The Hennepin Canal, turn of the century bridges / lock

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by alekkas, Jun 9, 2012.

  1. alekkas

    alekkas Long timer

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    I have always kind of heard about the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Hennepin</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Canal</st1:placeType></st1:place>. But, hey, not much about <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Illinois</st1:place></st1:State> is cool or interesting right? Since getting back on the bike, I&#8217;ve been looking for things around here to explore and the canal came across again and again on my google earth searches for abandoned bridges. It didn&#8217;t take long to realize there was something unique about this.

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    More research revealed this was another example of screwed up <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Illinois</st1:place></st1:State> politics and a great example of the state at its finest in the same breath.

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    From Wikipedia:
    &#8220;The Hennepin canal was first conceived in 1834 as a connection between the <st1:State w:st="on">Illinois</st1:State> and <st1:place w:st="on">Mississippi River</st1:place>, but financial problems in the state delayed many public works projects. Construction began in 1892 and the first boat went through in 1907, reducing the distance from <st1:City w:st="on">Chicago</st1:City> to <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Rock Island</st1:place></st1:City> by 419 miles (674 km). While the canal was under construction, however, the Corps of Engineers undertook a widening of the locks on both the <st1:State w:st="on">Illinois</st1:State> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Mississippi</st1:placeName> <st1:placeType w:st="on">Rivers</st1:placeType></st1:place>. The new locks on those rivers were twenty and forty feet wider than the canal locks, making them obsolete before their initial use.&#8221;<o:p></o:p>

    So, the BS politics created decades of hesitation. By the time it was built, <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Illinois</st1:place></st1:State> was once again too far behind and the canal was obsolete by its opening. I have heard and read that the canal was finally built to serve as a laboratory study for the <st1:place w:st="on">Panama canal</st1:place>. Parts of that conspiracy theory do make sense, and I heard old timers saying the same thing on this trip, so it must also be a part of local folklore.
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    I tend to believe it. Why else would there be so many variances in the locks? There are span, lift, and slide bridges. This thing is a lab of various engineering strategies that were cutting edge at the time.
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    More Wikipedia:
    &#8220;The Hennepin was the first American canal built of concrete without stone cut facings. Although the Hennepin enjoyed only limited success as a waterway, engineering innovations used in its construction were a bonus to the construction industry. The canal was used as a training ground for engineers that later worked on the <st1:place w:st="on">Panama Canal</st1:place>.<SUP>[2]</SUP> Both the Hennepin and Panama Canals 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 &#8216;uphill.&#8217;&#8221;
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    I had to check it out. With &#8220;closed on Fridays&#8221; summer hours, I took off Thursday around 4 and headed down to my buddy&#8217;s house in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Peru</st1:place></st1:country-region>, IL. Spend the night. From there, a short ride would get me to Bureau Junction which holds locks 2 and 3 and the beginning of the canal.
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    The ride to Dave&#8217;s was an easy and smooth 80 miles or so. Couldn&#8217;t help but grab this pic. These things always draw me in!
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    Stopped off at the Indian Creek Massacre site. A very cool park is there now and some pretty interesting history. An old man was there riding a quad and picking up debris. The cool things was his dog would wait until that quad came to a complete stop before jumping off and digging, barking, or getting petted by me. Didn&#8217;t get his name!<o:p></o:p>
    Here is a day ride I did there with my wife explaining a little more about the history.
    http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=779831&highlight=indian+creek

