Aug 30, 2010

Canal Origins Park

I made a visit by bicycle over the weekend to a place called Canal Origins Park. In an industrial neighborhood at 29th and Ashland, this tiny park overlooks the south branch of the Chicago River.

Directly across Ashland Avenue is the huge Sun-Times plant. It's a quiet place, altho maybe during the week employees from the plant come to sit by the water and have lunch. The historical aspect of the park is that it sits at what was once the beginning of the important Illinois & Michigan Canal waterway. The canal helped to establish Chicago as a major inland port:
Canal Origins Park represents the beginning point of the historic Illinois and Michigan (I & M) Canal, a 96-mile long man-made waterway that was built to provide a link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. As explained by authors Blanche Shroerer, Grant Peterson, and S. Sydney Bradford "Just as the Erie Canal secured New York City's position as the most important shipping center on the East Coast, the Illinois and Michigan Canal guaranteed Chicago's place as the key transporation center in the Middle West." The United States Congress made its initial land grant to Illinois in 1822, and ground was finally broken for its construction in 1836. It opened in 1848, and its impact on Chicago's growth was soon apparent.

The city had only 4470 residents in 1840, when the canal was being built. In 1850, the city had a population of nearly 30,000 and fouryears later it had more than doubled to 74,500 residents. The I & M Canal reached its peak in 1882 when hundreds of boats used the waterway to transport over a million tons of cargo.

Although the I & M Canal was rarely used to transport cargo after the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal opened in 1900, it continued to be used by recreational and excursion boats. The United States Congress established the Illinois & Michigan Canal Heritage Corridor in 1984.

The park has a connection to the year 1944, as can be seen on the (regrettably) graffiti-marred sign above. While practically all the signage at the park suffers from this type of defacement, at least the park is relatively clean, and the native plant sections are very calming and pretty. It's definitely a place worth seeing.

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