This historic canal town is a hidden gem that balances preservation and progress while offering an ever increasing range of fun events and attractions
In a waterway, locks are put in place to lift and lower boats to adjust to different water levels or to go from one area of water to another. While Lockport was named for the first lock along the Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal that linked the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, the name is apt today in the ways the community offers different levels of things to do and see and branches out to the future with ongoing revitalization efforts that balance preservation and progress.
Navigating this historic canal town of about 25,000 residents in the I&M National Heritage Corridor isn’t all that different from taking off on a river journey — depending on your starting point, there are intriguing stopping points along the way, a current that is at times swift and other times gentle, and a view that continually changes.
Shove Off on a Virtual Trip through Lockport
Take it from the mayor and start at the I&M Canal Trail. Lockport Mayor Steve Streit suggests beginning the trail at Heritage Village on 2nd Street, if you are touring the town by bike or on foot. Check out the many historic structures, including a schoolhouse, smokehouse and railroad depot at Heritage Village, which is managed by the Will County Historical Museum.
See where the I&M canal began . . . in the circa-1838 limestone Gaylord Building that was originally a warehouse for canal building materials. Head inside to learn more at the Illinois and Michigan Canal exhibit. Switch cultural gears and view local artworks on the second-floor Gallery Seven.
Savor food, drinks and a sweet view of the canal at the Public Landing restaurant inside the Gaylord Building. The eatery is located near the actual public landing of the canal, which is now a park. Do you have a dog in the family? Bring your leashed pooch to the restaurant’s outdoor patio and order them their own special “Yappetizer.”
Head south along the Canal Trail . . . and step inside the historic limestone Norton building to see the Illinois State Museum Lockport Gallery juxtapose innovative art installations and history.
Continue following the path of local history . . . at the Midwest SOARRING Foundation’s Cultural Center, located in the nationally registered historic train station, where the organization maintains the traditions of Native American ancestors and works to restore the natural environment. Browse handmade arts and crafts in the center’s gift shop.
Put the “lock” in the Lockport experience . . . by stopping by the I&M Canal’s Lock #1, about a half-mile south from the Public Landing off a public trail. The massive limestone walls are an impressive reminder of 19th century engineering ingenuity.
Unlock Fun Downtown
See why “State Street, that Great Street” doesn’t just apply to the Chicago thoroughfare of the same name.
Stroll downtown Lockport . . along the recently-updated State Street — like, really recently, since the town was finishing up a beautification project this spring. Imagine what Lockport must have looked like in the 19th century as a milling and grain-processing town while gazing at the historic buildings, or delve deeper for detail with a visit to the Will County Historical Society and Archives, in a building that once housed the I&M Canal Commission.
Grab a bite . . . at one of downtown Lockport’s restaurants, including favorites like Mamma Onesta’s Italian Restaurant and George’s family restaurant, as well as new establishments that represent the town’s efforts to bring in new business.
Pull up at the Old West-themed Stagecoach Eatery and Saloon, which opened in June in a building next to the stagecoach stop where Abraham Lincoln was rumored to have visited.
Plant yourself at Vegan Café, which serves raw, organic and gluten-free fare for those following vegan diets as well as those who appreciate flavorful plant-based meals. Order up a smoothie or juice at Naked Sprouts Organic Market, which also offers a line of detox drinks.
Experience the fine dining that has drawn foodies to Lockport for years to the acclaimed Tallgrass Restaurant on State Street, which offers high-end three, four and five courses of artfully prepared French cuisine in a century-old building complete with original gas chandeliers.
See what’s brewing . . . at Embers Tap House, which offers a full restaurant menu and private party space in addition to an assortment of pours, and at soon-to-open spots like Tangled Roots Wood Fire Grill and the Grapes and Hops wine and beer boutique. Speaking of wine, uncork some fun at Port Noir wine and martini bar.
Stop and shop . . . along State Street at antiques and art stores such as Canal House Antiques and Wildwood Gallery. Pick up some crafting supplies and chat with fellow artisans at Betsy’s Yarn and Tea Shop or Thimbles. Find fabulous clothing at To The Nines Women’s Clothing, Briosa’s, or the Made For Me Boutique.
Satisfy cravings . . . and get a taste of nostalgia, too, at Hollingworth Candies, which makes its own signature toffee, brittle and other old-fashioned sweet treats. Stop in for an ice cream at Cool Creations, located in the converted Old Baptist Church.
Still hungry? Belly up to the cereal bar at Whizzy Puffs Sweet Spot, which offers tastes of 20 unique cereals along with signature doughnuts and pastries.
Gather ‘Round at Special Events
Just as this canal town is distinctive in its look and history, Lockport also offers unique events, including its Summer Arts Series, that put the fun in summer.
Let the music play . . . at Lockport’s free concerts, LockRocks. On the evenings of August 16 and September 7, popular tribute bands take to the stage, while a beer garden, food and family activities keep everyone busy.
And dance the night away . . . with more Music on the Patio, every Thursday night at 7 p.m. during June, July and August. Come to Prairie Bluff for the live music and stay for the great food!
Mondays are fun days . . . thanks to Cruisin’ into Lockport, showcasing classic cars and staging live music at Central Square on Monday evenings from June through August. This year, there’s an inflatable obstacle course and face painting for kids, too.
Take your seat . . . at the historic Roxy Theater during the Midwest Waterways Short Film Festival, featuring screenings of independent short films every other Thursday in July, August and September.
Don’t take yourself to seriously . . . and meet with fellow fans at Comicopolis, a free pop culture and comics festival on July 27 at the Lockport branch of the White Oak Library District, put on with Amazing Fantasy books and Comics. Channel the spirit of Illinois’ most famous and favorite son at Fridays in the Park with Abe at the Lincoln Landing next to the Gaylord Building, featuring live performances and foods and beverages from local establishments.
Gain new respect . . . for the Greatest Generation at the Chicago area’s largest World War II reenactment — featuring uniformed soldiers representing several countries — held this year on September 7 – 8 at Dellwood Park. Vintage war vehicles help set the scene, big bands play music from the 40s, and the Rockford Peaches play ball.
Tail it over to Lockport . . . for LobsterFest in October, which serves up lobster dishes along with wine, beer and live music. The event benefits the Illinois State Museum.
Mark your calendars now . . . for next June, when the perennially popular Old Canal Days returns, with a carnival, live music, artisan’s fair, car show, parade and history tours of locally important sites.
The charm of this canal town extends beyond the limestone structures and cute shops and eateries to its outdoor spaces.
Hang around . . . at Dellwood Park, whether you want to try your hand at one of the state’s top-rated disc golf courses or walk, ride or run on the trails. The annual Independence Day fireworks are also shot off here.
Grab your clubs and tee it up . . . at Prairie Bluff Public Golf Club — 237 acres of gently rolling hills covered with native prairie grasses. The well manicured greens are matched by a beautiful club house where you can stop in for lunch or dinner at P.B. Mulligan’s Restaurant.
Aim for a good time . . . with a game of paintball, airsoft, archery tag or laser tag at Legacy Adventure Park. The park also features two adventure courses and treasure hunt events.
Scare Up Good Times
It’s summer now, but fall is just around the corner. Halloween is a particularly fun time around this southwestern ‘burb, courtesy of naturally spooky places and some creative minds.
Prepare to be scared witless . . . at HellsGate Haunted House, located in a multi-level mansion along the canal, set among abandoned quarries and limestone bluffs. HellsGate was voted Best Haunted House in Illinois by ScareFactor.com. They tone it down for younger kids on a special family-friendly day.
Get a jump on fright night . . . on September 13, when HellsGate hosts Spooky Night Out, a 21-and-older costume party with entertainment, food and special tours of HellsGate’s 2019 horrors.Edit Module