Kankakee River and Feeder Canal

Sign describing Kankakee Feeder Aqueduct

During the construction of the Illinois Michigan Canal, it became evident that there was a problem with the water levels at Channahon.  There apparently was excessive seepage of water through the underlying gravel.  The first solution to this problem was the construction of a short feeder from the DuPage River to the canal.  This however did not fix the low water levels. This short feeder was dismantled.

     The next solution was the Kankakee Feeder Canal.  A dam was built across the Kankakee River near the center of Wilmington Township.  This was called the state dam.  It’s purpose was to force water from the river into the feeder canal on the north bank. The course of this man made waterway was north and west.  As it approached the DesPlaines River, it entered a wooden aqueduct with limestone piers.  This crossed the river and entered the Illinois Michigan Canal.  This was in the area of McKinley Park.

McKinley Park near the site of the former Kankakee Feeder aqueduct over the DesPlaines River

     With the opening of the Illinois Michigan Canal, citizens in Wilmington and in other areas along the Kankakee River sought to make changes to make the river navigable.  There were several unsuccessful attempts.  Interest in the project also wanned as the promise of a railroad developed.

     In 1870 a group of investors from Massachusetts sought to complete the work on the Kankakee canal.  It was completed in a timely fashion.  When done, it spanned 21 miles from Warner’s landing to the Illinois Michigan Canal.  The completed project included: 1) raising the level of the state dam by 2 feet: 2) dam and lock a mile upstream; 3) 14 foot earthen dam at Wilmington; 4) over flow dam at the island at Wilmington; 5) 16 foot dam 950 feet long a mile above Wilmington; 5) lock just south of the highway bridge at Wilmington.  The locks were made of limestone.   The locks accommodated 100 feet by 18 feet.  Early on barges were towed by horses.  Later steam ships were used.

     Unfortunately, the canal was not in service for a long period of time. The dams and locks were damaged by flooding and ice.  They were never rebuilt.

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