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    Got to his house by 7. Grill, brews, and reserve whiskey. Great night with a T bone, stuffed mushrooms, and salad dinner. Didn&#8217;t get a pic of the food porn, but here is Dave with the precooked T Bones:
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    Couldn&#8217;t get a real pic of him cause he thought once I posted, he&#8217;d get all kinds of bikers stopping by his house. So, if you need a place to crash and get fed out that way, PM me and I&#8217;ll get you his address. He&#8217;ll love that!<o:p></o:p>
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    Down there by the <st1:place w:st="on">Illinois river</st1:place>, we get some great roads for this area. Morning found me heading down IL29 and just loving the road.
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    Bureau Junction houses locks 2 and 3. Lock 1 is only accessible in winter &#8211; you have to take the ice road. While it is named after Hennipen, that town is on the other side of the Il River.
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    Lock 2 gearing:<o:p></o:p>
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    A common site &#8211; even in the extremely rural areas, people were fishing. I heard about the good fishing along the canal, so expected this. What I didn&#8217;t expect was to find three pairs of single women enjoying the day. ;-)
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    This was Julie and Sue just as Julie caught a little blue gill:<o:p></o:p>
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    A common site was the moving water. At EVERY lock I saw, water was moving though we have not had much rain lately:<o:p></o:p>
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    One of the features I really wanted to see were the Aqueducts. Basically, this carries the canal over existing creeks and rivers. The path to Aqueduct 3 was to cross this bridge. Maybe if my wife was here I would have shown off. Alone, I didn&#8217;t want to risk it:
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    Lock 11 was awesome. The lock was the same as the previous, but the original span bridge was still operational &#8211; barely. It was a two track, dirt gravel road to get to it. Way too cool and the Connie did just fine.

    Here is the bike on the 1900 bridge with the lock behind it:<o:p></o:p>
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    The birthmark:<o:p></o:p>
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    Bridge to dirt:<o:p></o:p>
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    Now, most of the span bridges are closed / don&#8217;t function. A perfect example of that is at lock 14:<o:p></o:p>
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    You shouldn&#8217;t really graffiti anything that starts with 18!!!
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    ... more to come....
    #1
  2. 42

    42 Bokononist

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    :lurk
    #2
  3. alekkas

    alekkas Long timer

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    This bridge is from that time. Instead of disregarding or letting it degrade, the deck was poured in fresh concrete (fresh as in this year so it must have been updated at least one other time in the past) and the people in the area use it. A useful remnant of times gone by:
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    While the canal was active, there were lock masters employed to open and close the locks, raise or slide the bridges. They were given houses to live in. Only a few remain. Here is one:
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    This was one of the many locks with a walking bridge. It was pretty cool to walk over the top and get a good view of the water pouring over.
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    Lock 17 was something I really wanted to check out. It has a sliding bridge. The way it works is that you drive up from the side, turn in to the bridge and transverse the canal. When a boat came, the bridge slid out on rails and allowed it to pass. Currently, it is in the bridge mode and I crossed it on to dirt roads. In the pics, the bike is on the rear edge of the bridge for scale.
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    And the rails:<o:p></o:p>
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    The full view:<o:p></o:p>
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    Lock 21 also had something I really wanted to understand &#8211; a lift bridge. These were added to help farmers travel to their fields. The idea is that the weights help counter the weight of the bridge. As the gearing turns, the bridge physically lifts allowing boats to pass. Too cool for a geek like me!
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    There are some places where new roads have been built over the canal. Mounds of earth and road were placed on top of culverts allowing the canal waters to still flow. Here is one example:
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    Since the canal pretty much goes at an angle and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Illinois</st1:place></st1:State> pretty much has perpendicular roads, there was a lot of zig zagging. The canal also created many creative roads in VERY rural areas. Led to a lot of dirt roads like this:

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    And this. Can you see the tractor coming from on high and meeting me in that turn almost taking a piece of me with him? I sure didn&#8217;t&#8230;.

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    All told, I probably rode almost 10 miles of dirt on a street bike chasing this thing. A few fish tales made me feel right at home remembering the old CR 125 days&#8230;.<o:p></o:p>


    ... more to come ....
    #3
  4. surly357

    surly357 Cochetopa dreamin'

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    The canal is indeed very cool!

    I always spend some time there when I'm visiting the folks in Geneseo.

    The bike/walking path in the background of some of your shots sees little use beyond fishing near the major roads and parks. I've ridden it for hours without seeing another cyclist!






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    What the heck are these things called??!! The trail is littered with them in the late summer and fall...

