Boundaries and Topography of Illinois
Illinois is bounded on the north by the State of Wisconsin; on the east by Lake Michigan, and the States of Indiana and Kentucky; on the south by Kentucky, and on the west by Missouri and Iowa. Its extent in length is 380 miles, and in breadth at the north end, 145 miles, extending in the middle to 220 miles, and thence south narrowing to a point. It has an area of 55,405 miles and contains 35,459,200 acres of land, nearly all of which is fit for cultivation. The outline of the State is about 1,160 miles in extent, 850 of which consists of navigable waters. The section of country lying near the southern limits of the lake country forms a summit from which the plane inclines to the south and west to the lower end of the State, at Cairo, where the lower section of the plane is only 350 feet above the sea level, whereas at the upper, or northern end of the plane it rises as high as 900 feet. This incline gives a southern or southwestern direction to the principal rivers in the State. The general surface of this plane is quite level, through there are some hills in the two ends of the State and along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The arable elevation of the plane is about eight hundred feet above the level of the sea, and the mean height is about five hundred and fifty feet.|
The principal river of the State is the Illinois, formed by the junction of the Kankakee, taking its rise in Indiana, and the Desplaines, with its head in Wisconsin, and uniting in Grundy County, and flowing from thence west and south to its entrance into the Mississippi, on the south line of Jersey County, at an elevation of about four hundred feet above the level of the sea. The banks of the river are generally low and subject to overflow in times of high water. The high waters of the Mississippi have backed up the Illinois as far as Havana-the fall from thence to the Mississippi being fifteen feet. The tributaries of the Illinois are the Fox River, which comes from the north, in Wisconsin, and enters the Illinois at Ottawa, forty miles below the head of the river. Opposite the city of La Salle, the Vermilion enters the river-a good, large mill stream, coming in from the southeast. Sixty miles further down, the river enters Peoria Lake, an expansion of the river continuing twenty miles to the city of Peoria, and about two miles in width, with deep clear water, and no perceptible current-making it a beautiful sheet of water, abounding with fish, and lined on either side by high and grand-looking bluffs. Three miles below the city of Pekin, the Mackinaw comes in from its source, some eighty miles east, a turbulent stream of no use except for drainage. Next comes in the beautiful Quiver River, a small stream without timber belts-a good discharge of clear water furnishes fine fish and two very good flouring-mills-it is a Mason County enterprise-beginning and ending in the county, discharging into the Illinois two miles above Havana. Opposite Havana, the Spoon River enters. It is quite a large river, watering a large portion of the military tract, heading some eighty miles north and meandering through several counties to its mouth in Fulton County. Eight miles above Beardstown the Sangamon enters from the east. It is the largest of all the tributaries of the Illinois, some one hundred and fifty miles in length, and has been in the past navigable as high up as Springfield. On its bluff banks below Petersburg was once the town of Salem, the move of one of the immortals-Abraham Lincoln-who navigated the river as a flatboat-man. It forms the southern boundary of Mason County up to the mouth of Salt Creek, a large tributary of the Sangamon, which is the southern boundary of the county to where it joins on to Logan County. East of Springfield, the river divides into the north and south fork-the former passing near Decatur, through Macon, Piatt, Champaign and Ford Counties, and the latter south through Christian County-the several branches watering and draining an immense are of the most fertile soil of the State. It has wide bottom lands subject to overflow, except when protected by levees, which is being done extensively in Mason County. On its banks is a heavy growth of timber, once valuable for its walnut, oak, hickory and other kinds of trees. These bottoms abound in wild plums, pawpaws, persimmons, pecans, and other fruits and nuts. It was here that the poet Bryant found
The Illinois is one of the finest navigable streams in the world for boats of light draft, the fall being only about one inch to the mile, and the current gentle, with soft, sandy bottom, securing the greatest safety and ease of navigation. It was one the great highway of commerce for a vast region of country on both sides of the river, and continued so until the introduction of railroads since which there has been a great decline in river business. The navigation of the river by steamboats began in 1828, and, in 1836, there were as many as thirty-five steamboats navigating the river. The number of arrivals and departures for that year at the port of Havana was 450. The boating business increased and improved in character until the river packets became immense floating-palaces, carrying immense crowds of people and entertaining them in the most sumptuous manner. This mode of travel and means of commerce culminated some twenty years ago, and dwindled down to the present time, when one semi-weekly packet boat does the entire business from Peoria to St. Louis, with the help of some local packets from points below.
The improvement of the river by locks, dams and other means may bring back a portion of this vast trade; but at the present time the railroads have it mostly their own way.
Canal-boating on the river was once a business of large proportions, and this was, to some extent, the cause of decline in the steamboating business. Canal-boats used to line the river and block up the ports with their numbers at a not very remote period, and they took in the corn, wheat, pork and other products during the winter, and carried them to market, either north or south, when the river opened, and all this was done at low rates. Now, however, they are not fast enough to suit the age. There are those, in these degenerate days, who would rather "go to hell in a minute" than spend a little time in fitting themselves for heaven.