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De Calumet Wildernis


November 16 is Dutch-American Heritage Day. The day commemorates the Netherlands being the first country to recognize the United States back in 1776, but I used it to explore later events in Dutch-American history: namely the arrival of the Dutch in the Chicago area in the 1840s and '50s.


In all I spent 5 hours on a crisp but gorgeous autumn day tracing two waterways (Thorn Creek and the Little Calumet River) through Cook County, starting in South Holland and concluding at the literal bottom of Chicago, at 134th Place and St. Lawrence, on the north bank of the Little Calumet. This yielded an hour of video footage which I managed to edit down to under half an hour over three episodes of the Calumet Wilderness... make that De Calumet Wildernis.


Part 1: Thorn Creek to the Little Calumet River confluence


Part 2: The Little Calumet Through The Low Prairie


Part 3: Saganashkee-Calumet


Links and Notes:


Paarlberg Park, South Holland - The story of widow Antje Paarlberg was heavily fictionalized in the 1920s by writer Edna Ferber, and later adapted into three films.


The Anker Site, on the south end of Dolton, has a detailed Wikipedia entry. The Joe Louis Site is a pain to search online because most links go to a residential development in Detroit.


Artist Bernard Williams' vibrant mural featuring the life of 19th Black bicycling champion Major Taylor is the best public timeline I've seen.


Jan and Aagje Ton farm site has recently been recognized as a significant stop on the Underground Railroad. The Tons immigrated from Noord Holland in 1849 and farmed on the north bank of the Little Calumet.


***


Another reason for the journey was to scout conditions for future kayak trips. There are muddy if usable launches at Gouwens Park and Kickapoo Woods. I forgot to visit the new public access spot just off Ashland Avenue and 134th Street in Blue Island.


The river is much wider here than in Northwest Indiana, more reminiscent of conditions along Deep River so logjams don't appear to be an issue. The current was more noticeable than the sluggish waters in my part of the Calumet, but not so as to make paddling upstream a problem.


The section from Gouwens Park to Blue Island (and points beyond) is well documented as a water trail, but I'm curious about conditions east of I-94, to the confluence with Thorn Creek, and even how far up Thorn Creek might be accessible. (At Wampum Lake the river passes through grates at the I80/94/294 interchange. And the creek is too low from there.)


Near the confluence of the Little Calumet and the Cal-Sag Channel I was reminded that this section is still an active shipping route. A towboat pushing two barges glided past, creating a hell of a wave in the water and the air (the sound is almost musical, see the third video.)


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