Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ronald Reagan Trail: Hennepin Feeder Canal

Hennepin Canal from Ill. Route 92,
facing north
Although it's not officially part of the Ronald Reagan Trail, I feel the Hennepin Feeder Canal is worth a post.

Actually, the canal belongs.

First envisioned in the 1830s, the Hennepin Canal was built as a 400 mile waterway shortcut between Chicago and Rock Island. But construction didn't begin until 1892, but by the time what was then called the Illinois and Mississippi Canal was completed in 1907, it was already obsolete. The locks on the Illinois River were widened and besides, railroads had connected Chicago and the Quad Cities for decades.

The canal runs between Hennepin in Putnam County and the aforementioned Rock Island. But a feeder canal was deemed necessary to push the water. Pictured is the Hennepin Feeder Canal, which flows from the Rock River near Rock Falls and empties into the main canal near Sheffield.

Hennepin Canal from Ill. Route 92,
facing north
What does this have to do with Ronald Reagan? Well, Dutch learned to swim in the feeder canal during his second stay in Tampico, the village where he was born 100 years ago. The feeder is two miles east of Tampico. When the family finally settled down in Dixon, Reagan "got one of the best jobs I ever had," a lifeguard position.

Some current politicians, almost all of them Democrats, are calling for investments in infrastructure. As we've learned with the failed $862 billion stimulus, these "investments" don't always work out. Such was the case with the Hennepin, which was federally financed. Interestingly, the much more successful Erie Canal, as well as the Illinois and Michigan Canal, were state-funded ventures.

But the Hennepin wasn't a total loss. It was the first American canal to utilize concrete locks, previous canals used cut stone. The Panama Canal's locks were based on those of the Hennepin.

Canal towpath
The canal is used for recreation now, although boating and swimming are prohibited. The fishing is phenomenal, and the towpath, which was never used by mules to pull barges, is popular with hikers and snowmobilers. As for bicycling, there are some rough patches, not all of the path is safe for cyclists. The canal and the paths are part of the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park. The park's main complex is near Sheffield and it was one of the parks closed by disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich. As I wrote in an earlier post in this series, Carl Sandburg's birthplace, which is owned by the state, was also closed by Blagojevich. Both have since reopened.

There have been some recent Reagan-related news items I've been meaning to report on. A former assistant to John Lennon told a Toronto newspaper that the musical legend was a closet Republican who supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. People change, Reagan was a liberal Democrat for much of his life.

Reagan birthplace, Feb. 6, 2011
And on our Independence Day, a 10 foot high statue of Ronald Reagan was unveiled outside of the United States embassy in London.

One more loose end, although it actually "connects the dot," to use Michael Reagan's phrase. Last year he visited his father's birthplace in Tampico, the subject of my next entry. Of the apartment above the bank, Michael said, "The simplicity of what this is also the simplicity of the ranch. He never really left that room. He always lived in that room. He never said, 'Look who I am, I'm important.' He always remembered his roots and his roots started right upstairs."

He concludes, "I'll be back."

Earlier posts:

Ohio, Illinois
Peoria Heights
Washington, Illinois
The town of Eureka
Eureka College's Reagan Museum
Feeder canal, January. 2009,
from Ill. Route 172
Returning to Eureka College and the 1982 address
Eureka College
Carl Sandburg
Wyatt Earp

Related posts:

The C&O Canal in Georgetown
North Shore Channel
Illinois' Hennepin Canal in January
Amana Millrace and the woolen mill
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan sunset (with the Edison Sault canal)
The Illinois & Michigan Canal
Michael Reagan remembers his father
Putnam County, Illinois and lower sales taxes

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