Lockport History: Nine Prayers

Part 2: Lockport's Truth in History Project

What's with the Prayer Walk?

Written by Jess Olivito, The Sozo Group

Through my own shallow analysis of Lockport’s history over the last few weeks, my overall impression is that Lockport is a very unique town - a melting pot (from the very beginning) comprised of many ethnicities and stories. Since meeting Amy Erickson a couple months ago, there’s one thing that’s being confirmed over and over - true revival cannot begin without a good history lesson followed by a prayer walk. Then, God can move. The purpose? To reflect on the truth of what really happened here so that we can repent for the sins and work through the forgiveness (where it’s still needed) so that God can then CLEANSE the city spiritually. Until recently, I never thought about the importance of even looking back at local history let alone going on a prayer walk to repent for the sin and declare restoration by God. I’m quickly learning that without this step, true revival can’t happen.

And so that’s what we did on Saturday, May 20th. Five local prayer warriors joined the Windy City Walkers along the I&M Canal trail through Dellwood Park into the Lockport’s city center. The trail was 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles. For 3 hours in the pouring rain, our prayer group took turns praying continuously along the route. Our intent was to remember Lockport's history and recognize "roots" that needed repentance, forgiveness and cleansing. We believed that this cleansing was necessary in order for the spiritual condition of our town to improve. Further, that God wanted us to "prepare the grounds" for this summer's outreaches at both Canal Days and the Dellwood Block Party. As we walked in the rain, we could feel God’s release over the atmosphere and stood in agreement that the rain was needed to properly cleanse the land. We were thankful to God and praised Him for His faithfulness.


1. Our First Sin: Displacing the Native Americans

In the early 1830’s, the Potawatomi Indians were literally run out of Lockport’s prairie lands near Des Plaines River. If you look into the Black Hawk War // Captain Holder Sisson // Militia Force you’ll find it all documented. Bottom line: we need to repent for doing this. The Potawatomi were the first men to take their living from the Des Plaines River. After the Yankee Settlement formed as the first white colony, Armstead Runyon and Holder Sisson staked their land and not long after, a war ensued where Indians where they were forced to “cede their territory to the federal government” and then move westward. Shabbona, a Potawatomi Chief, was extremely friendly with early settlers despite how we treated his people. He was a man of peace, unity and love. Still, as a nation, we kicked this loving culture of people to the curb like trash. And today, we publicly repented as we stood looking at water.

2. Early Lockport Influences: Wrong Motives & Segregated Living

Hiriam Norton (Norton Industries, Business Tycoon) Arthur Deeming (Manager/Norton Grain), John Norton (Artist & Businessman), Armstead Runyon (Canal Engineer), John Fitzpatrick, Robert Milne (Lock Builder), Leon McDonald (Mayor, Newspaper Journalist), John Fiddyment (Distiller), John Lane (Blacksmith) were some of the biggest names. And while all of these people were undoubtedly influential, not all of them demonstrated good leadership or were overly concerned about the community at large. In fact, many of the most “successful” people that resided in Lockport appeared to be serving themselves and appeared to be overly fixated on living in luxury. Like many people today, these folks worshipped having “stuff”. This is a motive that continues to plague our city, state, and nation today. A famous poem written in the 1930’s by Lockport ‘s Dorothy Dow Fitzgerald entitled “The Flowers of Time” transparently described what daily life consisted of for the wealthy Lockport and even refers to the segregation of cultures as a caste system in this community. The first line of Fitzgerald’s poem begins with “Shake Lockport out of the box” and that was our exact prayer today. That the hearts of Lockport & Homer Glen would soften and that we would want to know (and love on) more of our neighbors in the surrounding communities. We also repented for idol worship, wrong and/or selfish motives of past leaders and for the many classes of people that choose to stay segregated even today, lacking the desire to know anything about people they consider themselves “different” from.

3. The I&M Canal: Blessing or Curse?

The canal began construction in 1836; the project was initially funded by a federal land grant with the state to pick up the tab for the rest. Eventually, years later, “deep cuts” would be made into the earth so that the Chicago River would begin flowing BACKWARDS from Chicago to Lockport. That is an interesting thought to ponder. Lockport was literally going to become the recipient Chicago’s “backwash.” The earliest settlers strongly believed that Lockport would be a major manufacturing and transportation center and unfortunately, so many were very disappointed that Lockport did not live up to that full promise. On our walk, we took a moment recognize all the loss that these people felt - specifically those who sacrificed greatly for the I&M waterway, a shipping route that would become obsolete only 50 years after it was built.

