Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : Water in Chicago
Water in Chicago
Essay: People and the Port
Photo Essays:
Solitary Lives
City of Bridges
Chicago Harbors
Essay: Using the Chicago River
Photo Essays:
Goose Island
Indiana Dunes
Essay: Sanitation in Chicago
Photo Essays:
The Sanitary and Ship Canal
Water-Related Epidemics
Essay: Water and Urban Life
Photo Essays:
Houses and Water
Shoreline Development
Growing Up Along Water
Map of Cook and DuPage, and parts of Kane, Kendall, and Will Counties, 1851
Return to "Water in Chicago"

Water was a critical part of Chicago's regional development from its earliest days, a point clearly exhibited in this 1851 map.. Without railroads, expressways and individual cities or villages, this 1851 map is familiar and unfamiliar at the very same time. Seen here is the southeastern portion of the map, including Calumet Lake, showing the many marshy areas as well as waterways including the Little Calumet River to the south, the Calumet River and Wolf Lake to the east. Even in 1851 the waterways in this area had been reworked: two channels linking the Little Calumet to both Calumet Lake and the Calumet River had been constructed, thereby reshaping the flow of waterways in the region.. Comparison of any part of the region in 1851 and today show both the continuity of some water features, as well as dramatic reconfigurations. Take an electronic trip beyond the Calumet using the tool bar on the side of the map. Looking at this 1851 map in its entirety, shows the careful attention which land agent James H. Rees paid to the rivers, creeks, lakes and marshes found in the region, illustrating the importance of water for American settlers pouring into the region in the 1840s and 1850s. Almost all of the platted towns seen on the map are along rivers or lakes. Early transportation relied on water and road connections, including routes linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River system. The largest public works project in evidence on the map is the Illinois and Michigan Canal connecting the south branch of the Chicago River Only the Galena and Chicago Railroad made its way westward from the City of Chicago, presaging the much more important role which railroads would play in Chicago's dramatic growth. The township boundaries which divided the region into 36 square mile units create a grid still used in the present. They provide a means of orienting the modern day viewer, so we can see the underlying water landscape.