Portage is the third oldest city in the state of Wisconsin. Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet made the "portage" in 1673 on their voyage of exploration and adventuresome travelers continued to use the portage to carry their canes or bateaux from the Wisconsin River to the Fox River.
Eventually, a canal was constructed to connect the two waterways and an industrial waterfront developed along the canal. As a trade center for Central Wisconsin, the downtown retail district was a beehive of activity as early as the 1860's and many of the current retailers in the downtown area have preserved the architectural integrity of their buildings.
The idea for a canal to connect the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers was developed in the 1820's and 1830's. The canal in it's current location was dug by hand from 1849-1851, and then improved after the Civil War. the canal was at its peak for recreational boat traffic in 1908 with 1,461 lockages at the Ft. Winnebago lock, going into the Fox River, and 127 lockages at the Portage lock.
By 1950 the number had dwindled to only eight to the Wisconsin River, and the following year the Portage locks were welded shut.
The canal is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
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