Mitchell’s Map of the United States (1835)

Showing the major transportation routes in the United States, this 1835 map illustrates well the favorable geographical position of Chicago a mere two years after the town was formally organized in 1833. Railroads were still new technology in the 1830s and their potential for travel and the movement of freight over long distances was not yet proven. Canals were still the engineering marvels of the days, and turnpikes and other highways were still the foundation of overland travel. According to the key at upper right, turnpike roads are shown on the map as uncolored double lines, railroads as blue lines, proposed railroads as red, canals as yellow, and proposed canals as dark green. The red line reaching from Chicago to Ottawa, Illinois, indicates a planned railroad paralleling the ancient portage route, but the Illinois and Michigan Canal was the first modern improvement built along this route—just as Jolliet had predicted. Construction of the canal began in 1836 and would be completed in 1848, only one year before the opening of Chicago’s first railroad-- the Galena and Chicago Union. Hitherto, the most important city in the Old Northwest was Cincinnati, which was situated atop a northerly bend near the midpoint of the Ohio River. The completion of the Erie Canal through upstate New York in 1825, however, was already encouraging the growth of cities like Cleveland and Toledo. Both cities offered access to tributaries of the Ohio River through ancient portages. Chicago, astride the most southwesterly of the Great Lakes portages, would in time benefit both from its access to the Mississippi via the canal and its access to the plains via railroads that had not yet been contemplated in 1835.

J.H. Young and Samuel Augustus Mitchell, “Mitchell's Map of the United States,” in Compendium of the Internal Improvements of the United States (Philadelphia: S. Augustus Mitchell, 1835). The Newberry Library, H6083.58