The historic importance of the Illinois and Michigan (I & M) Canal and the canal region was officially recognized on August 24, 1984, when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that established this region as the nation's first National Heritage Corridor. Standing at the center of I & M Canal history, in Lockport, Illinois, is the original I & M Canal Headquarters, now home to the Will County Historical Society.
The one-story wing of this frame building was built in 1837 as the headquarters of the I & M Canal. It was the first canal structure, and therefore is the oldest surviving structure. The building housed the engineering office as well as the land office. (The land office was responsible for selling land that had previously been given to the state by the federal government. Proceeds from the land sales aided in the financing of the canal.)
The building later contained the canal telegraph office, and for awhile, a branch of the Bank of Illinois. (In 1840, this branch issued paper notes which it hoped would be used for currency. The Bank of Illinois, however, failed a short while later.) A two-story wing was later added to the south part of the original headquarters to provide housing for the canal manager and the toll collector.
The importance of the I & M Canal throughout local, regional, and even national history is still evident today. And while the overall history of Will County is the essence for why the Will County Historical Society exists, we nonetheless recognize the significant role that the I & M Canal has played in the history and development of Will County.