The Chicago Portage Site Interpretative Center was originally proposed in 1975 in a study commissioned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and conducted by Wm. E. Rose and Associates, Inc. of Hinsdale, IL.   The design study on The Chicago Portage and Laughton Trading Post Area was titled: "The Waterway West" was funded by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and a grant from the National Park Service of the Department of Interior under the Historic Preservation Act.

The purpose of the study was to document the historical significance of the Chicago Portage (which includes the  Chicago Portage National Historic Site, known as "Portage Woods" and the adjacent "Ottawa Trail Woods") and to propose the development of a regional facility to preserve and to interpret the various historical and geological features located in this area.

That needs the support of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The current site at 47th and Harlem has a monument dedicated to French explorers Marquette and Jolliet and their Indian guides. It is at this site that early explorers and fur traders portaged from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River system. This established trade route beckoned for the digging of a canal to eliminate the arduous portage. The Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed in 1848 and with it came the building of Chicago. The Interpretative Center will exhibit the rich history and key factors that created the growth of the I & M Canal Heritage Corridor.