Des Plaines River

The Des Plaines River (/dɪsˈpleɪnz/) is a river that flows southward for 133 miles (214 km)[1] through southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois[2] in the United States Midwest, eventually meeting the Kankakee River west of Channahon to form the Illinois River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.

Native Americans used the river as transportation route and portage. When French explorers and missionaries arrived in the 1600s, in what was then the Illinois Country of New France, they named the waterway La Rivière des Plaines (River of the Plane Tree) as they felt that trees on the river resembled the European plane tree. The local Native Americans showed these early European explorers how to traverse waterways of the Des Plaines watershed to travel from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River and its valley.

Parts of the river are now part of the Illinois Waterway and the Chicago Area Waterway System.

Des Plaines River
Des Plaines River Lake County Illinois
Typical section of Des Plaines River in Lake County, Illinois.
CountryUnited States
Physical characteristics
 - locationWest of Kenosha, Kenosha County, Wisconsin
 - coordinates42°40′25″N 88°01′35″W / 42.6736°N 88.0265°W
 - location
Illinois River
 - coordinates
41°23′23″N 88°15′18″W / 41.3898°N 88.2549°WCoordinates: 41°23′23″N 88°15′18″W / 41.3898°N 88.2549°W
Length133 miles (214 km)
Basin size630 square miles (1,600 km2)
 - average535 cubic feet per second (15 m3/s)
Des Plaines River
Map of the Des Plaines River drainage basin

Course and character

Des Plaines river near Lockport, IL
Des Plaines River near Lockport, IL

The slow-moving Des Plaines River rises in southern Wisconsin just west of Kenosha and flows southward primarily through marshland as it crosses into Illinois. The river turns to the east and flows through woodland forest preserve districts in Lake and Cook counties (through Forest Park and the city of Des Plaines), northwest of Chicago. Numerous small fixed dams have been built on the river starting in central Lake County and continuing through Cook County. Eventually, the river turns to the southwest and joins with the Sanitary and Ship Canal in Lockport before flowing through the city of Joliet. Here it becomes part of the Chicago Area Waterway System and the longer Illinois Waterway.

In the heavily industrialized area around Joliet, dams control the river. Just west of Joliet, the Des Plaines converges with the Kankakee River to form the Illinois River. (41°23′28″N 88°15′31″W / 41.390976°N 88.258724°W)

Those parts of the Des Plaines River preserved in a mostly natural state are used for conservation and recreation, while substantially altered sections serve as an important industrial waterway and drainage channel. The original course of the riverbed was moved to the west at the town of Lockport during the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1905.

According to Chicago Wilderness Magazine, as the Des Plaines River runs 95 miles (153 km) through four Illinois counties, it "changes from prairie creek to a suburban stream, to a large urbanized river, to a major industrial waterway."[3]

Sections of the river in the Lake County and Cook County Forest Preserve districts in Illinois create "a nearly continuous greenway though all of Lake County and the northern section of Cook County." While canoe launching ramps are available, "The lack of ramps for trailered boats makes this long river a quiet, family-friendly river." [3] This greenway also supports the Des Plaines River Trail, a multi-use trail that roughly follows the course of the Des Plaines River through Lake County and into Cook County.



The Des Plaines River was named by early French coureurs de bois sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries, after the trees lining the banks of the river. The word la plaine, in the 18th-century Mississippi Valley dialect of French spoken at the time, referred to either the American sycamore or the red maple, both of which resembled the European plane tree either in their palmate leaves or similar bark.[4] This meaning of plaine survives in Canadian French: Plaine or Plaine rouge refers to an Acer rubrum[5] and Acer saccharinum is sometimes named a plaine blanche.[6]

The English word for the plane tree came from the 14th century Old French word la plane.[7] Since the later 18th century, the French word for the plane tree has evolved into le platane.[8] As the Latin name for the plane tree is platanus, this transformation was likely done as a part of the attempts by late 18th-century French academics to change the spelling of many French words to what was perceived as their Latin origins. A side effect of such action was that the original French meaning of the name applied to the Des Plaines River was obscured. Today, des Plaines in modern Parisian French literally means "of the plains" or "of the prairie". This has led to confusion about the meaning of the original French name for the Des Plaines River.

