The Illinois River and its Tributaries.
From: Centennial History of Mason County
Including A Sketch of the early history of Illinois.
By Joseph Cochrain
Rokker's Steam Printing House
Springfield, Ill. 1876.


The Illinois river, which gives name to the State, may be con sidered the most important, whose whole course lies within the limits of the State, and whose waters lave the western line of Mason county. It is formed by the junction of the Kankakee and the Desplaines rivers, near the towns of Dresden and Kankakee Thence it curves nearly to a west course, until a short distance above Hennepin. Here it curves to the south, and then to the southwest. Passing the beautiful and flourishing cities of Peoria, Pekin, Havana and Beardstown, it reaches Naples. Hence to its mouth its course is nearly due south, It enters the Mississippi twenty miles above the mouth of the Missouri, and at that point is four hundred feet above the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. From Havana to the mouth there is fifteen feet fall, and from Peoria to Havana four feet eleven inches. At high floods this river overflows its banks and covers the bottoms for a considerable extent. The Mississippi, at extreme high water, backs the water seventy miles up the Illinois. The commerce of the Illinois river is very extensive, and increases with a rapidity only known to the rich agricultural regions of the western states. Several steamboats are constantly employed in the Illinois river trade, and others make occasional trips. At as early a date as 1836, thirty-five different steamboats passed and landed at Havana, and the total arrivals and departures for the season were four hundred and fifty. The year 1828 was the beginning of steam navigation on the Illinois river. Forty miles below the junction of the Kankakee and Dcsplaincs rivers the Illinois receives the Fox river from the north. Both above and below the mouth of this river there is a succession of rapids in the Illinois, with intervals of deep and smooth water. From the mouth of Fox rivcr to the foot of the rapids is nine miles, the descent in all eight feet, the rocks of soft sandstone mixed with gravel and shclly limestone. Nine miles above Fox river the rapids begin, and extend ten or twelve miles. They arc formed by ledges of rocks in the river, and rocky islands. The whole descent from the surface of Lake Michigan, at Chicago, to the foot of the rapids, a distance of ninety-four and one-fourth miles, is one hundred and forty-one feet and ten inches.

At the foot of the rapids the Vermilion river enters the Illinois from the south, by a mouth about fifty yards wide. It is an excellent mill stream, and runs through extensive beds of bituminous coal. Sixty miles down the Illinois from the termination of the rapids, commences Peoria Lake, an expansion of the river, and about twenty miles in length by an average of two wide. Such is the depth and the regularity of the bottom, that it has no perceptible current. Its waters are very transparent, its margin exhibits beautiful scenery, and its surface is spotted with innumerable flocks of pelicans, swan, geese and ducks. It also abounds in all the verities of fish, in bountiful supply, usually found in the western waters. A few miles below Peoria lake the Mackinaw river comes into the Illinois on the east side, from the south. It is about one hundred miles in length, and was formerly boatable for a considerable distance. It rises in the prairie in the eastern part of McLean county, und, running southwçst through Tazewell county, enters the Illinois about three miles below Pekin. The next stream entering the Illinois river is Quiver creek, from the east, a short distance above the city of Havana. An inconsiderable stream, but on whose banks are situated two fine mills, and along its shores lie some of the finest farms in the State of Illinois. The stream is abundantly stocked with fish. Twenty-five miles below the mouth of Mackinaw, and directly opposite the city of Havana, Spoon river - classic stream of many historical associations - enters the Illinois from the west. It is a beautiful stream, the most considerable of those which water the military tract. It was once navigable for a short distance. Its length is about one hundred and forty miles.

About eight miles above Beardstown the Sangamon enters the Illinois front the east. It is one of the most prominent branches of the Illinois, and forms the southeastern boundary of Mason county. It is one hundred and eighty miles in length, and has been, in seasons of high water, traversed with small steamers a long distance from its mouth. From its position and excellence of its lands, it is one of the most important streams in the State. Along its banks are some of the best grass and stock farms in Illinois. Crooked creek, next to Spoon river, is the most considerable stream that waters the military tract. From its volume and length it deserves the name of river, but it is mostly designated by the inferior title. It enters the Illinois from the west, a few miles below Beardstown, and is about one hundred miles in length. Below Crooked creek, and on the east side of the river, are Indian creek, Mauvaisterre creek, and Sandy creek, in Morgan county, and Apple and Macoupin creeks, in Green county. All these are beautiful streams, and meander through some of the best populated and most fertile regions of country of the garden State. McKee's creek, emptying on the west side, is the lowest of the tributaries of the Illinois of any note, from the military tract. The land on this creek and its branches is excellent, and well proportioned in timber and prairie; is gently undulating and rich.

In the Illinois river there are but few bars or obstructions to navigation until we reach Starved Rock, about one mile above the town of Utica. Here we meet the first permanent obstruction, being a ledge of sandstone rock immediately at the foot of the rapids, and extending entirely across the bed of the river. This point is two hundred and ten miles from its mouth by the course of the river. The town of Utica may properly be called the head of navigation, though steamers have gone to Ottawa, nine miles further. For a great distance above its mouth the river is almost straight as a canal, and during low water in summer has scarcely any perceptible current, and the water is quite transparent. The river is wide and deep, and enters the Mississippi by a mouth four hundred yards wide. No river in the western country is so fine for the purposes of navigation as the illinois, or flows through so rich and fertile a region of country. On the banks of this noble stream the first French emigrants from Canada settled, and here was the scenery on which they founded their extravagant panegy. rics on the western country.

By the Chicago and Illinois canal the waters of the Illinois river are united to those of Lake Michigan, and form one of the most important links in the chain of internal navigable waters of the United States. Nature performed a great share in the accomplishment of this grand improvement. The canal distance from the lake to its intersection with the river is one hundred miles. The navigation of the Illinois river was an indispensable necessity to the early settlers as a means of access and egress, and for the shipment of their immense superfluous crops.


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