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Historic Will County Buildings along I&M Canal at Lockport

CANAL:
I&M Canal at Romeoville, Lockport and Joliet

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This destination was a celebration of the bicycle. Starting at the new and fascinating Isle A La Cache Museum and Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois (www.fpdwc.org/isle.cfm) and heading south along the former tow path of the old I & M Canal, the Getaway Guys cruised into historic downtown Lockport for lots to see and a great lunch. Continuing to cruise south they arrived at the historic ruins of the Joliet Iron Works (very well documented with interpretive signage) where they spent time learning and looking. All in all an easy day of biking and rubber necking.

lockport1With few differences of opinion, both Guys had their favorite exhibits at the Isle A La Cache Museum. They thought the newly renovated Museum does an outstanding job of explaining the significance of very early trade between Native Americans and their European trading partners. The exchange of beaver pelts (Neil, pictured, thought they were pellets) for European trade goods (guns, etc.) being a primary enterprise of the Isle A La Cache site in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (The Global economy is not so new after all!)

lockport2The old I&M Canal is abandoned now. Its languid waters resting peacefully where once canal boats stirred the surface as they moved tons of shipping from Lake Michigan and the East Coast to the Mississippi River and the wild west. The horses, the drivers and the support systems once essential to a thriving commerce are gone and in its place weeds grow and cyclists like Neil and Alan pedal leisurely from one stop to another. Parts of the ride between Isle A La Cache in Romeoville and the ruins of the Joliet Iron Works outside Joliet are attractive and inviting, while parts are distressingly ugly and poorly managed (in the Guys' opinion). Nevertheless the old I&M tow path turned bike path is steeped in the history of Chicago's development and according to the guys, a very worthwhile and pleasurable journey to take.

lockport5Since last being in Lockport (maybe 10 years) both Guys were surprised and delighted. Somebody has a thinking cap on and obviously more than one person cares. Not only cares about preserving a trove of historic buildings, but also about putting them to use for the good of Lockport and visitors such as the Getaway Guys. Once a grain storage building and dry goods emporium belonging to the ancestors of the Donnelley's (Yellow Pages), the Gaylord Building (www.nationaltrust.org) now houses the Canal Corridor Association with an extremely well done and informative exhibit related to the building of the Canal and its use. The Public Landing Restaurant (815-838-6500), occupying an adaptive use space (c. 1830) adjacent to the Gaylord Building serves an enticing lunch at very reasonable prices. The dinner menu looks very promising too. Holding down the southern end of what the Guys called “a walk down memory lane” is the Norton Building, a one time grain storage facility and once the property of the Norton Family, this outstanding example of adaptive use now houses the Lockport Gallery (www.museum.state.il.us/ismsites/lockport) of the Illinois State Museum. Another example of Lockport's rebirth, the Lockport Gallery features art exhibitions of past and present Illinois artists. When the Guys visited, an exhibition of works by Preston Jackson was on display.lockport3

Between the Norton and Gaylord Buildings and a block away from the Canal is the Will County Historical Society (www.willcountyhistory.org) which occupies the former headquarters of Illinois and Michigan Canal. In a wood frame building built in 1837, the Society maintains not only an archive of information related to Lockport and the Canal (available upon request), but a great many artifacts as well. It is cluttered and the lighting is a wee bit dim (as it should be), but fascinating as the dickens. Along the Canal (between the Norton and Gaylord Buildings [again!], 12 restored buildings representative of typical 19th century rural American architecture (real, not ersatz) arranged in what appeared to be a somewhat haphazard fashion. None are open to the public, but viewing their exteriors was visually rewarding. Staying in character Alan's favorite was the Mokena Jail (Mister Serious) and Neil's favorite, Symerton's long ago train depot (Mister Romantic). Thanks to Main Street Lockport (www.mainstreetlockport.org) and its Self-guided Walking Tour brochure the guys took a brisk inventory of the numerous century old commercial buildings found in the heart of downtown Lockport prior to continuing their bike ride. The guide is excellent for finding and identifying these structures. At 909 South State Street one in particular grabbed Neil's attention. A three story building of limestone and brick, the Daggett Building (1850) houses Canal House Antiques. “You would," Neil could hear Alan mutter. “But it's a great place,” Neil pleaded. “I've been here before.” Alan was unmoved. Just as well. Canal House Antiques is by appointment only and the wild and crazy Getaway Guys are too spontaneous for appointments.

lockport4The last leg of the I&M Canal trip took the Guys further south and over a much better looking stretch of the former tow path to the ruins of the Joliet Iron Works. As ruins go there isn't a lot left to view (for safety and liability reasons the Guys supposed), which is unfortunate. But, at the same time it's commendable that anything is left at all; given America's fetish for tearing stuff down and hauling to a dump. The signage along the trail gives an excellent narrative depiction of the iron works, its workers and mill life from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. Neil called it satanic, but Alan suggested a kinder label, Dickensian. Neither thought the Joliet Iron Works sounded like a lot of fun! October 2007

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