Their goal: find a waterway that could connect the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Marquette and Jolliet navigated 2500 miles by canoe in 120 days, and while they didn’t find a direct waterway, what they did find, with help from local Native Americans who knew it well, was a short portage – a route where they could carry their canoes over land (and at certain times of year, when the water was high enough, continue through the water) and ultimately connect Chicago and the Mississippi. That little portage was very important indeed. It changed the future of Chicago, placing it right in the middle of a waterway that stretched all the way from the St. Lawrence River to the foot of the Mississippi. It would also change everything for the Native Americans.
The “Chicago portage” later was excavated into the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and later the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. During their explorations on the return trip up the Chicago River, Marquette camped for the winter of 1674 at a spot that is now where Damen Avenue intersects with the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
In 1907, a large cross was erected on that spot to honor Marquette and Jolliet. The cross is no longer on the site, but a plaque still marks this important early exploration into this area.
|In 1907, grateful local business owners commemorated the expedition of French-Canadian fur trader Louis Jolliet and French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette by placing a large cross and a plaque at the point where Damen Avenue meets the Sanitary and Ship Canal.|
A tablet on the back side of its concrete base was inscribed: “In memory of Father Marquette, S.J., and Louis Jolliet of New France (Canada) first white explorers of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and Lake Michigan, 1673, navigating 2500 miles in canoes in 120 days. In crossing the site of Chicago, Jolliet recommended it for its natural advantages as a place of first settlement and suggested a lakes-to-the-gulf waterway, by cutting a canal through the "portage" west of here where begins the Chicago Drainage-Ship Canal. Work on this canal was begun Sept. 3, 1892, and it received the first waters of Lake Michigan, Jan. 2, 1902. This remarkable prophecy made 234 years ago is now being fulfilled. This end of Robey Street is the historic "high ground" where Marquette spent the winter 1674-1675. "To do and suffer everything for so glorious an undertaking." Marquette’s Journal. Erected Saturday, Sept. 28, 1907 by the City of Chicago and Chicago Association of Commerce.”
|Photograph shot from across the Chicago River.|
|The circle on this picture indicates the approximate site where the cross was.|
The Marquette Cross Chicago, Illinois - 1973.
(this cross was for Marquette only)
A 20-foot rough cedar cross at 2639 South Damen Avenue, just north of the bridge over the Chicago River's south branch, with an inscribed bronze plaque: "Near this Site Father Jacques Marquette, S.J., Missionary, Explorer and Co-discoverer of the Illinois River, spent the Winter of December 1674 to March 31, 1675."
|This photograph is from a 1976 Chicago Tribune article.|
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.