Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Laughton Ford and Trading Post
Nature Bulletin No. 696   December 1, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

In 1827, David and Bernardus (Barney) Laughton built a tavern in what is now Riverside. It was located north of the present bridge between that village and Lyons, on the Barry Point trail from Chicago. A short distance downstream is a limestone ledge and shallow ford where that trail, and two important Potawatomi trails, crossed the Des Plaines River.

The Laughtons were farsighted business men. They had been Indian traders at Hardscrabble, or Lee's Place, on the South Branch of the Chicago River near Damen Ave. That was the head of navigation on the river and the eastern end of the Chicago Portage route. Later it became the eastern terminus of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and eventually the Sanitary and Ship Canal.

But the Potawatomi trade at Hardscrabble was dwindling; it would be better at Riverside. The fur trade was dwindling, The proposed canal from there to Ottawa would end the travel in canoes or boats by fur traders, explorers, missionaries, or anyone using the Chicago Portage route to the Illinois and Mississippi valleys. Further, with the growth of white settlements along the Illinois River and westward from Chicago, overland travel was increasing rapidly.

So the Laughtons moved to Riverside and, in 1830, purchased the quarter section upon which their tavern stood. Barry Point trail became part of the first country road built in Cook county and Laughton Tavern, in 1834, was a stop-over on the first stage coach line westward from Chicago.

Meanwhile they had established a trading post on another much-traveled overland route: the old Portage Trail which began at Hardscrabble and paralleled the water route through Mud Lake on high ground north of it. Laughton's trading post was just east of where that trail crossed the DesPlaines and then angled southwesterly to join what is now U. S. 66, an old Indian trail and overland route to Joliet, Ottawa, and the Illinois valley. The ford was about a half-mile north of where Portage Creek entered the river and a mile south of Riverside.

In those days the DesPlaines curved easterly until, near Harlem Ave., it made a hairpin turn and flowed southwest down the valley. There was also a cutoff channel through what is now Catherine Mitchell Lagoon, and a large island between it and the main channel. The Portage Trail or Laughton Ford was just north of that island. The old channel, the ford, and the island were obliterated when, in order to construct the Sanitary Canal, the river was straightened and a levee built to prevent it from overflowing eastward.

Mud Lake was a long swamp with two shallow channels emptying easterly into the South Branch and westerly, on the other side of a low continental divide, into the DesPlaines. Sometimes, when it became nearly dry, a portage of seven miles, from Hardscrabble to Portage Creek, was necessary. During long droughts the DesPlaines became so shallow between a succession of pools that portages of 25 miles to Cache Island at Romeo, or 50 to the mouth of the Kankakee, or almost 100 miles to Starved Rock, had to be made. Consequently, the Portage Trail was intensively traveled but eventually after the I&M Canal was completed, Archer Ave. was built, and the Southwest Plank Road laid on Ogden Ave. t disappeared.

The locations of "Lawton's Trading House" and the ford were defined in an 1832 report by a U. S. engineer and shown on a later map. There we found a rectangular depression apparently an old cellar. It is in Ottawa Trail Woods, two blocks north of the 47th St. entrance and 400 feet west of the drive through that forest preserve. At each corner there is a low masonry wall. In the center is a boulder commemorating that historic site.

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