The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 gave Illinois the key to mastery of the American mid-continent.
The dream of the canal had animated every vision and underlaid every plan for Illinois for 200 years before. As that vision was realized, the canal’s commissioners laid out a canal port that would grow into a great metropolis; their fellow citizens patented agricultural and industrial innovations that would make this the richest economic zone the world had ever seen. That Illinois is now the most populous inland American state, and Chicago the greatest city of the American heartland, are directly traceable to the 96-mile ditch that linked the Great Lakes to the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
After years of economic decline, the newly revitalized Canal Corridor is now becoming a splendid living history museum of American enterprise, technological invention, ethnic diversity, and cultural creativity – a terrific visitor destination for recreation and heritage tourism.
The Canal Corridor Association aims to helps Illinoisans and their guests understand that they too are parts of an exciting historical tradition.
The Illinois and Michigan Canal is one of the best-kept secrets of American history. Though few know today how important it was, everyone here knew it a century and a half ago. We cannot know Illinois’ history without understanding how the Canal, as a symbol of the continent-straddling ambitions of America, made it possible for a great civilization to arise here.