In 1673, Indian guides showed French explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette a short land route, or portage, that connected the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River System, revealing one of the key water routes across the continent and ultimately establishing Chicago as a major trade center. A memorial to that important discovery, the Chicago Portage National Historic Site, established in 1952, preserves that vital link as part of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor.

Chicago Portage National Historic Site
©Library of Congress
In 1673, Joliet and Marquette traversed a portage between the Great Lakes and
the Mississippi River System with the help of Indian guides.

Marquette and Joliet paddled their canoes up the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers to Portage Creek, where they carried their goods and canoes about a mile and a half to the Chicago River and continued to Lake Michigan. Joliet immediately envisioned a canal connecting the two waterways to bypass the portage.

It wasn't until 1848 that the Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed, linking the Chicago River at Bridgeport to the Illinois River at La Salle. Despite competition from railroads, the canal was a successful commercial route and helped spur the growth of Fort Dearborn into the metropolis that Chicago is today.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is developing the site. At present, a marker and 20-foot statue commemorate Marquette and Joliet and their Indian guides. Visitors can follow the portage trail used by the explorers along a sandy ridge in Ottawa Trail Woods to the site of Laughton's Trading Post, where Indians and traders bartered their goods.

Chicago Portage National Historic Site Information

Address: Portage Woods Forest Preserve at Harlem Avenue and 47th St.
Lyons, IL
Phone: 708/366-9420
Hours of Operation: Open 24 hours a day
Admission: Free

Learn more about these other national historic sites:

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic SiteClara Barton National Historic Site
Fort Larned National Historic Site
Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
Adams National Historic Site
Edgar Allen Poe National Historic SiteFort Raleigh National Historic SiteHampton National Historic SiteLincoln Home National Historic SitePuukohola Heiau National Historic SiteTheodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic SiteEdison National Historic SiteFort Scott National Historic SiteHarry S. Truman National Historic SiteLongfellow National Historic SiteSagamore Hill National Historic SiteThomas Stone National Historic Site
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Eisenhower National Historic Site Fort Smith National Historic Site Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Maggie L. Walker National Historic SiteSaint Paul's Church National Historic SiteThomas Stone National Historic Site
Boston African -American National Historic Site Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic SiteFort Vancouver National Historic SiteHome of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic SiteManzanar National Historic Site

Saint-
Gaudens National Historic Site

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Eugene O'Neill National Historic SiteFrederick Douglass National Historic SiteHopewell Furnace National Historic SiteMartin Van Buren National Historic SiteSalem Maritime National Historic SiteUlysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Ford's Theater National Historic SiteFrederick Law Olmsted National Historic SiteHubbell Trading Post National Historic SiteMary McLeod Bethune House National Historic Site Saugus Iron Works National Historic SiteWeir Farm National Historic Site
Charles Pinckney National Historic SiteFort Bowie National Historic SiteFriendship Hill National Historic SiteJames A. Garfield National Historic SiteMc Loughlin House National Historic SiteSewall -Belmont House National Historic SiteWhitman Mission National Historic Site
Chicago Portage National Historic Site
Fort Davis National Historic SiteGloria Dei Church National Historic SiteJimmy Carter National Historic SiteNinety Six National Historic Site Springfield Armory National Historic SiteWilliam Howard Taft National Historic Site
Christiansted National Historic SiteFort Laramie National Historic SiteGolden Spike National Historic SiteJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic SitePalo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Steamtown National Historic Site

Find out more about travel destinations in North America:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.