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Congress granted Illinois a strip of land for a canal in 1822,
but raising the capital to pay for construction proved so
difficult that work did not begin until 1836.
Some of the first immigrants to the Chicago area were
Irish and German workers who came to take jobs digging the
96-mile waterway, which ran from the Chicago River to
LaSalle, the head of navigation on the Illinois River at the
time. Many of the Irish settled along the Chicago River south
of the city in a community that was called Hardscrabble at
first but came to be known as Bridgeport.
In addition to locks and stone-lined sides, the canal was
designed with towpaths for mules, but, like the canal itself,
the paths were practically past their time when the canal
opened. Some boats were towed by mules in the early days,
but steam-powered canal boats were common by 1848.
The "forgotten" Wisconsin Portage Canal:
Once upon a time, there was a "Portage Canal" that
connected the Fox River with the Wisconsin River at the City
of Portage. This small bit of land was the only break in the
entire Fox-Wisconsin Waterway, which connects the Great
Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Constructed between 1849, it
was the dream of investors that the canal would make the
Fox-Wisconsin corridor the greatest water highway through
the middle United States.
The success of the Erie Canal prompted investors to begin
looking at creating a canal between the Fox and Wisconsin
Rivers. The canal would create a continuous water route,
enabling goods to be easily transported through the corridor.
In 1838, canal work was handed over to the U.S.
Government, and after Wisconsin admitted into the Union in
1848, the state took over the project. In 1849, a new route
was chosen for the canal.
The Army Corps of Engineers revived construction in 1874,
finally declaring the canal complete in 1876. Upon
completion, the canal was 75 feet wide, 7 feet deep, 2.5
miles long with a draw of 6 feet.
According to the Fort Winnebago Lock Tenders book, from
1878 – 1908, the canal was used heavily by large boats,
some of 300 ton capacity, and pleasure craft. In 1851,
however, declining use forced the closure of the canal. The
Lock was demolished and the Wisconsin River Locks were
|circa 1840 (photo provided by Illinois Historical Society)
|Today: According to the The American Waterways
Operators - more then 17 million tons of cargo are
shipped through these locks each year, adding an
estimated $1.5 billion to the regional economy.
In addition: an estimated 200 to 400 "Loopers"
together with another 10,000 recreational vessels pass
through these locks each boating season.
|Experience is the best teacher!
|So, what's it like living-aboard and cruising
AMERICA'S GREAT LOOP?
It is an incredible experience. It is an amazing voyage, and it is a
I live my life with no schedules and with only three important dates; don't
reach the Erie Canal before June 1st, be on Kentucky Lake and the
Tennessee River at the peak of Fall Foliage, and be home for Christmas.
What can I say? We all learn from our mistakes. If I had known all the
mistakes I was going to make on my first voyage around the Great Loop,
I probably never would have made it. It was so different than I dreamed it
would be, the only reason I made it a second time, was I knew the second
time round would be much better.
I admit, spending a year living on a boat is certainly not for everyone.
Cruising a distance of more than 5,429-miles through unknown and
unfamiliar waters is also not for everyone. Most often however, it boils
down to ones expectations, planning, preparedness and comfort both
physically and financially.
I've been doing this for a long time, and I've met lots of Loopers as
well from all over the world. By far, most really love the life. I've only met
a few that couldn't wait to rid themselves of their boat and return to life
on land. In all but one of those cases, most any 'experienced' long
distance cruiser could take one look at their boat and know why they
were having more trouble than fun.
Out here, we learn to keep things simple. That goes for our boat and
everything on it. The big difference in a big complicated vessel vs one
that is simple and easier to handle will be measured by the amount of fun
you will have on this voyage.
Will this voyage turn out to be perfect? Not likely. It took me seven
times to truly experience a perfect voyage around the Loop, and that was
goal from the beginning.
Did I have fun on all of them? Sure I did. Each and every one was an
exciting adventure. Did I have troubles? Sure I did, and each and ever
one of them was a learning experience. In my case, it simply took me too
long to stop listening to all those giving advice. And, I constantly got
advice from everyone.
"Oh, you are cruising the Loop?" "You better have this, and do that
or you'll never make it." From what spare parts to take, to the size boat I
needed, type boat I needed, to all kinds of equipment, amenities and
gadgets. It wasn't until I rid myself of all that advice, and let my
experience guide my decisions, that my journeys around the Loop began
to get better.
Now, the only spare parts I have on my boat are fuel & water filters.
The most complicated thing on my vessel is most likely me. I do not have
Radar, AIS, FLS, Satellite TV, Dishwasher, Clothes washer/Dryer, Ice
Maker, Water Maker, Trash Compactor, or any of those things I do not
, that actually have experience a perfect voyage around it. My last two