Many people today believe that the river was named after the plains and prairies through which the river flows. But, in the 18th-century French dialect, it was more common to use the word "prairie" to indicate a plain, such as Prairie du Rocher in Illinois and Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin. Also, as noted above, it is more likely that the river was named in reference to the trees rather than the land. The French, like the Native Americans, traveled primarily by waterways rather than overland. The view of the prairie was nearly always blocked by trees. To this day a large number of both maples and sycamores grow along the Des Plaines River.

Although the original French name for the river has survived, its pronunciation has been altered. Today, locals pronounce it in an anglicized way (roughly "dess plains"), rather than according to the French pronunciation.

Des Plaines River Bridge

Des Plaines River, Joliet, IL
Des Plaines River in Joliet, IL
Des Plaines River Bridge, Joliet, Illinois
Des Plaines River Bridge in Joliet, IL

The Des Plaines River Bridge in Joliet is a cantilever bridge that is six lanes wide—three lanes traveling eastbound and westbound. The bridge is signed as part of Interstate 80. The bridge is located on the south side of Joliet.

Flood control projects

A Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (the Chicago Deep Tunnel) to reduce the harmful effects of floods and the flushing of raw sewage into Lake Michigan is semi-operational. It diverts storm water and sewage into temporary holding reservoirs. The megaproject is one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken in terms of scope, cost and timeframe. Commissioned in the mid-1970s, the project is managed by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Completion of the system is not anticipated until 2029, but substantial portions of the system have opened.

A modern flood control study[9] stated that flooding on the Des Plaines River has caused significant damage and adverse economic impacts. The greatest recorded flood, in September 1986, caused an estimated $35 million in damage to 10,000 dwellings and 263 business and industrial sites. A Phase I flood control Project was authorized under the Water Resources Development Act of 1999. Project features include levee, dam, and reservoir expansion at a total cost of $50.5 million (in 2002).

On August 24, 2007, the river flooded by over 9 feet.[10] On September 14, 2008, the river flooded after the area received more than 10 inches (250 mm) of rainfall over two days.[11]


In 1978, in the months before his arrest, serial killer John Wayne Gacy discarded the remains of at least four of his thirty-three victims into the river, after finding no other suitable locations to dispose of them, due to the further twenty-eight buried in the crawlspace of his home.[12]


The Des Plaines River is the site of the Des Plaines River Canoe & Kayak Marathon.[13] The race was founded in 1957 by Ralph Frese, and is the second oldest continual canoe race in the United States. Fishing is a common practice along the Des Plaines River with a steady game fish population of bluegills, carp, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, smallmouth bass and sunfish.

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-04-05 at WebCite, accessed May 13, 2011
  2. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
  3. ^ a b Chicago Wilderness Magazine (online) -- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-02-11. Retrieved 2006-03-22.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ McDerrmott, John Francis. A Glossary of Mississippi Valley French. (St. Louis, MO: Washington University Press, 1941), p. 119.
  5. ^ Frère Marie-Victorin, Flore laurentienne
  6. ^ Frère Marie-Victorin, Flore laurentienne
  7. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary".
  8. ^ "platane", Word Reference
  9. ^ Upper Des Plaines River and Tributaries Projects and Feasibility Study, Northwest Municipal Conference "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-02-28. Retrieved 2006-03-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Chicago Flood" Archived 2007-08-27 at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Tribune, 25 August 2007
  11. ^ "Chicago Flood", Chicago Tribune, 2008
  12. ^ "Houses of Horror: The Serial Murder Sites of Chicago and Milwaukee".
  13. ^ "Canoe Marathon", Official Website

External links

Archer Avenue

Archer Avenue, sometimes known as Archer Road outside the Chicago, Illinois city limits, and also known as State Street only in Lockport, Illinois and Fairmont, Illinois city limits, is a street running northeast-to-southwest between Chicago's Chinatown and Lockport. Archer follows the original trail crossing the Chicago Portage between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River, and parallels the path of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Alton Railroad. As a main traffic artery, it has largely been replaced by the modern Stevenson Expressway.

The street was named after the first commissioner of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, William Beatty Archer. One early map of Chicago (ca. 1830) listed what may have been the future Archer Road as "The Road to Widow Brown's".

Archer Avenue was made famous by Finley Peter Dunne in his books and sketches about the fictional saloonkeeper Mr. Dooley, whose tavern was on "Archey Road". The fictional Dooley "lived" in the real-life Bridgeport, Chicago neighborhood.

