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.
©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.
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.
Hours of Operation: Open 24 hours a day
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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.