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Local News

Then & Now: Channahon Dam – Channahon

The origins of the Channahon Dam can be traced to the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Constructed between 1836 and 1848, the canal played a crucial role in the development and growth of Chicago.

The course of the canal required that numerous streams, creeks and rivers be crossed. In Channahon, canal engineers decided that connecting the canal directly to the river would be more economical than constructing an aqueduct over the river.

Locks were constructed on either side of the river and canal builders dammed the DuPage River to create a slack-water impingement. A large dam was constructed to block the DuPage River and cause the water to be diverted into the canal as a natural feeder.

The original dam was a timber crib structure that was built in the late 1840s. This crib dam over the river was eventually replaced with a more reliable dam that was constructed from quarried stone in 1877.

Although this stone dam was more reliable, it did experience numerous repairs throughout the years, including 1918, 1920 and 1925. The stone dam was reconstructed again in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps for recreational purposes.

From 1933 to 1942, over three million young men joined the CCC and contributed to the protection, conservation, and development of the country’s environmental resources.

In Illinois, the CCC employed nearly 6,600 men in nearly 50 camps, including a state forest, state parks and private land forests. Several of these camps were located along the I&M Canal and accomplished many projects, including clearing brush, restoring the tow path, developing parks, restoring locks and gates and repairing aqueducts and buildings.

In the summer of 1996, a series of thunderstorms deposited over 15 inches of rainfall locally, causing massive flooding to the Channahon area and the destruction of the dam. The unexpected result was that parts of the canal were left dry, exposing of seven canal boat hulls near Morris.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources contracted with Fever River Research to conduct an archaeological study of these historic resources in 1998.

The Then photograph, circa 1935, shows a view of the construction of a new concrete dam over the DuPage River to help improve the recreational amenities of the area. This new dam also included a towpath, which connected with pathways on either side of the dam. Early canal boats were towed by mules along a towpath adjacent to the waterway. Two mules usually pulled a line 150-feet long that was attached to the middle of the canal boat.

The canal boats were about 100-feet long and about 18-feet wide and were designed to haul the maximum amount of tonnage or passengers. A ten-foot wide towpath was cut for the mule driver who helped tend to the mules as they walked along the canal.

The Now image shows a similar view of the concrete dam over the DuPage River today.

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