Hidden Treasure I&M canal mile 58-83

Farther from the city the canal trail is not so well maintained. One of the aqueducts has collapsed leaving the canal a “tadpole puddle”. Some places it’s full of sediment, and trees 30 feet high grow there or people mow the grass in the canal behind their homes like it’s a play-ground for their kids.

Some places just a tadpole puddle.

Some places just a tadpole puddle.

It’s hot, over 90 degrees ( 32 c ) and the trees give shade, but the large waterfowl are gone. We hear birds singing around us, but they are deep in the trees. At one section, the sticks ahead of us suddenly wriggle away, turns out they are snakes sunning.

This is like where I grew up, small town America – wave at everyone, don’t have to lock your doors. Kids smile and wave at us, and one family is playing with their pet goat. We meet a guy who has ridden many trails, over a thousand miles all with his two buds.

Two little guys for company, they've logged over a thousand miles in their milk crate

Two little guys for company, they’ve logged over a thousand miles in their milk crate

We pass Seneca, a little town where a brick making company is still going strong after starting in 1835. They sit right on the canal and I wonder how many of Chicago’s fine brick homes were build on bricks fired there. During the potato famine in Ireland over two million people died or left the country in a great diaspora. Many found their fortunes here, and many their ruin, for malaria and dysentery claimed a toll. The workers believed that whiskey would prevent malaria, and so held out to ensure that their weekly pay included a ration of whiskey.

It’s too hot for snow, but the cotton-wood seeds drift down like snow and later we pass a golden meadow.

cottonwood seeds are like snow in June

cottonwood seeds are like snow in June

the golden treasure given to those who travel

the golden treasure given to those who travel

We ended at mile 83 in Ottawa, the Indian word for trade, at the conflux of three rivers the French had been trading for furs since the 1600’s. Ottawa hosted one of the Lincoln presidential debates, but now is just a quiet place. When Illinois was nearly broke in the 1840’s they had to borrow 1.6 million from investors to finish the canal. What’s was a dollar worth in those days? The workers digging by the canal by hand received one dollar a week and their whiskey ration.

We were left to turn around and head back the 25 miles, once more moving through time and we returned to the car. One more ride ahead of us to get us to mile 96 and the end of the I&M canal.

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23 Comments on “Hidden Treasure I&M canal mile 58-83”

  1. uldissprogis says:

    Thanks for liking so many of my blogs. Small town living seems safe and secure and you probably have a greater appreciation for nature than city folk. Best wishes. Uldis.

    • billgncs says:

      I hope you keep posting. I find them insightful.

      I think the difference between small town and big city is that as a person, our circle of trusted people has a certain size, and in a small town it is rarely filled – while a big city causes that limit to be almost immediately exceeded.

  2. Clanmother says:

    When you mentioned Ottawa, I thought that you were visiting Canada. And then I check out how many cities are named Ottawa, which turned out to be quite a few. I am assuming that your Ottawa in in Illinois. There is also an Ottawa in Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
    A great trip, and great stories – a wonderful way to learn history

    • billgncs says:

      Yes, this is the Ottawa of Illinois. Next ride will take us past Starved Rock – Where legend has it that in revenge for the murder of the great chief Pontiac ( who sought to unite all the tribes to drive out the Europeans ) the last of the Illini tribe cornered on a sandstone butte starved rather than surrender.

      Wherever there are men and there is power – drama ensues.

  3. Shannon says:

    Awesome ride! Wish I could have gone with you guys!

  4. vbholmes says:

    Beautiful pictures, Bill, and a it was a pleasure to read of your ride (with the benefit of a few historical tidbits thrown in). Look forward to your next ride.

  5. Eric Alagan says:

    Quite a ride, Bill, and also enjoyed your commentary and historical snippets :-)

  6. Felt like I was riding right along with you. Your description and history lesson is extraordinary.

  7. susank456 says:

    What a ride! It sounds like so much fun. I’m glad you had a good day.

  8. What a ride! Thanks for 1. sharing the temperature in Canadian. 2. Giving the meaning of the word Ottawa, which incidentally is the name of Canada’ capital city. Now I know why our Prime Minister is gallivanting around the world signing us up for bad trade deals. All makes sense now. :D And 3. For brilliantly describing the goings on during your trip.
    Diana xo

    • billgncs says:

      thanks – due to lack of space I had to shorten 32 c – eh, to 32 -c…

      the picture rarely presents the real world, but the golden meadow was my favorite. I felt as I had discovered a treasure. But I was thinking, it’d be fun to get a metal detector and walk the canal and dig up the past, it was another hot, miserable great ride :)

  9. Resa says:

    Wonderful post! Great place to grow up. Love the ration of whiskey story! “lol”

    • billgncs says:

      The stories of real people behind history always interest me. The guy who scrapped up enough money to build a grain elevator near the canal, and then farmers started coming there to store their grain for shipment, and a town arose. Those are the stories that have magic to me. Well that and any story with alcohol :)

      • Resa says:

        “lol” Well, being part Irish, there are many alcohol stories in my family (none involving fruit, pretty much all grains). Of course, I wouldn’t want them made public! :-) ;-)

        • billgncs says:

          you are likely descended from those who were bold enough to dream of a better life. Funny how we are woven into the threads of history.

          At the canal, the Irish workers were very oppressed – and it was still better than what the left.

          • Resa says:

            My paternal grandfather was Irish.
            My grandmother was English. She was descended from United Empire Loyalists.
            As proud I am of the long history from the English side, It’s the Irish side that has all the colourful stories!
            And you are right. They all wanted better lives free from taxation and religious persecution with food involved.
            And now….I’ll stop here. You have a way of bringing thoughts out of a person! :-)


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