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early 15c., "action of carrying," said to be from Old French portage, Medieval Latin portaticum, though the meaning of these was "tax paid on entering a town," from Latin portare "to carry" (see port (n.1)). Sense of "carrying of boats from one navigable water to another" is from 1690s, reinforced in Canadian French.
city, seat (1851) of Columbia county, south-central Wisconsin, U.S. It lies along the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, about 35 miles (55 km) north of Madison. The 1.5-mile (2.5-km) overland portage there between the Wisconsin and Fox rivers was first crossed by the French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette in 1673; the route was vital in linking the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River. The Portage Canal was built between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers in the 1850s, but it faced competition from a railroad that came through the town in 1857; the canal fell into disuse and was closed to navigation in 1951. In 1792 a fur-trading post was established, and Fort Winnebago was built in 1828 at the site when conflict with the Ho-Chunk Nation (Winnebago) Indians threatened; its Surgeon's Quarters have been restored as a museum. The Historic Indian Agency House (1832) of John Kinzie, agent to the Winnebago, has also been restored.