French explorers in 1673 envisioned a "a small amount of digging" to join Lake
Michigan with the Mississippi River, bypassing the non-navigable portions of the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers.
The streams were insufficient for even canoes in a dry summer but the route was a logical one for a canal from Lake Michigan to LaSalle where the Illinois River became a reliable waterway.
After the route was established Chicago became a boomtown and grew from a trading post in 1830 to a city where Abraham Lincoln was nominated for the
presidency 30 years later. Ottawa and Chicago were the first two towns laid out in 1830 by the Canal Commission.
The I&M Canal was part of the Industrial Revolution that stimulated development of the upper Midwest. Construction began in 1836 and was completed in 1848, at a cost of $6.5 million.
The canal made the 92-mile trip to Chicago possible in 22 hours, while stagecoach travel took 44 hours.
Today the canal is maintained as a recreational site suitable for hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, and in parts, snowmobiling.