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    #4
  5. WoodButcher

    WoodButcher Long timer

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    Hedge apples is one of the common names. It is the fruit of the Osage Orange tree. The wood is very yellow in color. Osage Indians used the wood for bows. Later they were planted along fence lines, hence the hedge apple name. They were used as fence posts and would sometimes the limbs used as post would start to grow. Which is probably why there are so many along fences.
    #5
  6. alekkas

    alekkas Long timer

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    Very cool, Surly. I was just about to address the path - glad to hear you use it.


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    The entire length of the canal has a walking / biking / horse back path. Originally, this path was built for draft animals to pull the boats. By the time it opened, all the boats could propel themselves and the path was NEVER used for that purpose. Today, it is used by many. Though not an avid cyclist, I’d consider a weekend riding / camping trip along the canal. However, I would NOT want to ride a horse through one of these tunnels! I imagine they dismount.

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    Show you what a geek I am, lock 22 has a functional lock AND a lift bridge. Oh the joy ….

    This is the gearing that opened and closed the locks:

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    Here are the “downhill side” doors partially open:

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    And the “uphill side” using the spillover windows:

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    Around lock 24 I spotted the third and final pair of two women fishing. Tammy with her niece Megan just graduated from college. All I can say is that, if I ever return here, I will think teal.

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    At the town of Colona, the canal meets the Rock River, and, in turn, the Mississippi soon after.

    They have done a great job of creating a park around the canal and a mile long road following it to the end.

    Here is the final lock going into the Rock River. A group of 10 or so teens were just setting off on a tube float as I showed up.

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    By 1951, the canal was no longer in service. Ultimately, it was a commercial failure – but an engineering marvel. If constructed when planned in the 1830’s, it would have been extremely viable. Problem is, they built it from the old plans more than half a century later. Ahhh Illinois!

    The ride home was pretty uneventful. Learned a lot of things on this ride. Besides the engineering of the canal, I actually saw my dysfunctional home state get something right. The entire canal, including the feeder canal, is a state park. Free to use the entire way and official camping in 9 of the lock areas. Although a work day, I saw nearly 50 people enjoying the canal and fishing, relaxing. All told I saw 20 of the 33 locks. Probably could have gotten to more with a few mile long hikes. The best way to see the entire length is to bike, hike, or horse ride the path.

    I am with the conspiracy folks. This thing would never have been built were it not for the need of a Panama Canal lab because it made no sense at the turn of the century, 60 years after its inception. And that’s just fine. It is pretty rare here to have such great public use space.
    #6
  7. surly357

    surly357 Cochetopa dreamin'

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    Man, I wish the scenery at the locks had been that good last time I was there....:D


    That is a nice little park in Colona though. Water was kind of high when I rode down.

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    I wasn't prepared for the Illinois August heat and humidity. Had to wrestle the bicycle over/around/through a lot of deadfall from the previous week's storm- felt pretty rough by the time I got back to my starting point.



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    I thought some of the sloughs along the way were interesting too.


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    Guess I should take a motorcycle out there sometime and explore the backroads....
    #7
  8. StumpThump

    StumpThump n00b

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    What about dual sport bikes on the tow paths?
    #8
  9. RedRockRider

    RedRockRider Long timer

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    Great piece on the canal. Thanks! :clap

    Illinois - a special place in so many ways. :lol3
    #9
  10. Aarrff

    Aarrff Gravel Grinder

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    Cool stuff! Thanks for posting this up!
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  11. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Very nice. Thanks.
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  12. Cyclenaut

    Cyclenaut Been here awhile

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    Curious about the folks you visit in Geneseo, I am from there and was back to ride the canals last summer...
    #12
  13. StumpThump

    StumpThump n00b

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    I want to take my KTM on a canal ride. Is this possible? You said you have ridden it for hours without seeing anyone. It seems such a shame to let it go to waste. Illinois isn't providing any places to ride.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SGH-I747 using Tapatalk
    #13