The monument to Father Jacques Marquette sits on a well traveled stretch of Damen Avenue, just north of the South Branch of the Chicago River. It is located near the site where Marquette camped during the winter in 1674.
Cars pass by this monument daily. There is very little pedestrian traffic crossing the river. It is one of those forgotten and ignored historical sites in Chicago.
The limestone monument sits eroding on a busy stretch ignored by most. The bronze has green patina. The monument could use some beautification. Maybe even lighting and a sign to remind people it is there.
If Chicago ever declared a patron saint, it would be Jacques Marquette, the Jesuit missionary who explored the area and with Louis Joliet, realized the geographic and hydrographic significance.
Marquette and Joliet discovered the geographic significance of the area while traveling back to Canada. They realized that the Illinois, Des Plaines, and what is now the Chicago River all flowing into each other and Lake Michigan would provide a transportation route to the Mississippi and the sea.
It would enable trade and commerce to move faster. The vast open prairie would provide farmland, enhancing trade and settlements for the Glory of France. They also knew that if a canal was dug through the old portage at the Desplaines River, transportation would be faster. They were 225 years ahead of their time.
Both men were avid cartographers and journalists, in the original sense of the word. They kept journals. Joliet’s journal was lost in a storm.
Marquette’s journals survived. They paved the way for France to settle and build trading posts throughout the Midwest.
History interfered and eventually America took over the lands. Chicago became a major city because of its geographical location, as recorded by Jacques Marquette and reported by Louis Joliet. Later architects and engineers used their records to layout the watershed transportation system. They even reworked nature when they reversed the flow of the Chicago river.
Marquette’s name can be found throughout Chicago. Marquette Park and Marquette Road. The Marquette Building in the loop has a four panel frieze over the entrance depicting Marquette’s journey.
Chicago’s geography, as reported by Marquette and others, situated it to become a transportation hub. From lake and rivers, eventually to railroad, highways and air, Chicago became the main center for transportation, commerce and industry.
Damen avenue was originally Fond du Lac road. It later became Robey Street. In 1927, the name was changed to Damen Avenue. The monument and bridge spanning the river were dedicated in 1930.
It is ironic. The Marquette monument stands on a stretch of road named after another Jesuit priest, Arnold Damen. Father Damen established Holy Family Parish and St. Ignatius Academy, part of which would evolve into Loyola University.
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