Archer Avenue is also famous as the purported haunting place of Resurrection Mary, a vanishing hitchhiker who is said to travel between the Willowbrook Ballroom and Resurrection Cemetery.The east end of Archer begins in Chicago's Chinatown, then passes through the Bridgeport, McKinley Park and Brighton Park neighborhoods on its way to Archer Heights and Garfield Ridge. Outside Chicago, Archer Avenue/Road passes through the villages of Summit, Justice, Willow Springs, and the southern edge of Lemont before terminating on the north side of Lockport. Between Summit and Lockport, Archer Avenue is designated as a part of Illinois Route 171. Historically, this section of Archer was a part of Illinois Route 4, the original 1924 highway connecting St. Louis and Chicago. In 1926, Route 4 was rerouted to the north side of the Des Plaines River on an alignment that subsequently became U.S. Route 66, and its former route on Archer was redesignated as Illinois Route 4A. By 1939, Route 4A had been extended along the entire length of Archer Avenue into Downtown Chicago. In 1967, Route 4A was truncated back to Summit and merged into Illinois Route 171.The former site of Argonne National Laboratory and its predecessor, the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory in the forest preserve near Red Gate Woods, can be entered from an access road on Archer Avenue. This was once a secret Manhattan Project site, and is now known as the Site A/Plot M Disposal Site. Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1), the world's first nuclear reactor, was moved from Stagg Field to this site in 1943 and renamed Chicago Pile-2 (CP-2). The remains of CP-1, CP-2, and Chicago Pile-3 (CP-3) remain buried at this site.

Playland Amusement Park, now defunct, opened in mid-summer of 1950 and was located in Willow Springs, Illinois, which at that time was unincorporated. The area is now in Justice, Illinois. The amusement park was located at 9300 West 79th Street in Willow Springs. Southwest of Lemont, Archer passes Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, site of numerous Professional Golfers Association tournaments.

Buffalo Creek (Illinois)

Buffalo Creek is an 11.2-mile-long (18.0 km) tributary of the Des Plaines River. It begins in Lake Zurich, Illinois and flows mainly south-eastward through Kildeer, Long Grove, Buffalo Grove and Wheeling. In Wheeling, it is named Wheeling Drainage Ditch. It joins the Des Plaines River next to Chicago Executive Airport.

Chicago Portage National Historic Site

The Chicago Portage National Historic Site is a National Historic Site in Lyons, Cook County, Illinois, United States. It is located in Chicago Portage Forest Preserve and the Ottawa Trail Woods Forest Preserve, at the junction of Portage Creek with the Des Plaines River, on the west side of Harlem Avenue on the line of 48th Street. Preserved within the park is the western end of the historic portage linking the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River, thereby linking the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. A memorial depicting the portage of French explorers is located at the parking area. A trail leads from the memorial down into the portage wilderness area.

The site commemorates the Chicago Portage, first written about by French explorers Father Marquette and Louis Joliet during their use of the portage and exploration of the area between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. The portage crossed what was known as Mud Lake, which could be wet, swampy, frozen, or dry, depending on the season, and which has since been completely obliterated. Mud Lake extended roughly from the historic western end of the South Branch of the Chicago River (near today's Damen Avenue) to the Des Plaines River at the present National Historic Site. These explorers understood the importance of the easiest crossing of the continental divide between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean watersheds.

The site, which was designated January 3, 1952 as an "affiliated area" of the National Park Service, is owned and administered by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Visitor access is via Harlem Avenue, just north of Interstate 55. The site contains the parking area, a memorial statue, interpretive signs, and trails. Activities here are hiking and canoeing, and the Friends of the Chicago Portage sponsors guided walks.

Coonley House

The Avery Coonley House, also known as the Coonley House or Coonley Estate was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Constructed 1908-12, this is a residential estate of several buildings built on the banks of the Des Plaines River in Riverside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It is itself a National Historic Landmark and is included in another National Historic Landmark, the Riverside Historic District.

Des Plaines, Illinois

Des Plaines is a city in Cook County, Illinois, United States. Its population was 58,364 at the 2010 census. The city is a suburb of Chicago and is located just north of O'Hare International Airport. It is situated on and is named after the Des Plaines River, which runs through the city just east of its downtown area.

Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area

Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area is an Illinois state park on 5,000 acres (2,023 ha) in Will County, Illinois, United States. It is located on floodplain adjacent to the confluence of the Des Plaines River (after which this park was named) and the Kankakee River to form the Illinois River.

Des Plaines River Trail

The Des Plaines River Trail is a recreational multiuse trail that follows the course of the Des Plaines River through most of Lake and part of Cook County in northeast Illinois in the United States.

Trail uses include hiking/walking, bicycling, equestrian, and even winter cross country skiing and snowmobiling (conditions permitting). Since much of the trail lies in the flood plain along the Des Plaines River, sections of the trail are occasionally closed due to flooding during periods of heavy rain. Though not all sections of the trail connect directly, there is currently a 28-mile (45 km) continuous section running through Lake County starting at Russell Road along the Wisconsin/Illinois state line and running south into Cook County. There are additional disconnected sections south of the town of Des Plaines.

Much of the Des Plaines River Trail runs through a protected corridor made up of a series of public lands that are part of the Lake County Forest Preserve District and the Cook County Forest Preserve District. The numerous forest preserves provide additional recreational opportunities along the trail. Underpasses and bridges are used to facilitate many (not all) of the major road crossings (The underpasses are highly prone to flooding during the spring).

Cook County Forest Preserve rangers give lectures at various time during the year. There is a nature house where forest animals reside for the public to view. The trails are

very calm and beautiful and especially in the fall when the leaves change colors. A peak time to walk the trails is the second or third week in October. You can picnic right next to the Des Plaines River.

Des Plaines River Valley Bridge

The Des Plaines River Valley Bridge is a post-tensioned concrete girder bridge in the northeastern portion of the U.S. state of Illinois. It carries Interstate 355 (I-355) over the Des Plaines River, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, several railroad lines, Bluff Road, New Avenue and a forest preserve. It is officially named the Veterans Memorial Bridge. There are title plaques on the square pillars at the north and south entrances to the bridge. The bridge is 1.3 miles (2.1 km) long.The bridge consists of 34 piers from 10 to 75 feet (3 to 23 m) in height. A lower level bridge was also built for maintenance purposes, and to carry a bicycle trail that will connect other bicycle trails in the area. The total height of the bridge ranges from 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m). The height of the bridge allows the endangered Hine's Emerald Dragonfly to fly safely beneath the bridge, away from the flow of traffic.

Des Plaines station

Des Plaines is one of two commuter railroad stations on Metra's Union Pacific/Northwest line in Des Plaines, Illinois. The station is located at 1501 Miner Street (US 14), and lies 16.7 miles (26.9 km) from the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago. In Metra's zone-based fare system, Des Plaines is in zone D.

Parking is mostly available along the streets on either side of the tracks. Primarily this includes Miner Street between southeast of Perry Street and west of Des Plaines River Road. Other parking areas exist along Ellinwood Street between Pearson Street and Des Plaines River Road east of the Des Plaines Public Library, a lot on Webford Avenue off of Graceland Avenue (Southbound US 12-45), and on Prairie Avenue east of Pearson Street.

One train running outbound from Chicago each weekday terminates at Des Plaines.

DuPage River

The DuPage River is a 28.3-mile-long (45.5 km) tributary of the Des Plaines River in the U.S. state of Illinois.

Edison Park, Chicago

Edison Park (formerly Canfield) is one of the 77 community areas of Chicago, in North Side, Chicago, Illinois.

It consists entirely of the Edison Park neighborhood, and is named after Thomas Alva Edison, who gave his blessing to this community namesake in 1890. According to the 2000 Census, its population is 11,259. Edison Park has one of the highest concentrations of Irish ancestry in Chicago, where they make up over three-fourths of the neighborhood's population.

Located between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago River this area served as a local watershed divide. The Chicago River flowed into Lake Michigan, which connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes. The Des Plaines River feeds into the Illinois River and the Mississippi River to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Like nearby Portage Park, Edison Park was a common portage for early travelers, who would carry their canoes across it.

Forest Home Cemetery (Forest Park)

Forest Home Cemetery is at 863 S. DesPlaines Ave, Forest Park, Illinois, adjacent to the Eisenhower Expressway, straddling the Des Plaines River in Cook County, just west of Chicago. The cemetery traces its history to two adjacent cemeteries, German Waldheim (1873) and Forest Home (1876), which merged in 1969.

Foster Avenue (Chicago)

Foster Avenue (5200 N) is a major east-west street on the North Side of Chicago as well as the northwestern suburbs. Foster Avenue separates the Chicago lakefront neighborhoods of Edgewater to the north and Uptown to the south.

Foster Avenue runs in Chicago from Lake Michigan on the east to East River Road (8800 W.) to the west and picks up again west of Des Plaines River Road to connect Chicago to O'Hare Airport. It carries U.S. Route 41 from Lake Shore Drive to Lincoln Avenue.

Lake Calumet

Lake Calumet is the largest body of water within the city of Chicago. Formerly a shallow, postglacial lake draining into Lake Michigan, it has been changed beyond recognition by industrial redevelopment and decay. Parts of the lake have been dredged, and other parts reshaped by landfill. Together with the rest of the city of Chicago, the remnant of the lake now drains into the Des Plaines River and the Mississippi River basin.

Calumet is a Norman word used since the 17th century by French colonists in Canada for the ceremonial pipes they saw used by First Nations peoples.

Lincolnshire, Illinois

Lincolnshire is a village in Vernon Township, Lake County, in the U.S. state of Illinois. The village is a northern suburb of Chicago. The population of Lincolnshire was 7,275 at the 2010 census. Lincolnshire was incorporated on August 5, 1957, from the unincorporated Half Day area when land was purchased to build a residential subdivision. The community underwent an aggressive era of expansion from 1983 to the 1990s. The Des Plaines River bisects the village, passing from north to south; Illinois Route 22 also divides the village into two parts, crossing the village from east to west.

Lincolnshire is home to the award-winning public Adlai E. Stevenson High School and to Laura B. Sprague and Half Day elementary schools and to Daniel Wright Junior High School that compose the elementary Lincolnshire-Prairie View School District 103. Many global corporations are located in Lincolnshire, including Aon Hewitt, Zebra Technologies, CDW, and Sysmex, generating a daytime population of over 20,000 people. The Village of Lincolnshire and other entities host several popular annual events, including 4 July celebration, Art Festival, National Night Out, and Boo Bash. The Village maintains a Police Department that closely collaborates with its local school districts. Lincolnshire manages a public works system at the direct expense of the village; it retrieves all of its water from the city of Highland Park, which derives its water from adjacent Lake Michigan. The village has a council–manager government and is a home-rule municipality. The mayor of Lincolnshire is Elizabeth J. Brandt.

Lloyd Lewis House

The Lloyd Lewis House in Libertyville, Illinois is a Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1939. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The client for this house was the editor of the Chicago Daily News. This is a two-story house located near the Des Plaines River.

Riverwoods, Illinois

Riverwoods is a village in Lake County, Illinois, United States. It was established on the banks of the Des Plaines River in 1959 by local steel magnate Jay Peterson. The population was 3,660 at the 2010 census. The corporate headquarters of Discover Financial and CCH are located there, as well as Orphans of the Storm, an animal shelter founded in 1928 by famous dancer Irene Castle. The village hosts the annual "Arts & Riverwoods" festival.

Salt Creek (Des Plaines River tributary)

Salt Creek is a 43.4-mile-long (69.8 km) stream in northeastern Illinois. It is an important tributary of the Des Plaines River, part of the Illinois River and ultimately the Mississippi River watersheds. It rises in northwest Cook County at Wilke Marsh in Palatine and flows in a meandering course generally southward through DuPage County, returning to central Cook County and emptying into the Des Plaines River in Riverside, Illinois. Most of the creek's watershed is urbanized, densely populated and flood-prone.

Flood control dams were constructed along the creek in 1978 within the Ned Brown Forest Preserve near Elk Grove Village, Illinois, creating the 590-acre (2.4 km2) Busse Lake. A diversion tunnel was constructed approximately 1.6 miles (2.6 km) north of the confluence with the Des Plaines River, at a point where the two streams are separated by only 1,600 feet (490 m).

Tributary streams include Addison Creek. The Graue Mill historic gristmill stands on the bank of the creek in Oak Brook.

It was originally known to European settlers as the Little Des Plaines River but was given the name Salt Creek in the mid-nineteenth century after a large wagonload of salt spilled in the waterway. Some of the species of fish in the creek include carp, smallmouth bass, northern pike, bluegill/sunfish minnow/shad, and bullhead catfish.

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