THE HENNEPIN CANAL
Mitre Gate and Marshall Gate on the Hennepin Canal
Water colors by Jordan Murray
The Hennepin Canal is a long abandoned waterway in northwestern Illinois, between the Mississipi at Rock Island and the Illinois River near Hennepin.. The canal was listed on theNational Register of Historic Places in 1978.
This canal connected the Illinois River just south of Hennepin in Putnam County to the Rock River near Moline in Rock Island County and from there by way of a canal around the Rock River 's lower rapids at Milan to the Mississippi River at the city of Rock Island . From Hennepin in Putnam County the canal passes through Bureau, Henry, and Rock Island Counties with a feeder up to Rock Falls on the Rock River in Whiteside County . The Hennepin Canal slips quietly through five counties
The canal provided a way to overcome the outrageous freight prices to transport crops. The Hennepin Canal was built in Northern Illinois to lower freight prices,and had an effect on the history of Illinois
First conceived in 1834 as a connection between the Illinois and Mississippi River , financial problems in the state delayed many public works projects surveys on the project.. Farmers and other shippers on the upper Mississippi had lobbied for this more direct water route from their part of the state to the shipping lanes of the Great Lakes . As early as 1874 some nine hundred delegates had attended a convention at Rock Island to petition for the canal. Under pressure for transportation that was cheaper than rail convinced Congress to authorize preliminary surveys on the project in 1871 . Although a survey had been made, from 1886 to 1889 Congress had considered plans but no construction had been started; however, in the year 1890 Congress provided $500,000 to start the first five miles regulate railroad freight rates
The engineer asked the Secretary of War to use concrete for the locks. This request was strange because all locks in that time period were made from cut stone. On May 11, 1891 , regardless of what locks were made of in the past, the Secretary of War granted permission to use concrete. Because concrete cost fifty percent less than cut stone masonry.
The Hennepin Canal construction project began September 19, 1890 . When construction started, the estimated cost of the project was $6,925,900. Now that the planning had been approved, construction must be started; however, unlike many American canals, the Hennepin Canal was constructed after railroads came into being. Consequently, eight bridges had to be built. In addition to the railroad bridges, sixty-seven highway bridges had to be constructed too, thus creating delays
The first boat went through in 1907, the canal was soon abandoned because of railroad competition. Overland railroad lines afforded cheaper, faster, and more dependable alternatives
Although the canal was not as successful, some good came from it. In 1920, Ray Mechling and Fred Wolf of Rock Falls began a barge line. The canal required smaller barges so the two bought a steam boat and began erecting barges. They bought gravel and transported it to people who were interested in buying some. Besides gravel they shipped steel and coal for International Harvester Company . Traffic on the canal was never heavy, and critics complained that it was outdated when it was constructed and that it was too small and only good for the early days of canaling
The canal is a total of 75 miles
There are 33 locks on the canal. Thirty-two are still visible. The first one, on the Illinois River , has been under water since the 1930's. Fourteen of the locks had gates. Five of the locks have been restored to working condition, although they are not used. One of these is a Marshall Gate lock. All of the gates from the remaining locks have been replaced with concrete walls, creating a series of waterfalls
The Corps did make back some of the original $7 million price to build and run the canal by selling ice permits, building ice houses and renting pasture along the right of way.
By 1940 the Hennepin totally abandoned
In 1970, it was placed under the supervision of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Today the canal is used for recreational purposes. A trail along the canal allows people to walk, jog, or bike down the canal. Fishing is also popular along the canal
Water color #1 (left) #16 Mitre Gate looking east and down the canal.
Water color #2 (right) #16 Marshall Gate looking west and up the canal.
Historic Encyclopedia of Illinois-1907
Builder tells early days of canal-Sterling Gazette-Apr. 25, 1938
Friends of the Hennepin Canal Website Here
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