By the turn of century, the I&M Canal was deemed less important than the Sanitary & Ship Canal which essentially replaced its function for freight transportation of goods to Chicago. We realized that this was depressing for the locals who worked tirelessly to dig the original canal by hand. Constructed from 1892-1900, the Sanitary & Ship Canal literally put the I&M out of business because it was substantially deeper and could carry modern vessels. Another important observation was the secondary purpose of the larger canal that was built - it promised to drain Chicago’s sewage into the Mississippi River versus going into Lake Michigan. Lockport accepted diseased, raw sewage that flowed back from Chicago River. By working tirelessly to change the direction of the Chicago River, canal engineers and successfully cleaned up the water sanitation crisis that existed in Chicago simply by transferring the odorous filthy water to Lockport instead.

4. Laboring Immigrants Who Lost their Lives

From a spiritual perspective, it was important to recognize the losses of all those who gave lives for the I&M Canal and the Sanitary & Ship Canal. Nearly 8,500 workers from various ethnic backgrounds took advantage of work along this canal. Several camps were constructed by the canal commission that included mess halls and barracks. I’m sure you can imagine that these were NOT good living conditions for these workers. Reports describe the camps as “very rowdy” camps and that special police forces existed to patrol these areas with shotguns. Many of those who lived in the camps were African Americans or poor Irish immigrants who were grossly overworked and underpaid.

While drilling and detonating TNT into the Limestone, sometimes the explosives wouldn’t work correctly (which caused many limbs and lives to be lost.) Still others got sick from the nasty, contaminated waters. Over 1,000 lives were lost to typhoid and cholera building this canal! On our prayer walk, we honored all those that gave their lives for this project. So while the canal project was an engineering feat of much importance (that brought many ethnicities together for work), we didn’t see much evidence that Lockport was an overly friendly place to live or that it was necessarily a hospitable or peaceful town that did much together in unity. Lockport appeared to be very segregated by many different cultures and ethnicities that pretty much chose to kept to themselves except for purposes of work and or trade.

5. Financial Devastation Over Canal Project


The canal commissioners experienced much more financial difficulty than they expected while trying to complete the construction of the canal (which then caused them to not be able to dig as deep or wide as they would have wanted). State funds ran out, which made it more difficult to finish the project as planned. Some workers were not given wages which caused betrayal and anger to rear its ugly head. Workers then organized a strike which led to their attempt to set fire to the canal commissioners office. We believe the I&M Canal project was one of many “roots” attributed to the ongoing money problems that continue to plague the State of Illinois. We also believe that spirits of anger and revenge ran rampant in this town and allowed for many other fires to take place here over the years. We took authority over those spirits and declared restoration and healing over these past fires, whether accidental or intentional. We pleaded the blood of Jesus over any traumas that resulted from these fires.

It’s shaping up to look like Illinois had a history of being broke and was a poor steward of money since the very beginning! In this realization, we repented today... for the all the money problems and violence that surrounded the governing officials responsible for funding the canal, asking for forgiveness, and then specifically asked for fresh revelation to be given to our current lawmakers so that they can work together to restore Illinois’ funds for future transportation and logistical that are needed in the State of Illinois, and specifically the City of Lockport.

6. Breaking the Chains of Illinois Corruption

The Holy Spirit directed Jess Olivito to recite prophesy and prayers on the prayer walk that came from Dutch Sheets and Chuck Pierce’s book “Releasing the Prophetic Destiny of a Nation” (2005) that were specific to Illinois:

We asked God for help as we continue to intercede for this land, claiming the Jubilee promise of Isaiah 61:4 and asked Him to “Rebuild these ancient ruins, raise up the former devastations; help us to repair the ruined cities, and heal the devastations of many generations.”

“God, as Daniel and Nehemiah did, we also repent before you in sackcloth and ashes with many tears and broken hearts…we acknowledge and confess our shortcomings and the many, many sins of our city - way too numerous to name.. We stand before you without excuse and acknowledge the fact that our state government has become known more for graft and corruption than for righteousness and truth. We bring before you all the governors of our state and we acknowledge that five of the last eight governors have been convicted of crimes that violated public trust. Father, over the last thirty five years, more than 1000 state and local officials have been convicted of wrong-doing and of violating the public’s trust. We confess to you that this kind of behavior has been woven into our governmental structures from our state’s very inception and it is undermining our ability to step into your Holy Apostolic Calling upon this state and its Covenant people. Chicago has always been known as one of our nation’s most lawless places.

