Fox River Feeder Canal; Lateral Canal; Hydraulic Basin.

     The Illinois Michigan Canal, the Fox River Feeder Canal, the Lateral Canal, and the Hydraulic Basin are all part of the complex anatomy of the canal in Ottawa, Illinois.
     In order to keep the water level of the I and M Canal constant, feeder canals were established at various locations.  One such canal was the Fox River Feeder.  This extended from Dayton to Ottawa in LaSalle County. It intersected the I and M Canal north of Superior Street

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Mule Barn on the Lateral Canal

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Mule Barn on the Lateral Canal


The lateral canal was an extension of the feeder canal south of the I and M canal. Just south of main canal was a basin. At the south end of the basin, there was a set of locks. The purpose of these locks was to provide a six foot drop in the lateral canal. A trail race at the locks was a source of hydraulic power. The canal continued south along what is now Canal Street. There was then an eastern turn of the canal–the so called hydraulic basin. This eventually fed into the Fox River. At this junction, there was a spillway. This helped to provide hydraulic power for local businesses.
To recapitulate, the flow of the water was south from Dayton from the Fox River in the feeder canal; across the I and M Canal; into a basin at the entrance of the lateral canal; there was a set of locks at the distal end of the basin; there was a six foot drop across the lock; down the lateral canal to the hydraulic basin; east to the junction with the Fox River. In its prime, there were several businesses along the later canal and the hydraulic basin. These included warehouses, mills and grain elevators. Some of these include: Sanderson Refrigeration Factory, Moody and Company Feed Mill and Cider Press, Foundry and Pattern Shop, Ottawa Bottle Mould Company, H.C. King and Pump Factory. Many of these
were powered with hydraulic power. There were many bridges across the lateral canal.
During the early 1900’s, there had been significant deterioration in the I and M canal due to neglect. It was felt to be beyond repair with no significant commercial value.
In the 1920’s, the main Illinois Michigan Canal, the lateral canal and the hydraulic basin were intact and functional. They however had no commercial use. They were in a state of disrepair. The businesses that lined the lateral canal and the hydraulic basin were long gone.
The bridges over the main canal and the lateral canal were still operational but in a state of disrepair.
In the early 1930’s, Ottawa mayor Hubert Hilliard proposed dismantling the lateral canal and hydraulic basin as a public works project. The goal was to provide employment to people affected by the depression. After facing many legal and monetary hurdles, the project proceeded. In a short time, the basin at the entrance of the lateral canal and the lock were eliminated. The bridges over the lateral canal were demolished. The canal was filled in. The hydraulic basin was demolished and filled in. It became a parking lot. Finally, the spillway at at the junction of the hydraulic basin and the Fox River was demolished and filled in. It was converted to a street. Ultimately, the only evidence of the existence of these structures was stone work at the former entrance of the lateral canal.
Personal reflections. It seems ironic that at approximately the same time frame that the CCC was engaged in renovation and preservation projects along the I and M Canal, the city of Ottawa appeared hell-bent on destroying the heritage of the I and M canal, the lateral canal, and the hydraulic basin.
An interesting book on this subject is The Illinois Michigan Canal at Ottawa, Illinois During the 1920’s and Early 1930’s by John A. Hillard (son of the Ottawa mayor)

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