Today, thousands of people pass through Chicago every day on cross-country trains, flights, and driving trips. But the city originally became a hub of transportation because it sat on the Illinois & Michigan Canal.
After more than a decade of construction delays, the canal opened in 1848, creating a direct waterway between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
The canal followed a 97-mile path long taken by American Indians to transport goods from the Chicago River on Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi.
Mules pulled the cargo barges along the canal from a parallel towpath, stopping when necessary to let the locks fill and empty. Towns cropped up along the route, separated by the typical distance covered by the mules in a single day.
The canal also transported passengers until the Rock Island Railroad opened a similar route in 1853. In 1933, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal opened, and the Illinois & Michigan Canal closed forever.
The Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor maintains the towpath as a hiking and biking trail. Enjoy a pleasant stroll or an invigorating bike ride through woods and farmland. You’ll see many historic structures that date to the canal’s heyday.