BY SUSAN BROWN, Times of Northwest Indiana 
sbrown@nwitimes.com

In 1901, today's sprawling Indiana Harbor Ship Canal was a mere sand pile.

Two years later, Indiana Gov. Winfield T. Durbin would be among a host of dignitaries presiding over an opening celebration where the first load of 4 million cubic feet of sand would be removed to form an artificial canal.

The Indianapolis News reported a gala event where "the rattling of chains and hiss of great clouds of steam at the mammoth pump were drowned by screams of whistles of locomotives and the hoarse bellowing of others at the great factories. The large crowd shouted, cheered and swung its hats and the First Regiment band played the Battle Song of the Republic."

The event was carefully staged by the East Chicago Co. to mark the beginnings of what was to become one of the great manufacturing points in America, according to the account by reporter W.H. Blodgett.

Nineteen miles east of Chicago, the new harbor and ship canal was expected to relieve the ship and rail traffic congesting the industrial heart of the city.

Conditions had become so serious delays in freight traffic were costing merchants millions of dollars annually, according to Blodgett's account.

Located near the new harbor were nearly two dozen industrial plants, including Inland Steel Co., United States Steel Corp. cement works, and Republic Iron & Steel.

The land company would excavate and dredge the privately funded canal until around 1908, when it was taken over by the federal government.

By then, immense quantities of iron ore designated for the blast furnaces at Inland had been unloaded at the harbor for several years, and Inland was preparing to receive coal for its just completed coke ovens.

Whiting's Standard Oil Co., which owned docks on the canal, was shipping its refinery products to American and Canadian ports on the Great Lakes.

Today, the canal is second only to the Port of Chicago in tonnage received on Lake Michigan, according the East Chicago Waterway Management District. Its primary materials are iron ore pellets, petroleum products and stone
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