Father God, we implore you to bring order out of this chaos and help all our rivers to run in the right direction. We learned that the Chicago River is the only river ever engineered to run in the wrong direction! We repent and fully accept the consequences of reversing the Chicago River (for better and worse)."

7. The Railroads & Dellwood Park

Because of their speed, obviously the Railroad was welcomed in Lockport, but at the same time, it was also considered rival competition with the canal for transportation of goods. Lockport’s first railroad was the Chicago and Alton line providing passenger and freight service from Chicago to St. Louis. In 1872, the railroad laid a double track right downtown Lockport which reduced their original commerce street to the width of an alley. In the 1880’s, the Santa Fe RailRoad came to town, and soon after, in 1900, the Chicago Joliet Interurban Railroad debuted which was a lighter rail (like a trolley) whose track was laid right down the middle of State Street. Amusement Parks were built along these rail lines to encourage passengers to ride the trains out of the city. These trains ran back and forth on the hour. Because of the railroad, people could get from Chicago to Lockport in under two hours.

Dellwood Park was created by the railroad. Fraction Run Creek was first dammed so that a large amusement park could be built that featured a little lake for rowing. In 1904, Dellwood Park officially opened - a venue that dramatically increased ridership along the train route to Joliet. Dellwood Park was huge - 150 acres of land that entertained up to 15,000 people on the weekends. There was a scenic railway, a restaurant, boat house, a dance hall, a roller coaster, and a baseball field. Dellwood was one of the most famous interurban amusement parks until the 1920’s  The park was a respite for people - easing their trials during a time of changing economic landscape in Lockport.

We prayed collectively that Dellwood Park would again be a place of great unity, recreation, and peace. That thousands would attend the Dellwood Block Party this fall and feel the love of Jesus through that experience. That once again, Dellwood Park would be a sanctuary that people would want to come to, and that they would subsequently feel God’s loving presence.

8. Church History: More Involvement Needed

There appears to be more documentation that’s focused on the architecture of the buildings than the spiritual condition of Lockport itself or how these churches served the local community in the past. However, we’re imagining there’s lots of rich church history out there (probably right under our noses) if we stopped for a moment to take a look around. I'll be spending a little more time looking at church records that are down at the Lockport Area Genealogical & Historical Society on Wednesday mornings and would love some companionship. In addition, The Sozo Group is soliciting local church participation (especially from any churches involved in the Dellwood Block Party) and we asking for stories and photos (on loan) for exhibits that could help us put together our “Truth in History” picture wall at the event. Here's a beginning list of the earliest churches, but of course, all local church history is important to us! We're encouraging our historians to get involved with us. This is a perfect situation where your knowledge, gifts and resources would greatly bless the community!

  • Oldest Mason Church in Illinois - 9th & Jefferson (1840)
    Congregational Church (now Gladys Fox Museum)

  • St. Dennis Catholic Church - Hamilton & 12th. (1846) Father Dennis Ryan served Irish canal workers at a nearby camp called Haytown. Then a stone church was built in 1879 and was designed by Chicago architects. In 1965, it was hit by a tornado.

  • Methodist Church (1854). Only second one built for that denomination? (10th & Washington). Went from two to three floors. Greek Revival wooden tower is gone.

  • St. Joseph Catholic Church (1874). Served the Germans in town.

  • St. John’s Episcopal Church (1873) Gothic revival style. Badly was damaged by fire, but was rebuilt.

  • Swedish Lutheran Church (1906). Now Christ Vision Community. (18th & State)

  • Former Evangelical Association Church of Lockport (1900). Torn down when parish dissolved in 1920.
    Why did parish dissolve?

9. The “Other Side” of the Park: We Ignored Fairmont

The outside perspective is that Fairmont is a very troubled and impoverished community that is separated physically separated from the rest of Lockport by the natural barrier of Dellwood Park. While many have noticed that this neighborhood is economically disadvantaged, many never understood WHY.  The truth? Fairmont has been plagued by a spirit of rejection because no municipality has stepped up to annex them in properly. Our prayer group was convicted by the history and prayed that our community would take a closer look at the “roots” recognizing that both Lockport and Joliet have continually ignored the larger issues with this neighborhood of the years (because of not having the money to fix it) which then exacerbated the problems there and caused further division.

