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Illinois and Mississippi (Hennepin) Canal - RG 497 | Illinois State Archives

Name: Illinois and Mississippi (Hennepin) Canal - RG 497

Historical Note: The United States Congress authorized construction of the Illinois and Mississippi (Hennepin) Canal in 1887. 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. 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 such a canal. When the canal was opened in 1907 it was virtually useless. The Illinois River continued to be insufficiently navigable between LaSalle and Lockport. And even if this had not been the case the Illinois and Michigan Canal which connected the Illinois River to Lake Michigan was too shallow and too narrow to accommodate substantial and economically feasible craft. Further, overland railroad lines afforded cheaper, faster, and more dependable alternatives. The federal government closed the canal in 1951 and announced its intention to abandon it. The General Assembly created the Illinois-Mississippi Canal and Sinnissippi Lake Commission in 1953 to study the feasibility of the state's assuming title to canal lands and properties and converting them into a recreational area. The commission was composed of five members of the House appointed by the Speaker, five members of the Senate appointed by the president pro tempore, the directors of the Departments of Conservation and Public Works and Buildings, and one other member appointed by the Governor (L. 1953, p. 5). The state did not take possession of canal lands and properties until November 19, 1969 when the Governor signed acceptances of titles. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records concerning the canal subsequently were transferred to the Illinois Department of Conservation. The state, however, continues to negotiate with federal authorities regarding responsibility for maintaining canal railroad and highway bridges and dams. (P.A. 86-294, pp. 2184-2185).

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