I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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Uncovering fascinating facts about Kishwaukee River
By Barry Schrader.................................November
The eastern and western streams merge north of Sycamore
between Motel Road and North First Street, then wind north to
Genoa, heading west toward Kirkland and the MacQueen Forest Preserve,
then past Fairdale, where it crosses into Winnebago County. There,
the Northern Branch of the Kishwaukee, coming from McHenry and
Boone counties, joins the South Branch and empties into the Rock
River near Cherry Valley. The Rock then goes southerly toward
Moline, eventually emptying into the mighty Mississippi River.
Since I was a youngster at one time living near the Kishwaukee
River on Baseline Road between Genoa and Sycamore, I have wondered
where the river came from and where it ended. Well, last week
I finally found out.
Al Roloff, Natural Resources
Manager for the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District, took
me for a ride to see the beginnings of this little waterway.
It is a bit more complicated than just finding a spring gurgling
out of the ground. I learned there are two main branches, one
north originating in McHenry County and the South Branch
getting its start in DeKalb County. But then there is the matter
of two parts to the south branch, a western tributary emerging
north of Shabbona and an eastern one originating between Cortland
and Sycamore, not far from the intersection of Pleasant Street
and Hartman Road.
My guide first drove me south
into Shabbona, then headed north on Shabbona Road, then west
on Cemetery Road about a half-mile to a small concrete bridge.
Stopping to take a closer look, one can see three field drainage
tiles that are buried in the ground emptying out into a ditch
just south of the road, then a stream heading northward on the
other side. That, I found out, is the start of the western part
of the southern branch of the Kish.
that vegetation and large reed grasses tangling above the water
as it meanders between farm fields make it impossible to traverse
that branch by canoe or kayak up to the DeKalb area. But the
eastern branch holds more promise for water travel.
next drove back up through Cortland and turned east on Pleasant
Street, where we reached a culvert just before coming to the
intersection with Hartman Road. Roloff told me that two Union
Drainage Ditches (Nos. 1 and 2) come together there to send water
north under the road up to a tree line 50 yards or so to the
north. Then driving up Hartman Road a short distance, we came
to a bridge which traversed Union Drainage Ditch No. 3, heading
westerly to merge with the other two ditches at the tree line,
easily seen from the bridge. That is where the eastern tributary
of the South Branch begins.
Just this past summer,
Roloff and a friend, Joel Plapp, canoed that branch all the way
north past Sycamore. Earlier they had gone from north of town
to the Winnebago County line, so this completed their adventure
on the water using that branch. Roloff said they had to get out
and go around logs and debris blocking their way three times.
Al Roloff stands on the Cemetery Road bridge where the
western tributary of the South Branch of the Kishwaukee begins,
north of Shabbona.Al pointing toward a tree where this drainage ditch meets
two others and then becomes the Kishwaukee between Cortland and
Sycamore, beginning the eastern portion of the South Branch.
Another nagging question that always intrigued me
was: Why does the Kishwaukee flow northerly, when most other
rivers in the country flow south? Recently, a friend, Terry Martin,
shattered my belief that the Kish is the only river in the state
that flows north. So I asked Roloff for more details, and he
explained that it is all about topography. Water runs downhill
and the Shabbona area is slightly above the average 800 feet
above sea level for most of the county, so the river runs downhill
until it meets the other branches and heads into the Rock. I
could get into the Glacial Age and how that impacted this area,
but lets save that for another time. He also told me about
all the Native American encampments along the Kishwaukee hundreds,
and even thousands, of years ago.
I still had
one last burning question: What does the name Kishwaukee mean?
I found that answer in the book Place Names of Illinois
written by Edward Callary. Some early histories claim it was
an Indian name for fish eaters or clear waters.
But a more plausible explanation seems to be that it came from
a Fox word meaning sycamore tree.
now you probably have learned more than you ever wanted to know
about our meandering muddy Kish.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115