The Port of Joliet is located in northeast Illinois some 45 kilometers (28 mile) west-southwest of Chicago. It is just nine nautical miles (16 kilometers or 10 miles by air) southwest of the Port of Lemont, Illinois. The Port of Joliet is part of the Mississippi-Illinois River System. In 2009, over 147 thousand people called the Port of Joliet home.
Once known for the area limestone popularly used throughout the Midwest United States, "Stone City" has a diverse economy based on tourism, river casino gambling, manufacturing, shipping, and transportation. The Port of Joliet straddles both the Des Plaines and DuPage Rivers, and there are several smaller waterways in the city, including the historic Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal.
Before Europeans settled in the future Port of Joliet, the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Nation occupied the area with territory stretching from Green Bay (Wisconsin) to Lake Winnebago (Missouri) to the Rock River (Illinois). The Ho-Chunk were hunters, farmers, and fishers who grew corn, collected wild rice, gathered "sweet water" from maple trees, and hunted wild game.
In the 1630s, Jesuit missionary Pierre Francis Xavier de Charlevois identified as many as four- to five-thousand warriors among the Ho-Chunk. Reduced to some 1500 warriors by a smallpox epidemic and war with the Michigan Algonquian tribes, the population dropped dramatically by about 66%.
In 1673, French Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet paddled up the Des Plaines River with Father Jacques Marquette. The pair camped on a big mound just south of the modern Port of Joliet. Maps created during their exploration showed a large hill where the current southwest Port of Joliet is today. Mined by settlers, that mound is a sunken today.
Maps from Jolliet's exploration of the area placed a large hill or mound on what is now the southwest corner of the city. That hill was named Mound Jolliet and was made up entirely of clay. The spot was mined by early settlers and is now sunken landscape.
After the Black Hawk War in 1833, Charles Reed constructed his cabin on the west side of the Des Plaines River. The following year, James Campbell created a plan for the village of what he called Juliet (after his daughter). The village was incorporated in 1837, but the residents asked the State of Illinois to rescind the incorporation in 1837 to cut taxes. Citizens changed the name of the village to Joliet in 1845, and the city was incorporated a second time in 1852. Local legend tells that the new name recognized the early explorer Jolliet.
In 1849, the I&M Canal opened. Then in 1900, it was replaced by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, reversing the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and connecting the Port of Chicago to the Port of Lemont and the Port of Joliet. Today, the US Army Corps of Engineers maintains a navigation channel of 2.7 meters (9 feet) in the Illinois Waterway.
As the Port of Joliet grew, its economy grew dependent on manufacturing. Like many Midwestern cities, the Port of Joliet has experienced serious economic problems over the years. In the early 1980s, as many as 25% of its workforce was unemployed. Being near the metropolis of Chicago has been a boon to the Port of Joliet. As the years passed, the Port of Joliet has changed from a steel town to a far suburb of the Windy City. Many of the city's newer residents live in the Port of Joliet and work in either DuPage or Cook County.
While the Port of Joliet downtown area suffered neglect, but it is undergoing a revitalization effort today. The city center is home to several major attractions that include Harrah's Casino and Hotel, the Hollywood Casino, Silver Cross Field and the Joliet JackHammers baseball team, and one of the world's most beautiful theaters, the Rialto Square Theater.