Thursday, July 29, 2021

I&M Canal and Lincoln/Douglas Debate

Location: Starved Rock State Park Campground; Utica, Illinois

I'm in sort of internet la-la land. My connection comes and goes like waves approaching the beach. Since this campground is about half way between Chicago and St. Louis, I figure Verizon hasn't put a tower in the middle. So, my internet comes from the east then the west, then repeats. It's frustrating, but it's OK. I started this post yesterday but gave up do to the internet problem. This morning, the internet seems more stable. I wonder if the severe thunderstorms blowing through the area has anything to do with it? There will be a lot of pictures with this post so the captions will say what the post doesn't.

My campsite at Starved Rock State Park. The name of the park comes from a legend that says Pontiac, war-chief of the Ottawa Indians was killed by a brave from the Illinois Indians. In revenge, the Ottawas and their allies, trapped a lot of Illinois Indians on an outcropping overlooking the Illinois River. The Ottawas laid siege and starved the trapped indians, thus the name Starved Rock. This is legend of course. One part of the legend is known to be false. Although Pontiac was indeed killed by an Illinois Indian, the location was not here but in Cahokia. One of life's little circles since I was as Cahokia a few days ago. The campground is electric only and is in need of more lawn mowers. I've been told, they have the mowers, but like so many other places, they are having problems hiring people to do the mowing. The Illinois governor has not eliminated the extra unemployment provided by the federal government so employees are staying home and drawing unemployment.  

The reason I came here was to see what is left of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The construction of this canal changed a large part of our country in the late 1800's. It's not as famous as the Erie Canal back east, but still very important. Before the canal, the main shipping/transportation routes in the country were the Great Lakes which flowed east, the Mississippi River which went north/south and the Ohio River which went from the Mississippi River to the northeast but ended in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania. None of these systems connected with each other except the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. A farmer in the mid-west wanting to ship his corn to market, had very few choices back in the mid-1800's before the railroad came along. He could ship his crop by wagon to the nearest river, and if navigable, may connect to the Mississippi River which could take it to New Orleans where it could be put on an ocean freighter up the east coast to the large population centers around New York City. This network worked in reverse for the things manufactured in the northeast part of the country to be shipped out west. Something needed to be done.

A 96 mile long canal changed all of that and helped create our third most populated city. The canal was the Illinois & Michigan Canal (I&M Canal). It began in Chicago and went west to LaSalle, Illinois. It connected Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes to the Illinois River which drained into the Mississippi River. It was dug my hand and needed 17 locks to lift/lower the barges on the canal. Work began in 1836 and traffic was opened on the canal by 1848. Everything on this new transportation network went through the small town of Chicago which grew and grew until it was the largest and most important inland port in the country. Today it is number 3 in terms of population. Once the canal was completed, a person could board a boat in New York Harbor and by way of the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes, the I&M Canal, the Illinois River, the Mississippi River get to New Orleans. A complete water route. Besides passengers, barges carried freight in both direction. The canal did its job well for 50 years until it was replaced by the railroads and highways. It was virtually abandoned in 1900 and officially closed in 1933. This 96 mile canal did so much for the expansion of this country and you can still see parts of it today. 

There is a passenger canal boat that takes tours of a one mile stretch of the old canal, but not on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Of course those are the days I'm here. I'm not sure if I would have taken the tour or not. I did take a ride on the Erie Canal several years ago which was great. You can read about it here >>> I'll post the link in an edit once I get to a better internet connection. One other feature I really wanted to see was the Fox River Aqueduct. What happens when a canal intersects with a river? You have to build an aqueduct so the canal can to span the river. One of those is still around too. 

This is the last hand-operated lock in the system and is looking upstream. The remnants of the old canal is on the left and the tourist boat is on the right. 

This is looking into the lock. Notice the width. The width of all boats that traveled on the canal were controlled by this width. In the background is the "waiting basin" of the Illinois River. Steamboats would wait there to transfer goods and passengers to and from canal boats. 

The perspective of this picture is standing under the modern bridge you can see in the first picture. The canal is on the left and the trail on the right is for the mules to walk. All canal boats were powered by mules.

This where the mules hang out on their days off. There are suppose to be two so I guess one is in the barn. They earn their keep by pulling the tourist boat a mile upstream and back.

That is the Fox River Aqueduct on the left. I'm standing on the part where the mules walked. (no jokes about that). It doesn't take much imagination to see the aqueduct full of water and boats floating on it. 

