Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Constructing the Sanitary and Ship Canal

Main Channel Construction

The Sanitary and Ship Canal ran from the South Branch of the Chicago River at Robey Street (now Damen Avenue) to Lockport, a distance of 28 miles in 1900. The channel had a navigable depth of more than 20 feet; its width varied between 110 and 201 feet. Construction on this section, begun in 1892, took eight years to complete and was divided into three sections: an earth section from Robey Street to Summit; an earth and rock section between Summit and Willow Springs; and a rock section from Willow Springs to Lockport. In 1900, the canal ended at a dam in Lockport, which allowed for water to flow southward but precluded navigation. Between 1903 and 1907, the canal was extended to Joliet. A navigation lock and a powerhouse respectively overcame the navigational obstacles and exploited the water power possibilities, of a 34 foot drop between Lockport and Joliet.

Shovel Day, September 3, 1892

President Frank Wenter scooping the first shovelful of earth from the Sanitary and Ship Canal on September 3, 1892. More than a thousand dignitaries traveled on a train, specially decorated for the occasion, to Lemont for the ceremony. The public rhetoric was effusive; the Chicago Tribune compared the moment to driving the golden spike thatcompleted the transcontinental railroad in 1869.

See also: Public Works, Federal Funding for; Water; Lemont

Dewey’s Welcome to the Channel, May 2, 1900, by Isham Randolph, Chief Engineer

Isham Randolph was the talented engineer who oversaw construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal. In honor of the May 1900 visit of Admiral Dewey to the recently opened canal, Randoph composed a 26-stanza poem thatrelates the construction project in epic terms.

See also: Sanitary and Ship Canal