Calumet Harbor is part of the Port of Chicago. Located on Lake Michigan's southwestern shores, Calumet Harbor is five kilometers (three miles) northeast of the main Chicago port.
The port facilities in the City of Chicago are operated by the Illinois International Port District. Calumet Harbor is the central element of the Port District, and it is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Several rivers and lakes share the shores of Lake Michigan. They include Lake Calumet, the Grand Calumet River, the Little Calumet River, and Wolf Lake. In 1836, the Army Corps of Engineers identified the area as a potential harbor.
The United States government provided funds to start harbor improvements in 1869. The first step was cutting a channel from the Calumet River to Lake Michigan and dredging Lake Calumet. Other improvements included adding a breakwater and a lighthouse.
Railroads attracted trade and industry to the Calumet Harbor area, and the region became an important transshipment point for Middle America.
After the improvements were completed in 1871, real estate developers created subdivisions on the Calumet River. The wharves and slips along the River, complemented by nearby railroads, created a very positive environment for the growth of industry and trade. By 1906, Calumet Harbor had more traffic than the Chicago River.
The 1909 Chicago Plan included docks at the Calumet River's mouth where bulk freight steamers could have better access, as bridges were a major obstacle for traffic on the Chicago River.
The City of Chicago adopted the Van Vlissengen Plan for the Calumet River in 1921. The long-range plan for development addressed improvements to both land and water transportation that included more harbor development on Lake Calumet. Calumet Harbor had many commercial and industrial facilities by the 1920s.
By the middle of the 1900s, growth at Calumet Harbor had slowed. After World War II, the City of Chicago began planning to revitalize the area. Development of the St. Lawrence Seaway promised larger vessel traffic.
The 1953 Plan for Calumet Harbor and Lake Calumet included dredging and filling. In 1956, Mayor Richard Daley toured Calumet Harbor and dedicated the improved facilities that could accommodate large ocean-going ships. In 1959, Calumet Harbor became a world port when the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened.
In 1973, the Transoceanic Terminal opened, and Calumet Harbor became the region's premier port. However, in the late 20th Century, many of the industries that had made Calumet Harbor so busy began to close. Plans were made to redevelop the area.