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ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES


The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911

A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives


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DOCUMENT 46
LETTER FROM NORTON & CO. TO THE CANAL TRUSTEES CONCERNING DEEPENING THE CANAL
May 7, 1866






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Explanation

Chicago in 1865 contained 178,900 inhabitants, all of whom were producing garbage and waste, most of which was deposited in the Chicago River. This virtually stagnant waterway was obnoxious to smell and a danger to public health. An act of the General Assembly approved in February of 1865 was designed to address this problem. Chicago was authorized to enter into an agreement with the canal trustees to deepen the canal's depth along the Summit Division. The new "deep cut" was to insure a steady flow of Lake Michigan water into the Chicago River, into the I and M, and from there into the Des Plaines River at Lockport. The Des Plaines connects with the Illinois River which flows into the Mississippi.

The project was to be conducted in stages and mostly while the canal normally was closed to traffic over the winter months. By the time this new cut had been completed in 1871 Chicago had invested nearly $3,000,000 in this work. But unfortunately, after only a single decade this solution no longer was viable. By 1881 an increased volume of sewage, an increasingly clogged canal, and a lower Lake Michigan level combined to pose a real health threat to Chicago residents.

Norton & Co. was a leading canal customer. It operated a major mill works at Lockport which was powered by canal water. Wheat was transported to those mills from the Chicago harbor and returned there in the form of flour, all by way of company owned and operated canal boats. The Norton company agreed to relinquish the claim it had filed in this document in return for a twenty-year lease of the additional water supply the "deep cut" promised to provide at Lockport when completed.

Points to Consider

Why was Norton & Co. submitting a claim for $24,800?
Why was the I and M being deepened in 1866?
How was this project going to impact residents along the Des Plaines, down river from Lockport?
Why would such a project not be acceptable today?


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