To help with the imagination, there is an old picture of the aqueduct on an informational panel near the site. 

This is from down below looking up at the aqueduct. The massive piers were made from limestone blocks. Remember, with an aqueduct, you just have to design the structure to handle the bridge itself and the water. It doesn't matter if the boat is carrying one pound or a million pounds, it's all the same. 

This nice thinking bench with plenty of shade is located near the aqueduct. It is looking out on the Fox River. 

A couple of nice houses with a view. To my back is the Illinois River and I'm standing in nice city park.

A modern lock and dam with hydro-electric powerhouse on the Illinois River. The lock is in the foreground with the dam in the back. The square building along the dam is the powerhouse where the electricity is made. I didn't recognize it at first since there were the usual high number of electrical transmission lines. But one of the information panels pointed it out to me. I'm standing in an observational area where the public can watch river traffic pass through the locks. It reminded me of the Soo Locks in upper Michigan that passes traffic between Lakes Superior and Huron.

Dang, another thinking bench to try out. How can a man finish his exploring with so many benches. Hmmmm.

When I was in Ottawa exploring the old aqueduct, I noticed a really nice park in the middle of town. Two statues were in the center. Of course I had to stop and see since it was a really nice looking park. Wow, to my surprise it was statues of Abraham Lincoln and Stephan A. Douglas. Surprise, surprise. Ottawa was the location of the first of seven debates between the two men back in 1858 when Lincoln was running for the U.S. Senate. Douglas was the Democrat incumbent and Lincoln was the upstart from the newly created Republican party. They agreed to debate each other across the state of Illinois. The debates were 3 hours long and in Ottawa, it attracted over 14,000 people. Of course, Lincoln lost that Senatorial election but ended up winning the Presidency two years later in 1860. Extra points if you know who Lincoln ran against for President in 1860. Yep, Stephen A. Douglas. And you can bet those debate from the Senate race were published throughout the country. Those debate highlighted the split in the country over slavery. A quick summary would be Douglas was for States Rights so the new states to the union could decide for themselves as to slavery or not in their state. There was a poison pill to this which was if a state chose slavery and a slave escaped from that state, there would be no law to help capture that slave and bring him back. Lincoln on the other hand, was more inclined to having a large federal government that would dictate to the states about slavery or not. Although both men knew slavery was going to end on its own eventually, neither man wanted to outlaw it and free the existing slaves. These debates, while essentially for only a Senate seat, had nationally implications for decades afterwards. That is why we were taught about them in High School history class. I wonder if they are still taught today? And here I was, stumbling across the location while just wandering around. 

Very nice city park. The statues are of Lincoln and Douglas. It is hard to imagine the two men debating for 3 hours. Asking each other questions and having to speak loud enough for 14,000 people to hear the questions and answers. The press had to quickly write down what was said so they could publish it since there weren't any recording devices. By the way, the older couple in the background on the bench had stopped for a rest. I talked with them for a little while. It seems they walk just about every day and this is one of their rest stops. Yep, that is a walker he has next to him. Nice couple. 

Irony of ironies. That is a Civil War memorial in the background. In the same location that as Lincoln-Douglas. When it was constructed, people understood about statues and memorials, unlike some of the knuckleheads today.

 Today is moving day but I won't be pulling out until around noon because I only have a 90 mile tow to the next campground. The check-in time there is 4:00. I don't remember campgrounds having such late check-in times from my previous travels. Maybe I just didn't pay attention. I'll probably call the campground before leaving to see if I can check-in early. If they are nice camp hosts and the campsite is empty I hope to get set up by 2:00 or so. Bad storms are passing just to the north of me. I'm getting some rain and can hear the thunder. It should pass through by 9:00 so I can empty my tanks on the way out of this campground. About half of the campers here are in tents, so I hope the storm passes without doing any damage. Of course, that goes for Liberty too since she's parked under some trees. Oh well, we will see. 

Another one of those things I stumbled across while exploring the city of Ottawa. Some artist great talent to create this illusion on a brick wall.

Very cool uh?

For those who were worried. 
Liberty's right tail light/blinker is now working.
It was just a burned out bulb.

I'm going to quickly post this before my internet goes down again. My next stop will be a Corps of Engineers campground on the Mississippi River near Davenport, Iowa.

Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road. 



  1. Nice informative post....I'll put this area on my list for future travel. Thanks