Part of the Mississippi-Illinois River System, the Port of Lemont occupies three Illinois counties: Cook, DuPage, and Will. The Port of Lemont is just 10 nautical miles upriver (16 kilometers or 10 miles by air) north-northeast of Joliet and 36 kilometers (23 miles) west of Chicago, making the Port of Lemont part of the Greater Chicago metropolitan area. In 2009, over 16 thousand people lived in the Port of Lemont.
The monumental architecture of two religious buildings command the skyline of the Port of Lemont: SS. Cyril and Methodius Church and the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. The Port of Lemont is also the address for a PGA Tour event (BMW Championship) at the Cog Hill Golf & Country Club and for the Argonne National Laboratory. Known as the United States' first national laboratory, Argonne's first mission was to develop nuclear reactors for peaceful uses.
Before Europeans arrived in the future Port of Lemont area, the indigenous people used birch bark canoes to travel the Des Plaines River to Lake Michigan and to the Mississippi River to trade. The Potawatomi Nation occupied the area when French trader Jean Nicolet arrived to trade cloth, beads, and metal for the local animal furs.
At the peak of fur trading, the Potawatomi Nation dominated a huge 5-million-acre territory that covered the modern States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Ohio. They continued to dominate the future Port of Lemont until the early 19th Century.
The Village of Lemont was established in 1836. One of northeast Illinois' oldest non-indigenous communities, the Port of Lemont helped transform the area from frontier to one that industry, commerce, and agriculture, supplying Chicago and beyond with its goods. The Port of Lemont's unique historic district has survived intact since the 19th Century.
The Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal was a major defining factor for the developing Port of Lemont. The 97-mile canal linked the Illinois River to the Mississippi and then to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Workers emigrated to the Port of Lemont, mainly from Ireland, to build the canal. Their digging uncovered yellow dolomite, a form of limestone, that gave birth to quarrying, the Port of Lemont's second industry.
By the middle of the 1800s, dolomite quarrying had become the most important economic activity in the Port of Lemont, ensuring its growth. Today, the most important buildings in the Port of Lemont were faced with the Port of Lemont limestone. By 1920, builders were using Indiana's Bedford limestone and modern, less expensive materials like concrete, and the quarries declined in importance.
The I&M Canal was an important waterway for the transport of passengers and cargo until the early 1900s. In 1900, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was completed. Paralleling the I&M Canal, the Sanitary Canal is still an important part the Port of Lemont and of Illinois' waterway system.
During the American Civil War, the Port of Lemont had the biggest recruiting station, The Old Stone Church, for the Union Army. Required to contribute 33 soldiers during the Civil War, the Port of Lemont came up with 293. Unfortunately, only 63 of them returned from the war.
After the war, the Port of Lemont church was active as the Lemont Methodist Episcopal Church until 1970 when the Port of Lemont Area Historical Society moved in. On the National Register of Historic Places, a museum occupies this oldest building in the Port of Lemont today.
Railroads began to replace the I&M Canal in the mid-1800s, transforming the Port of Lemont from a predominately river port to a railroad community. Over time, the canal was used more for carrying wastes away from Chicago than for transporting people and goods. Opened in 1900, the Chicago and Sanitary Ship Canal carried waste and bigger modern barges. In 1933, the I&M Canal fell out of use when it was replaced by the Illinois Waterway.