Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early-Nineteenth-Century Illinois

By Douglas K. Meyer | Go to book overview

4
Riparian Corridors of Internal Development

No state or territory in North America can boast of superior facilities of internal navigation. Nearly 1000 miles, or in other words, two-thirds of its frontier is washed by the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi. The placid Illinois traverses this territory in a southwestern direction, nearly 400 miles.

-- Brown 1817

Roads, waterways, and canals served as transport-settlement growth corridors. Accessibility to and remoteness from navigable waterways molded urban mercantile hinterlands. The Ohio-Mississippi-Missouri Rivers, the Great Lakes-Erie Canal, backcountry tributaries, and bridging canals impressed well-defined diffusion paths. Fixed routeways directed settlers to attractive destination areas. Water arteries played a primary role in diffusing population, shaping settlements, collecting and transporting goods, and stimulating economic activities. The agricultural frontier transformed from self-sufficiency to a commercial-bias that reached beyond local and regional to national and world markets. Keelboats, flatboats, and steamboats ensured farmers participation in marketplace exchanges. Steamboats penetrated upriver backcountries. Distinctive riparian movement-settlement corridors were molded in midcontinental Illinois.


Impact of Western Rivers

Western promoters underscored the salient impact of waterways on future settlement and economic expansions in transAppalachia. The Ohio-Mississippi-Missouri River systems' mercantile role during the pioneer period forged startling differences in population and commercial modifications between riverine corridors versus inaccessible interiors and river towns versus landlocked towns ( Haites, Mak, and Walton 1975; Hunter 1949; Mahoney 1990). The fundamental benefits of transplanting to riverine movement-settlement corridors were recognized by pioneer farmers inter

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