Gaylord Donnelley Trail
The once Historic Route 66, of the most famous roads in the United States that ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona and ended in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covered a total of 2,448 miles. It has always been iconic for roadside stops….dinners…antiquing…and many historical sites. Although it longer exists, you can still “get your kicks” on the path it took through the United States on other highways and roads. In this series, I will highlight the many places you can stop to explore nature along this route….focusing on spots in the Midwest. Looking for more stops….check out this guide.
Part of the I&M Canal National Heritage Area, the Gaylord Donnelley Trail will take you from Lockport to Joliet. Lockport and Joliet were two of the most influential Illinois cities of the 19th and 20th centuries. On this eleven mile trail you will explore canal ruins, a closed amusement park, the old Joliet prison and the ruins of the Joliet Iron Works.
A Bit of History
On its completion, the I&M Canal created a new transportation corridor. By connecting the waters of the Illinois River with those of Lake Michigan, a vast all-water route connected widely scattered sections of the United States, specifically the Northwest, South and East. Travelers from the eastern U.S. took the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York, where steamboats brought them through the Great Lakes to Chicago. Transferring to canal boats, a 96-mile trip on the I&M Canal brought them to LaSalle/Peru. Here people boarded river steamers bound for St. Louis and New Orleans. The canal opened the floodgates to an influx of new commodities, new people and new ideas.
The I&M Canal, and the railroad and highway connections that soon paralleled its path between Chicago and LaSalle/Peru, became the great passageway to the American West. The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 made Chicago and northern Illinois the key crossroads of the American mid-continent. The opening of the canal heralded a new era in trade and travel for the entire nation. The I&M Canal allowed travelers the option of taking an all-water route from New York Harbor to Chicago, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri and even to New Orleans, Louisiana. This water highway provided a mud and dust-free alternative to overland travel. Passengers increasingly chose the all water route to the West, bypassing the Ohio River route. Freight could go from St. Louis to New York in 12 days via the I&M Canal and the Great Lakes, while the Ohio River route might take 30-40 days.