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In 1835, Daniel Hitt purchased the land that is today occupied by Starved Rock State Park from the United States Government, as compensation for his tenure in the U.S. Army. He sold the land in 1890 to Ferdinand Walther for $15,000. Recognizing the potential for developing the land as a resort, Walther constructed the Starved Rock Hotel and a natural pool near the base of Starved Rock, as well as a concession stand and dance hall (Pictured here in 1905). The French and Native American heritage of the region also drew visitors to the site. Walthers set up a variety of walkable trails and harbored small boats near the hotel that made trips along the Illinois River. Visitors could also visit nearby Deer Park (modern-day Matthiessen State Park) situateda few miles to the south. With the growth of competitive sites, Walther struggled to keep the complex economically stable.
In 1911, he sold the land to the Illinois State Parks Commission for $146,000. The Commission was initially headquartered at Starved Rock State Park after the land was acquired. The state initially acquired 898 acres and opened Starved Rock State Park as a public facility in 1912. During its early years, Starved Rock State Park was directly accessible only by railroad. Visitors had reached Starved Rock by rail and ferry since at least 1904, while the property was still a Walther-run resort. Between 1904 and 1908 more than 160,000 people used the ferry that connected Starved Rock to the electric railway line. In 1912, the year the park was opened to the public, attendance was 75,000. By the 1930s other state parks were opened in Illinois but Starved Rock State Park remained the most extensively used park in the system.
Starved Rock Lodge and Cabins were designed by Joseph F. Booten and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The lodge has a central lounge, known as the Great Hall, hotel wings and a dining room wing. On its exterior, the lodge is primarily constructed of stone, unhewed logs, clapboard and wood shingles. Booten’s design intended to impress upon visitors the idea of a “woodsy retreat”. This is seen in the way he designed round log purlins whose unevenly hewn ends extend beyond the lodge’s eaves. Surrounding the lodge are 16 cabins, two large cabins separated into 4 units are sited just west of the lodge while the other 8 are situated across a steep ravine, known as Fox Canyon, from the lodge. The cabins are constructed of unhewn logs with random corner notches and sit in heavily wooded area meant to evoke a “camping in the woods” feeling. The 12 cabins and the lodge cover an area of 17 acres. Despite the changes through modernization the lodge still retains much of the charm its architect intended.
The rich history of Starved Rock
Native Americans have lived within the park since 8000 BC. The first inhabitants were called the Archaic Indians. Through the centuries Woodland, Hopewellian, and Mississippi Indian cultures have flourished in this area. The culture of the historic Illinois Indians is well known because they were written about in the diaries of the first Europeans that inhabited this region. In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet founded the Village of Kaskaskia on the north bank of the Illinois River. The French called the village “La Vantum”.
The ever growing village had a population which fluctuated from 1,200 to 15,000 from 1673 to the early 1700’s. The Kaskaskia village was an unusually large Indian concentration. Its size increased rapidly due to the influx of other Illinois Indians and related Algonquin tribes who were under the relentless attacks of the Iroquois. The leading Indian tribe of Illinois, The Kaskaskia, were a people of medium build with long legs, and tattoos covering their bodies. They were primarily hunters, focusing on bison, wild turkey, bear, elk, deer, raccoon, and beaver. They also gathered food and had a simple garden-type agriculture. It was the women who were farmers; planting maize, beans, melons, and various vegetable crops. A prime area farmed in this immediate area was Plum Island, the large island that can be seen when looking off Starved Rock onto in the Illinois River.
During the summer, the Kaskaskia stayed near their gardens, but after the harvest and storage of the crops they left to hunt, traveling to the south and west where the climate was milder and game more plentiful. Their homes were formed with a framework of two parallel rows of saplings bent together and tied at the top, to form a series of arches. The homes were roofed and floored with mats made of rushes which were referred to as “apacoyas”. Inside were fires for cooking and storage pits. Six to twelve families were housed in each structure. The utensils and tools used were made of wood, bone, stones, and shells. The Kaskaskia had simple pottery; copper and iron utensils were still unknown. The French missionaries were active in the area until 1700. French trading rights were suspended in 1702, causing Fort Louis to be abandoned. The Kaskaskia Indians lost their military protection and source of trade goods from the French, so they decided to follow them south. They moved their village to the mouth of the Kaskaskia River and called it “Rounesac”.
In 1764, the population of the tribe was 600 and rapidly declining. After losing their land rights along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, the survivors of the Illinois Nation moved to Kansas in 1832. Today, the survivors of the Illinois Indians live in Oklahoma where they have been incorporated as the “Peoria Tribe of the Indians of Oklahoma” since 1940. Most tourists during 1911 traveled to the park from the Chicago area on the railway that ran on the North side of the Illinois River. The passengers would then take a ferryboat across the river to the South side of the park. They came to see one of the first state parks designated for recreation.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the present-day lodge during the 1930s; its white pine logs were brought from Indiana. Besides building the lodge, the CCC built many stairways, shelters, and bridges in the park. Our present-day park has seen a lot of changes over the years. Numerous additions have increased the park to 2,700 acres. Nearly 16 miles of well-marked hiking trails lead guests to 18 canyons and rock formations found within the park. Guests can hike the trials, camp, fish the Illinois River, cross country ski during winter months (at Matthiessen State Park) and enjoy other special events throughout the year.
In 2007, Starved Rock State Park was chosen one of the “Seven Wonders of Illinois” through an on-line voting contest sponsored by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and ABC-7 TV in Chicago. In 2011, Starved Rock State Park celebrated its 100th Anniversary. In 2012 Starved Rock Lodge & State Park were named the #1 Fan Favorite Attraction in the state. The social media-based Facebook contest was launched by the Illinois Office of Tourism. The competition began with 64 nominees, which included great places like Brookfield Zoo, Downtown Galena and the Museum of Science & Industry. Starved Rock Lodge & State Park took the prize because it’s the best combination of: outdoor adventure, family fun, architectural wonder and a rich history.
Nestled in the flatlands of Illinois, the canyons and bluffs are quite unexpected. The panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley will leave you with a lasting memory. Starved Rock is an experience that we want to share with everyone. Each season offers a unique kind of beauty so visitors return again and again, often more than one time within a year. The beauty of winter and ice falls, eagles in flight and snow-cover canyons is every bit as stunning as a seasonal waterfall active after a spring rain. Also in 2012, all of the guest room furniture was upgraded. The new, hand-crafted additions included headboards, side tables, chests of drawers, plus guest room tables and chairs. Made in Illinois from reclaimed barns and 100-year-old hardwoods, the new furniture is in keeping with the mortis-and-tenon style just as the CCC crafted. In 2013, new tables and chairs were created by the same company for the Main Dining Room, Porch and the Back Door Lounge. Over two million people visit this National Historic Landmark each year. Please help us to preserve and protect this precious natural resource.