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

Opening Days

Officials in St. Louis had studied the canal and decided it was a pollution threat. In January 1900 the state of Missouri petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the state of Illinois and the Chicago Sanitary District from sending sewage into the canal. Anticipating court action, the Sanitary District had turned water into the Main Channel on January 2, 1900, two weeks before St. Louis filed its petition. The Lockport end of the canal remained closed. The Chicago Tribune leaked news that the formal opening would be Saturday, January 20. Instead on January 17, the commissioners opened the dam at the Lockport controlling works. The first boat passed through on January 20.

Special Inspection Meeting, December 2, 1899

Illinois Governor Tanner called a meeting between the Canal Commissioners, the Commissioners of the Sanitary District, and the Special Inspectors in December 1899 to determine whether the state would issue permissions to open the main channel. Downstate cities and towns, as well as St. Louis, hoped to delay or stop the opening of the canal, which would likely send Chicago’s pollution through their communities.

See also: State Politics; Downstate

First Water in the Sanitary and Ship Canal, 1900

Fearing that St. Louis would acquire an injunction to halt the completion of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, Sanitary District trustees went to the west fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River early on the frigidly cold morning of January 2, 1900. They came unannounced and, with little fanfare, broke the temporary dam that kept the Chicago River from flowing into the Main Channel. Water began to fill the canal, but did not proceed beyond the dam at Lockport.

See also: Sanitary and Ship Canal; Chicago River

First Boat on Sanitary and Ship Canal Waters, 1900

More than two weeks later, the Main Channel was filled and the Sanitary District trustees sought approval to open the dam at Lockport, releasing waters into the Des Plaines River and then southward to the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers. On January 17, 1900 the Sanitary District trustees received approval from the governor to open the dam at the Lockport Controlling Works. Three days later, the Juliet was the first boat to travel along the open waterway.

See also: Water