The story of this city in Will County begins in the 1830s when it was chosen as the headquarters for the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
The canal was the final link in a chain of waterways connecting the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico via the Port of New Orleans and the Atlantic Ocean via the Port of New York.
The project was championed by Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois Congressman, and he announced its completion in 1848, declaring that the canal had already brought sugar from New Orleans up to Albany in New York.
Buildings and sites relating to the canal are preserved at the Lockport National Historic District, and the city celebrates its transport heritage with a festival every June.
1. Gaylord Building
The first thing to see in Lockport is also the gateway to the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor, preserving numerous historical sites along 100 miles and 60 different communities.
The Gaylord Building (1838) is a former warehouse, dating from the earliest years of the canal’s construction when almost all of the land west of Chicago was essentially wilderness.
Made from the local yellow limestone, the building had a host of different occupants after the canal was completed in 1848, and in 1859 was given an Italianate extension on the east side, standing three stories tall.
Head inside for everything you need to know about the Lockport National Historic District, and a highly regarded restaurant, the upscale casual Public Landing.
2. Lincoln Landing
Laid out parallel to the canal in the 2000s, the space in front of the Gaylord Building is an outdoor museum and plaza, celebrating the waterway’s foundation.
Informative bronze medallions shed light on the canal, Lockport’s status as a vital port, and Lincoln’s vital role in the canal’s creation.
You can also make out the original course of the canal, slightly east of where it is now. There are several interesting threads to pick up, all in a pleasant setting with lawns, limestone blocks and benches.
Every self-guided tour has to finish up next to the lifelike statue of Honest Abe, sitting along the original edge of the canal contemplating the waterway.
3. Illinois State Museum – Lockport Gallery
The handsome Norton Building dates back to 1850 and was constructed as a canalside grain processing facility.
Now the building has a number of roles, containing offices, commercial space, residential lofts, but also a museum dedicated to the art and visual culture of Illinois.
One of a number of Illinois State Museum branches, the Lockport Gallery stages themed exhibits with painting, sculpture, drawings, textiles, costume, quilts and a variety of other media.
When we put this list together the main exhibit was Fashioning Illinois: 1820-1890, displaying costume, textiles and accessories, and examining women’s changing roles and attitudes in Illinois’ first 80 years of statehood.
4. Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail
At Lockport you can get onto the multi-use trail following the course of the Illinois and Michigan Canal for more than 60 miles.
The trail is mostly along the towpath trodden by mules some 170 years ago and leads you through scenic landscapes past riverside bluffs, delivering you to dozens of historic sites relating to the canal, from locks to warehouses.
From Lockport you can travel west as far as Lasalle, while heading north the trail takes you to the historic Isle a la Cache.
There it merges with the Centennial Trail, continuing for another three miles next to the Des Plaines river and crossing a wonderful old swing bridge along the way.
5. Lockport Canal Days
The canal that gave birth to the town is the subject of the biggest annual event in Lockport, bringing in tens of thousands of residents and visitors from all over Illinois.
Held across a long weekend in June, Lockport Canal Days has plenty going on, including a Friday parade, carnival, artisan market, live music on the main stage, bingo and a slew of food and drink vendors.
During the event you can take tours of the historic Lockport Cemetery, and the curtain comes down on Sunday night with a thrilling fireworks show.
6. Dellwood Park
The Chicago & Joliet Electric Railway Company built this park in 1905-06 as a way of attracting riders.
For the next three decades Dellwood Park was a big destination for the Chicago area, with a grandstand for sulky races and baseball games, and attendance of 15,000 or more on weekends.
In the summer the lake here was used for boating and swimming, and was used for ice skating when it froze in winter.
There are reminders from those days all around today’s Dellwood Park, but especially at the solemn stonework of the abandoned dam that impounded the lake.
The park is in the hands of the Lockport Township Park District and offers haunted hayrides at Halloween, outdoor concerts, WWII reenactments and a car show in summer, as well as one of the region’s best disc golf courses.
7. HellsGate Haunted House
Often rated among the top haunted houses in the state, HellsGate is a terrifying Halloween attraction in deep woods next to the canal.
The house in question is a nightmarish, multi-story mansion, riddled with grim secrets, secret passages and a giant slide.
The production values at HellsGate exceed expectations for a haunted house, with a massive cast of enthusiastic actors, imaginative scenarios, great makeup, convincing special effects and spooky ambient music and sound effects.
Even getting to the house is scary as you have to take a bus ride through the woods, and then get out for a torchlit walk through a cemetery, all the while interacting with the scary residents.
8. Old Joliet Prison
If you want to reenact the opening scene from The Blues Brothers (1980), the Joliet Correctional Center is just five minutes south of Lockport. The East Gate appears here when Elwood picks his brother up at dusk after his release.
