolomite) bedrock underlying most of northeastern Illinois contains the remains of extinct trilobites and squid-like animals. One can still find fossils in these rocks throughout the corridor.

Fossils are also common near Morris; in fact this is one of the most famous fossil localities in the world. 300,000 million years ago, large, swampy forests harbored a variety of life here. The Mazon Creek fossil beds contain the remains of sharks, ferns, cockroaches, dragonflies, and spiders. Also found here is Illinois's state fossil, the bizarre Tully Monster, a worm-like creature which has never been found anywhere else.

More recently, about 2 million years ago, a series of glaciers, moving down from the north, ushered in the Ice Age. Despite the harsh conditions, many huge animals lived here. Giant beavers, some weighing as much as 300 pounds, cavorted near rivers, and mastodons and mammoths roamed the plains and forests. Although they are all now extinct, their bones can still be found. The last of the glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago, a mere blink of an eye to geologists. Lake Michigan, the prairies, our rivers, all were created by the movement of these glaciers.

The Illinois River Valley, which makes up much of the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor, has long been a haven for wildlife. The valley is also an important flyway for many species of birds. Many species have disappeared from the region, including bison, bears, and elk, but one can still find an abundance of wildlife, from the state-endangered black-crowned night-herons to bald eagles and coyotes.

The prairies that once covered almost half of Illinois are largely gone, but you can explore remnants of the original prairie landscape at several places in the Canal Corridor. The Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area in Morris, the Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve, and the Santa Fe Prairie in Hodgkins are just three of the places to see these magnificent tall grass prairies.

Just as significant are the many wetlands that dot the area. Many have been drained for agriculture and other development, but the few that remain provide spectacular glimpses of wildlife. Lake Renwick in Plainfield, once a quarry, is home to huge colonies of black-crowned night-herons, cormorants, and other large water birds. The Heidecke State Fish and Wildlife Area near Morris attracts fishermen and other nature lovers from all over the state.

One of the more spectacular efforts in prairie restoration is taking place right now in Joliet. During World War II, the Joliet Army Arsenal manufactured 5.5- million tons of TNT each week, making it the largest TNT plant in the world. Today, the site, named Midewin, is being transformed into a spectacular 19,000- acre preserve. Midewin comes from the Algonquian Indian word "Midewiwin"which refers to a Grand Medicine Lodge or healing society. Indian burial mounds on the site indicate that the area has been used by man for thousands of years. At least sixteen state-endangered animals and plants are found here, making it an important natural refuge in an increasingly crowded metropolitan area. There are plans to reintroduce bison (buffalo), the symbol of the prairie. Just an hour from downtown Chicago, Midewin will attract visitors from all over the world.

The many state parks in the corridor afford ample opportunities to see forests, prairies, wetlands, and other habitats. Starved Rock State Park is perhaps the best known park in Illinois. Each year millions of people climb the stairs to the top of Le Rocher, as the French called Starved Rock. For many, this site connects us to our Native American past as no other place can. The canyons, forests, and trails are beautiful year-round, and fishermen can try their luck in the Illinois River. Just opposite the park is the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, a terrific place to watch modern boats going through a lock.

The canal corridor has a number of trails for hiking, biking, or strolling. The longest is the I&M Canal State Trail, which runs 61.5 miles from Rockdale to La Salle. There are also the 2.25 mile Gaylord Donnelley trail in Lockport, the 4 mile Lemont Canal Trail and the 11 mile I&M Canal Bicycle Trail loop in Willow Springs.

Bibliography of above info.;
I&M Canal History

Link to Illinois Department of Natural Resources info.;
Illinois and Michigan Canal

Here are the photos taken of Lock 14 at LaSalle, Illinois, Utica, Illinois and along the trail. They include the museum exhibit on display in Utica, brief descriptions of what life was like along the canal, brief descriptions of the now historical figures involved with the canal's success and what is happening along the canal today.