I & M Canal (A Corridor In Time)

Dear Researcher:

Welcome to the Howard and Lois Adelmann Regional History Collection!

The Adelmann Regional History Collection is located in the University Library and houses a large collection of books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, private papers, and organization records relating to the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the areas, towns, and activities it influenced in Illinois. Particularly sizable are the collections on the I&M Canal, the National Heritage Corridor Commission, Lockport, Joliet, and the Canal Communities (the towns and cities along the canal from Chicago to Peru). The collection also houses material about other American canals and Northern Illinois history.

The core of the collection is our materials on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Although envisaged in 1673 as a waterway to connect the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, the I&M was not completed until 1848. In the period from 1820 to 1860, it was a major factor influencing Northern Illinois' settlement and economic development. During the post-Civil War period it was the major transportation carrier of agricultural and other bulk products to Chicago and the Mississippi. During the twentieth century the canal's importance as a commercial carrier declined. However, that was replaced by its importance as a recreational asset, born out by President Ronald Reagan's signature in 1984 of the Illinois and Michigan National Heritage Corridor Act. In 1998 the Sesquicentennial was celebrated up and down the corridor beginning in April at Navy Pier and ending in April 1999 in LaSalle County.

The preservation and promotion of the I&M Canal became the particular concern of some farsighted and dedicated individuals who saw the Canal as a recreation area preserving the historic legacy of I&M Canal and surrounding communities. The Adelmann Collection houses the records of a number of non-profit organizations who worked towards this end: I&M Canal Coordinating Committee, Illinois Canal Society, Canal Corridor Association, and Friends of the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor, as well as a number of community organizations.

The Adelmann Collection houses a large archive of photographs, most of which are available to researchers online. The particularly interesting 1860-1900 period depicts the area people, plus the boats, locks, and other structures during the time when the canal saw the heaviest commercial use. Twentieth-century photos in the collection record the Civil Conservation Corp's (CCC) camps and restoration projects on the Canal in the 1930s. During the Depression one of the largest projects was restoration of locks, building picnic shelters, and the Starved Rock Lodge as part of Governor Henry Horner's program to create an Illinois and Michigan State Parkway from Chicago to LaSalle for hikers, canoeists, and tourists. Although this ambitious program was stalled after World War II, the collection shows the continued use of the canal by hikers and others. Usage increased after 1970 when the Department of Conservation established the Illinois and Michigan State Trail. We also have community and Canal-related photograph collections from the U. S. Army Corp of engineers, and from such private individuals as Gerald Adelmann, H. H. Carter, Gary Frost, and Flora Louise Milne.

The Adelmann Collection is open by appointment only, and can be reached by calling my office at 815-835-5579; Robert Pruter, Archivist, at 815-836-5664; or Mary Ann Atkins, Digital Collections Librarian at 815-836-5665.

Thank you to the Illinois State Library for in part providing the funds to make this collection available to the public; to grade, high school, and university students; and to scholarly researchers all over the world.


John Lamb