The prison, with a castle-like appearance and built with pale limestone quarried on this site, was in use from 1858 until 2002.
As well as in The Blues Brothers, these walls appeared in a long list of other movies and TV shows, most notably White Heat (1949) and the first season of Prison Break (2005-06).
The Joliet Area Historical Museum conducts 90-minute walking tours of the facility, which has more than 20 buildings within the outer walls, and has been kept mostly intact.
9. Will County Historical Museum and Research Center
On the National Register of Historic Places, the former office building for the Illinois and Michigan Canal now contains the headquarters for the Will County Historical Society.
In a fine state of preservation, the Greek Revival building dates 1848, and the Canal Commission operated the canal from here until 1871.
At the south end is a Victorian-style residence, added in the 1860s or 70s. This is a fantastic place to delve a little deeper into local history, and you can continue your journey through the past at the Heritage Village, a little way north along the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail.
This enthralling campus has several historic structures from around the county, including a one-room schoolhouse, smokehouse, railroad depot, farmhouse and log cabin.
These are complemented by the Visitors Center, detailing each building and exploring the immigrant experience constructing the canal.
10. Legacy Adventure Park
A couple of minutes south of downtown Lockport is a paintball center at a superb location in 66 acres of forests and lakes on the cliffs overlooking the Des Plaines River.
This is the scene for seven themed playing fields where you can take part in a variety of paintball and airsoft games. Legacy Adventure Park caters to individual players, but specializes in groups and parties.
You can choose from conventional paintball, and airsoft, but also laser tag, archery tag, low-impact paintball and zombie hunting, all using state-of-the-art technology.
11. Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm and Fall Fest
Mid-September through October, one of the top agritainment attractions in Chicagoland welcomes the public for all kinds of fall fun.
For just a taste of what’s in store at Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm you’ve got carnival rides, hayrides, miniature train rides, a haunted barn, pig races, an entire kids’ village, pony rides and a “pumpkin chucker”, able to fire a pumpkin a quarter mile.
Animals are at the heart of the fun, and there’s a petting zoo with lots of cute critters like kid goats and bunnies.
Last but not least is the food, with fall favorites like kettle corn, sweet corn, apple cider donuts, but also pizza, BBQ, tacos, churros and tempting specialty foods like homemade sauces and flavored butters to take home.
12. Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve
On the opposite bank, the floodplain of the Des Plaines River is protected by a couple of Will County forest preserves.
The closest of these is less than five minutes to the west and features dolomite prairie on shallow limestone soils, of a kind that has mostly disappeared from the Midwest.
The preserve’s plant species, including low calamint, Ohio horsemint and slender sandwort, are unusual as they have to adapt to a high water table during much of their growing season.
Most rare is the leafy prairie clover, thought to have completely disappeared from the state before it was recorded here.
West of the Lockport Prairie is Prairie Bluff Public Golf Club, an 18-hole championship course, interwoven with prairie and water.
13. Prairie Bluff Preserve
The natural beauty continues across Illinois Route 7 where this 680-acre preserve spreads out on a mostly flat landscape.
This land was acquired by the Forest Preserve District of Will County in the mid-2000s. Before that it belonged to the Statesville Corrections Center, to which the Old Joliet Prison’s inmates were moved after it closed.
Slowly being restored, the prairie here is already glorious at the height of its blooming season in summer, and can be admired along more than three miles of paved multi-use trails with an easy gradient.
Close to the parking lot on the northwest corner is a picnic shelter with a capacity for 150 people.
14. Gladys Fox Museum
A couple of blocks from Lincoln Landing is a fine old church that went up in 1839 when the canal was being built.
Constructed from local limestone, the Old Congregational Church has been restored and is maintained by the Lockport Township Park District.
No longer a place of worship, the building houses a museum named for a popular local resident who spent decades on the park district board.
On show are fascinating photographs and artifacts relating to the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Lockport’s storied Dellwood Park. Opening hours are irregular and it’s best to contact the park district ahead of time.
15. Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm
Ten minutes from the heart of Lockport, this farm has been in the Siegel family since 1909 and is now in its fourth generation.
In the spring and summer you can call in for annuals, perennials, flowers, trees, fruit, vegetables and freshly baked pies.
Then come fall the farm springs into action as a day out, with more than 35 unlimited attractions.
A big one is the 12-acre corn maze, designed with a new theme each year. You’ve also got rides, games and entertainment of all descriptions, and of course a hayrack ride out to the pumpkin patch to pick a pumpkin straight from the vine.
There are food stands throughout, with an almost overwhelming choice, but funnel cakes, apple cider donuts and smoked turkey legs are a few of the essentials.