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Local history in your library: Dredging of the Kankakee River and the Grand Kankakee Marsh

Photo of a river dredge.

Prior to 1852, the Grand Kankakee Marsh was the largest wetland area in North America.  The size of the marsh or “wetland” was around 500,000 acres.  It was a vast area of wildlife that drew hunters from all over the world.  Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland frequently hunted the marsh.  

By 1854, the process of draining the marsh had approval from the government, and by the early 1880s they were underway with the creation of “drainage districts”.  Steam shovels and dredges were brought in to channel out big ditches to the river.  This process continued until 1911 and the marshland was mainly dry. 

The dredges were then brought in to channel the Kankakee River.  By 1917, 250 miles of bayous, marshes, and sand islands had been reduced to 90 miles of straight river.  The dredging started near South Bend and continued to the Indiana/Illinois state line.

The Grand Marsh, which had been the largest wetland in North America, was reduced to approximately 30,000 acres.  Some restoration of the wetlands has been achieved over the years, and there continues to be discussions on this process.

You can read all about this and much more local history in the local history files at the DeMotte and Rensselaer locations of the Jasper County Public Library.