One drive through Fairmont reveals some noticeable things. No sidewalks. No street lights. Low taxes because they remain unincorporated. Unfortunately, the people that first inhabited Fairmont were not much for recording history, so very little is known about the area before 1940. But this is what we do know. Many cultures inhabited Fairmont in the beginning, not just African Americans. There were many Irish, German, and Swedish people that settled there - mostly because the land was cheap, the taxes were low and it was in very close proximity to many Joliet industries like: US Steel, the Koppers Coke Plant, the Joliet Arsenal, and the Rock Island Railroad. Unfortunately, work stability fluctuated from 1940’s to 1970’s because many of the industries were providing wartime resources. When these industries started closing down in the mid 1970’s, many of the locals living there became unemployed.

While it appeared that while the neighborhood was relatively “peaceful” in the 1940’s and 1950’s, that there was still racial segregation along Oak Street with the whites primarily residing on the North side and blacks on the South side.In 1966, The Joliet Housing Authority caused further damage to this community by building Fairview Homes (168 units in nearby proximity on Rosalind Ave in the Forest Park Neighborhood) and Poole Gardens (106 units southwest of Fairmont) which caused the crime rate to rise and more people to live in subsidized project-like housing. In 2012, the Housing Authority Manager resigned and these housing projects have been an even bigger mess since then. These are considered very tough neighborhoods; the Joliet Housing Authority has a difficult time with rent collection and with non-residents loitering on the property and committing crimes.

Another piece of history that struck me as telling was the construction of the “rail” on Rosalind Ave near the Fairview homes. Many people in the neighborhood were adamantly opposed to the guard rail that was installed; residents of Fairmont were very clear that they did not want this rail installed and revolted by uniting as both churches and residents to form JACOB (Joliet Area Church Organization Basement) which included pastors from both Joliet and Fairmont to fight against the rail with a march and even protested with a large prayer group at the site of the rail. Despite community opposition, the Mayor of Joliet installed the rail anyway which obstructed emergency vehicles from direct routes to the highway. The community was outraged and very broken over this issue.

Fairmont remains severely economically disadvantaged because there is not a neighboring municipality that has had the desire (or the funds) to give this community the true “leg-up”  it needs to properly develop. Basically, the residents of Fairmont continue to feel unwanted by both Lockport and Joliet because neither is interested in inheriting the financial issues that surround this deprived area’s giant need of major structural revitalization. Our prayers were that the citizens of Lockport sees the bigger needs in this neighborhood and the larger problems that exist here that impede change. That we press in for prayer and wisdom on how to best support our close neighbors and that we want to help them improve their land. That Lockport & Homer Glen would become more united and that we would all choose to adopt Fairmont versus reject them. That Fairmont could eventually become unincorporated and be better supported by our city’s resources. We also prayed for the police who patrol the streets in all local townships. We thanked God for their service and asked for their continued protection. We also prayed that God would soften the police department’s hearts in all situations where they’re dealing with strife, trauma and violence day after day. We praised God for Lockport Love, the Lockport Resource Center and for all the food pantries that are serving the poor and destitute in our community.

We then recited little more prayer from Dutch Sheets: “Father God, we pray that you will redefine reality and teach us how to connect across state lines and across every kind of barrier in other parts of your body---show us how to cross denominational, theological, racial, cultural and gender barriers that have hindered your body from moving as an effective army. Release the interconnecting strength of our apostolic anointing in all its fullness for the benefit of all.

God, we ask you to deal powerfully with religion and religious forms which hinder the full release of your Spirit’s power. God shake the established churches and ministries and make all of us look more like Jesus every day. We pray for them the same things we pray for ourselves God Change us into the image of our Savior Jesus Christ. Give us the new hearts your promised us Lord.”

It was a powerful prayer walk for the community. I'm thankful to the five prayer warriors who stood in agreement. We wait with expectant hearts to see the fruits come forth as restoration manifests in Lockport, Homer Glen, Lemont, Plainfield and Joliet. We thanked and praised God for the revival that will ripple out to more communities within Chicagoland.