875 E. Street
Sheffield, IL 61361
The Hennepin Canal is
more than just a fun place. It played a very important role in the history
of the United States and to commerce and industry. In fact, the entire canal
is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Thoughts of constructing a canal that connected the Illinois and Mississippi
River date back to 1834. But financial problems in the state held back many
public works projects. Pressure for a transportation shortcut that was cheaper
than rail continued though, and Congress authorized preliminary surveys
on the project in 1871. Construction finally got under way in 1892 and the
first boat went through in 1907, reducing the distance from Chicago to Rock
Island by 419 miles. There was a problem, however. As this canal was under
construction, the Corps of Engineers was widening the locks on both the
Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. With lock chambers twenty and forty feet
narrower than the rivers it connected, the canal was obsolete before the
Marion made her initial voyage.
By the 1930s it was used primarily for recreational traffic. The Hennepin
and its sister canal, the I & M, tied the Illinois, Des Plaines and
Mississippi river systems into a transportation network connecting Lake
Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico. The I & M was completed nearly 60 years
earlier and helped make Chicago one of the nation's greatest cities. The
Hennepin Canal, which at one time was known as the Illinois and Mississippi
Canal, was open to boat traffic until 1951. There was no cost to use the
canal. Ice made from the canal's frozen waters was sold during the winters
to help pay the canal's maintenance costs.
The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone
cut facings. Although the Hennepin enjoyed limited success as a waterway,
engineering innovations used in its construction were a bonus to the construction
industry. Some of the innovations pioneered on the Hennepin Canal were probably
used on the Panama Canal. Both used concrete lock chambers and both used
a Feeder canal from a man made lake to water the canals because both needed
water to flow ‘uphill.’
There are 33 locks on the canal. Thirty-two are still visible. The first
one, on the Illinois River, has been under water since the 1930's. Fourteen
of the locks had Marshall gates, which are unique to the Hennepin, and are
raised and lowered on a horizontal axis, much like a rural mailbox. Five
of the locks have been restored to working condition, although they are
not used. One of these is a Marshall Gate lock. All of the gates from the
remaining locks have been replaced with concrete walls, creating a series
The Hennepin originally had nine aqueducts -- concrete troughs which carried
the canal and its traffic across larger rivers and streams. Today, six remain
the other three are replaced by pipes that carry the canal flow under the
creek or river the aqueduct crossed over.
Before exploring the
wonders at the park, stop in at the Visitor Center near Sheffield. There
are several displays that help illustrate the canal's past -- including
tools used to build and operate it. At the time the canal was built workers
often made their own tools by hand. There's also a model of a lock with
a boat going through it and a model of an aqueduct. Get a peek at the
plant and animal life at the park through other displays at the center.
Just outside the center is a beautiful half-acre patch of wildflower prairie.
Among the plantings are little bluestem and big bluestem-- the official
state prairie grass.
Don't miss the marsh observation area and duck blind located near the
Visitor Center. There you will see a variety of marsh type plants and
animals including ducks, geese, redwing blackbirds, muskrat and cattails.
and Youth Group camping are allowed along the Hennepin Canal Parkway at
the following locations:
Lock 11, West of the
Lock 17, Northwest of the lock
Lock 21, North Day Use Area (drinking water available)
Bridge 14, North bank.
Lock 22, Southwest of the lift bridge (drinking water available)
Bridge 23, South bank
Lock 23, just West of the parking lot.
Lock 26, South bank
is restricted to the south side of the Lock 21 area. Please clean up after
The Canal is open from April
15 to October 31 annually. Bring your own horse and prepare to enjoy 48
miles along the main canal and over 25 miles along the Feeder. Gallop
to your heart's delight along the corridor. Please stay out of the picnic
areas and off the west tow path between bridges 43 to 56, and Locks 30
to 32. Be aware you will be sharing surfaces with bicyclists and pedestrians
around aqueducts and in areas where there is usable towpath on one side
to the Visitor Center
The Hennepin Canal
Parkway basically parallels I-80 in Bureau and Henry counties in west
central Illinois. The Parkway's Visitor Center is one mile south of I-80,
just west of Route 40. East or westbound travelers on I-80 should take
Exit 45, turn right (south) on Route 40. They almost immediately cross
the Canal and in about 1 mile is the brown sign directing them to the
Parkway Visitors Center. Turn right (west) and proceed to the Center.
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.
For more information: