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Ottawa to check for buried canal lock

A buried part of Ottawa history may again see the light of day — if it’s still where city officials think it should be.

The objective is to locate the remains of a stone boat lock built as a service canal that branched off the Illinois & Michigan Canal to a turning basin roughly near the site of the demolished Central School.

Work is set to resume in upcoming weeks on the completion of a bike trail up the east side of Canal Street, which once was a water-filled canal filled in during the 1930s.

Last year saw the completion of the first leg of the trail. It is the four blocks between Madison Street north past Reddick Public Library to Washington Street, completed with a paved, sometimes meandering, trail.

This year the final two blocks from Washington Street in front of the Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum north to the stone shelter on the main canal’s south bank will be finished.

Mayor Bob Eschbach said when he, City Engineer Dave Noble and Arnie Bandstra, the city’s retired assistant city engineer and president of the Ottawa Canal Association, checked old maps they were able to verify the lateral canal locks was pretty much at the intersection with Superior Street.

“My guess is the lock is still there,” Eschbach said. “We thought it would be neat to do some excavation.”

Originally the lock would have been a little bit higher than today’s Superior Street surface, and Eschbach and the engineers theorized the top layers of lock's stones may have been pushed into the canal and covered with fill.

“If some exploratory excavation shows the lock is still there, it could be left exposed to view,” Bandstra said.

There also would be signage installed explaining the old canal feature, Eschbach said.

Where the trail will end at the south bank of the main canal is the restored stone shelter built during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Eschbach said once the main canal there is rewatered later this year the shelter could be used as the place to rent kayaks or paddleboat in fair weather and as a warming house when conditions are right for ice skating.

“It’s got a fireplace, so it would be perfect,” he said.

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