Illinois Michigan Canal in Joliet

It is difficult to describe the geography of the I and M canal as it winds its way through Joliet.  The reason for this is the history of the area.  The canal was completed between 1836 to 1848.  Until the 1890’s, it was very stable in appearance.  However, in the 1890’s, it appearance was altered by the construction of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  A second alteration occurred with the development of the Illinois Deep waterway.

Possible remnants of Original Lock 5.

Remnant of old Lock5

Originally, as the Illinois Michigan Canal headed  north and east towards the city of Joliet, it was adjacent to the DesPlaines River along its west bank.  A dam (2) was built on the river near Jefferson Street. This created a widening called the lower basin.  Just east of the dam, there was a guard lock on the canal at the site where the canal entered the river.  The purpose of this lock was to prevent the river from backing up into the canal. The merged canal and river proceeded east to Jackson Street.  At this location, there was a lock (5) and a dam. The dam created a second widening of the river called the upper basin.  The dam also provided hydroelectric power for Economy Light and Power.  The merged canal and river proceeded north and east of this area until the canal eventually entered its separate channel on itsway towards Lockport.  There was apparently a guard lock at this site.


Dam 2  DesPlaines River

With the creation and the extension of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, there were multiple changes.  The Jackson Street dam on the river was replaced  with an new one that was 2 feet higher. Lock 5 was rebuilt and raised 2 feet in height.  This new lock was in operation by 1899.  There was a bypass tunnel from this lock to supply water to the canal extending from north of the dam to Lock 6 at Channahon.  A concrete wall was built separating the canal from the river from  Jefferson Street probably to north of the Ruby Street Bridge.  This wall eliminated the need for a guard lock at the former confluence of the canal and the river.  This was taken down in the late 1890’s.  Finally, the Jefferson Street dam was taken down.


Lock Guard Removal

In 1908, the Sanitary and Ship Canal was extended two miles south.  In this region, there was a new power house.   A dam and lock was built at this site.  The lock was 22 feet in width and 130 feet long.  The maximum lift of this lock was 41 feet.    The lock was in service for only  several years.  This improvement was to replace the I and M Canal in Lockport and Locks 1-4.

In 1933, the Illinois Waterway opened on the Illinois River downstream from Lockport.  Several new features were constructed.  A new lock was built at the Lockport power house dam east of the original lock.  A large dam and lock were constructed at Brandon Road.  As a result of this, the I and M canal was flooded back through Joliet.    The tow path and dividing wall were submerged.   This also created a navigation pool extending back to the Lockport Dam.   The dam and lock 5 at Jackson street were eliminated.  Near the Brandon Road dam, a new lock (probably 5) was constructed for the I and M canal.  This connects the pool covering the original canal upstream to the remainining canal downstream.  The upstream side of this lock is covered by a concrete wall.  From personal experience, I can say that access to this area is restricted by the army corps of engineers.


Rebuilt Lock 5  near Dresden Road

I and M Canal West of rebuilt Lock5















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