The Palos Preserves: Part One -- Their History
Nature Bulletin No. 710 March 23, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
THE PALOS PRESERVES - PART ONE : THEIR HISTORY
The Palos forest preserves now comprise approximately 13,750 acres of
the most hilly, wooded and scenic parts of Cook county, and include
almost 100 lakes, ponds and sloughs. They occupy 10,051 acres in
Palos township. The remaining 3700 acres are situated in the adjoining
townships of Orland, Lemont and Lyons.
In 1850, when Cook county was organized into 27 townships -- now
there are 38 -- one of them was called Trenton. After the first election
its township board changed the name to Palos.
Reputedly, that was suggested by Melanchon A. Powell, one of the
earliest settlers and first postmaster of Palos (originally "Orange")
because of a tradition that one of his ancestors had been a member of
the crew on one of the ships commanded by Christopher Columbus
when they sailed from Palos de Frontera in 1492. Palo, in Spanish, may
mean a tall tree, the mast of a ship, or a promontory. Palos de Frontera
was a seaport beneath a promontory on the Gulf of Cadiz, about 45
miles from Seville.
The first purchase of land by the infant Forest Preserve District of Cook
County was authorized on September 25, 1916. It comprised 42 parcels
totaling 288.50 acres -- wood lots varying in area from one to 17.68
acres -- at an agreed price of $90 per acre. They were in what was
designated then as Preserve No. 1, now Deer Grove.
The second purchase authorized on that same date, was in the Palos,
then designated as Preserve No. 4. Joseph S. Halligan and his heirs or
assigns were paid $10,605.48 for 80 acres: the south 1/2 of the S.E. 1/4
of Section 9 in Palos Township. By 1918, 2370 acres in that township
had been acquired.
The distinctive character of the Palos preserves stems from the
geological history of that region. The last glacier of the Ice Age created
the highlands -- vast deposits of clay, sand, gravel and boulders --
known as the Valparaiso moraine. As the glacier melted away it also
created Lake Chicago which, 60 feet higher than the present Lake
Michigan, discharged torrents of water through two outlets carved
across that moraine: the DesPlaines river valley and the Sag valley. The
triangular highland between them is known to geologists as Mt. Forest
The extraordinary number of sloughs, ponds and potholes in the Palos
region is due largely to the fact that as the glacier retreated, chunks of
ice were left behind and surrounded with glacial drift. When a chunk
melted, there remained a pocket, filled with water, in the moraine. See
Bulletin No. 617: The Life History of a Pond.
The Palos preserves are divided into two principal sections by the Sag
valley. Originally that was occupied by the vast Saganashkee Swamp
which extended from the DesPlaines valley to Blue Island. From a low
continental divide at about 86th Ave., it drained sluggishly westward to
the DesPlaines and eastward to the Little Calumet river.
After the Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed in 1848, the
Calumet Feeder ditch was dug through the swamp to furnish water for
that canal. It was replaced by the narrow Calumet Sag Canal, started in
1911 and completed in 1922. Now the Cal-Sag is being widened,
deepened, and will become a vital connection between Lake Michigan,
the huge Calumet Industrial District, and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship
Canal -- part of the great Illinois Waterway to the Mississippi.
Next week, in Part Two, we will discuss other unique features of the
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Update: June 2012