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Architecture and the Canal

Whatever your taste from Greek Revival to Italianate to Romanesque Revival to Queen Anne—-one can find a wide variety of architectural gems in the I&M National Heritage Corridor. There are many nationally recognized architectural and engineering structures preserved throughout the corridor. Many towns, including Morris, Lockport, and Ottawa, have well-preserved downtowns.

 

The I&M Canal brought new kinds of architecture to the area, including grain elevators, the "cathedrals of the prairie," and huge warehouses. The canal itself was an engineering triumph, with its limestone walls and wooden locks, yet it did not disrupt the landscape as much as the railroads and highways later would. The towns that grew up along the canal developed thriving commercial districts, which soon came to be surrounded by residential areas. Today, along the leafy streets of canal towns, many of these homes are still providing visitors with views of our shared architectural legacy.

 

Although there is much industrial, utilitarian architecture along the corridor, more ornate buildings also are found. The Second Empire style of the massive Hegeler-Carus Mansion (1874) in La Salle provided an elegant framework for the printing presses of the Open Court Publishing Company, which were housed in the two-story basement. The Italianate Reddick Mansion (1858) in Ottawa, opposite historic Washington Square (site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858), is a sumptuously appointed nineteenth-century home.

 

Some of the most impressive structures in the corridor are built of native limestone. This stone was used to great advantage in buildings such as the L-shaped Joliet Public Library (1903), designed by noted Chicago- architect Daniel Burnham, and the Joliet Penitentiary (1858). Many limestone churches are also prominent in the corridor. St. James of the Sag Church in Lemont dates back to 1833, with the present structure erected in 1853 and later modified. Used not only for public buildings but residential and industrial structures as well, the distinctive limestone is also evident in many homes throughout the region, such as the Fitzpatrick House in Lockport.

 

Area residents not only designed and constructed fine buildings, they also published manuals which showed the common man how to build his own house. In 1857 Ottawa native William E. Bell published a book called Carpentry Made Easy, detailing an ingenious method of building called the balloon frame. The method was developed in the 1830s by Chicagoan George Washington Snow. This simple method, utilizing standard size boards and machine cut nails, allowed even unskilled workers to build houses, quickly, cheaply, and easily. Balloon frame construction helped to make possible the incredible growth of the western U.S., where trees were scarce. Wood from the Midwest, cut into standard-size boards, was shipped by rail to the West. Most wooden buildings erected today still use a method of construction derived from this system.

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