The Chicago Portage archive is available for download as a single .zip file from here. The archive includes copies of The Chicago Portage Ledger, photographs of the site, and the video "Connected Worlds: The Story of the Chicago Portage.
Furthermore, this December, we are launching a new platform for our unique digital collections.
Please take a moment to preview it and let us know what you think!


2023 Lecture Series - Celebrating 350 Years of Chicago Portage History


Friends of the Chicago Portage will present four free public history lectures in its 2023 Lecture Series celebrating the discovery, location, and development of the Chicago Portage. Accomplished local authors, historians and storytellers will explore the colorful history of how the passage of a pair of Frenchmen though the ancient Chicago Portage 350 years ago led to the birth of a city, and how its subsequent improvements created Chicago.

All four lectures will begin at 1 p.m. the last Saturday of January through April, at the Lyons Public Library located at 4209 Joliet Ave., in Lyons.


Saturday January 28, 2023 at 1 p.m. – “Jolliet & Marquette’s Discovery of Chicago”  
Presented by John Langer and Gary Mechanic

Rediscover the lives and legacy of the 17th Century French explorer Louis Jolliet and Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette. Friends of the Chicago Portage tour guides John Langer and Gary Mechanic explore the lives and journeys of Jolliet & Marquette and celebrate the 350th anniversary of their epic journey of discovery.

John and Gary are veteran Friends of the Chicago Portage tour guides. John grew up in the area of the Portage, lives in Villa Park and is a local realtor. Gary is the founder of Friends of the Chicago Portage and producer of this lecture series.


Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 1pm - “A History of the Chicago Portage”
Presented by Benjamin Sells

Benjamin Sells, author of the recently published “A History of the Chicago Portage: The Crossroads that Made Chicago and Helped Make America”, presents the story of how a seven-mile stretch of marshland gave rise to the city of Chicago. From the indigenous people who first used the portage, through the arrival of the Europeans, to the heyday of the Fur Trade and the nefarious account of Chicago's first murder, learn about one of the most important, and neglected places in United States history.

“Benjamin Sells offers a lively and wide-ranging account of the history of the Chicago Portage from the time of the glaciers to the present. He makes clear that no place is as significant to our understanding the history of this region and that more attention should be given to the Chicago Portage National Historic Site." — Ann Durkin Keating, author of The World of Juliette Kinzie: Chicago Before the Fire

Benjamin Sells is a lawyer, psychotherapist, and former mayor of Riverside, Illinois. He is also a sailing captain and owner of Chicago’s oldest sailing school. He has written nine books and has published many articles and essays on psychology, history, and cultural affairs. His latest book is Beauty Matters: Civic Lessons from an Olmsted Village. 


Saturday, March 25, 2023 at 1 p.m. - Great Lakes Portages: Why Chicago?
Presented by Jack MacRae

Due to unforeseen circumstances the previously scheduled presentation “Mapping the Chicago Portage: Seventeenth-Century Explorations by Jolliet, Marquette, La Salle, and Joutel” must be postponed. Fortunately one of Friends of the Chicago Portage lecture series' most popular storytellers, Jack MacRae, has stepped up to fill in and present a look at the principle portages between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds. Jack's talk will explore the deeper question of why Jolliet and Marquette's report of the Chicago portage led to the creation of a great city, and why many of the other historic portages did not.

Any portage was important and valuable to the people who used it. But today, we know not all historic portage sites are equal. To understand why some sites have faded away, while others have grown into the largest cities on the continent, this talk will compare the origins and outcomes of several portage routes in the Great Lakes watershed with our own Chicago Portage.

Jack MacRae grew up in the small coal mining village of Barrington, Illinois. He has spent the better part of his life working for local forest preserve districts as a naturalist, interpreter, educator and storyteller. In his spare time Jack is a professional garden gnome and the Curator of the Museum of Wonder and Awe. MacRae has spent four decades researching the historic maps of the Great Lakes. He has forgotten most of what he knows.


Saturday, April 29, 2003 at 1 p.m. – “The Chicago Portage - A Lasting Gift"

Presented by Richard Lanyon

The Chicago Portage is not just history; it is still functions as a main vein of Midwest commerce. Local author and historian Richard Lanyon takes us on a journey through the development of a waterway route that includes the Chicago Portage, and connects the Chicago River’s South Branch with the Des Plaines River in Joliet.

Lanyon traces how the portage route was first exploited to build a modest canal and railroads for commercial purposes, then developed into a larger canal to divert city wastewater away from Lake Michigan. Finally, he explores how the precise location of the ancient subcontinental divide is critical in accounting for the Chicago area’s allowance of Lake Michigan’s water as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Richard Lanyon is a scientist, author of “Building the Canal to Save Chicago”, "West by Southwest to Stickney: Draining the Central Area and Exorcising Clout" and others about the development of Chicago’s waterways. He is also the former Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

Jolliet & Marquette Statue in Portage Woods Forest Preserve
Benjamin Sells
Jack MacRae and friend
Richard Lanyon