Starved Rock Lodge and Cabins were built from 1933 to 1939 by the Depression-Era Civilian Conservation Corps. The lodge and cabins originally cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to build. Starved Rock State Park’s Lodge and Cabins were listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 8, 1985 as part of the Illinois State Park Lodges and Cabins Thematic Resources Multiple Property Submission.
By the National Register’s criteria, the Lodge and Cabins are considered significant in the areas of architecture and entertainment & recreation. The size of the lodge and the land area the cabins cover are both nearly unrivaled in the Illinois state park system.
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Daniel Hitt purchased the land that is today occupied by Starved Rock State Park from the United States Government in 1835 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 Deer Park (modern-day Matthiessen State Park) a 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.
Starved Rock State Park’s Lodge and Cabins were listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 8, 1985 as part of the Illinois State Park Lodges and Cabins Thematic Resources Multiple Property Submission. By the National Register’s criteria the Lodge and Cabins are considered significant in the areas of architecture and entertainment/recreation. The size of the lodge and the land area the cabins cover are both nearly unrivaled in the Illinois state park system; only Pere Marquette State Park’s Lodge and Cabins come close.
When Illinois Route 71 was opened in 1942, it allowed easy automotive access from Chicago. Starved Rock was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The Illinois Bureau of Tourism listed Starved Rock State Park as one of the “Seven Wonders of Illinois” in 2007.2.1 million people visited the park in 2010.
The History & Legend of Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock obtained its name from a legendary incident that occurred in the 1760’s when 500 Illinois Indians lived in this area. During this time the dominant tribe was the Ottawa Indians who controlled the Potawatomi and Fox Indians, and lived not far up river from Starved Rock.The chief of the Ottawa Indians, Chief Pontiac, went to southern Illinois to negotiate trade agreements with the French and was murdered by an Illinois Indian from the Starved Rock area. When word got back to the Potawatomi and Fox tribes, they were out to avenge their leaders death. They paddled down river and attacked the Illinois’ village by the great rock. A fierce battle went on for several days. During the battle, the Illinois tribe was reduced by half. The Potawatomi and Fox went back to regroup and the Illinois knew that if they were to survive, they would have to abandon their village. They decided to seek refuge on top of the great rock.
When the Potawatomi and Fox returned, they surrounded the base of the rock. The tribes often went to the top of Devil’s Nose and showered the weakened Illinois defense with arrows. As the Illinois grew more desperate, they tried to sneak off the rock at night, but were killed. Eventually, all of the Illinois Indians who chose to seek refuge atop the giant rock starved to death, and ever since, the site has been called “Starved Rock”.
There are no written records to prove this event actually happened. The story came down through the years from Indian storytellers. Archeological excavations have revealed many artifacts, including skeletons and weapons used near Starved Rock over 1,000 years ago. Tour the museum at the Visitors Center to learn more.
Local Indian History
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.
That was then…
Starved Rock became Illinois’ second state park in 1911. Daniel Hitt owned the land that was purchased from the U.S. Government in 1835 as back pay from the Army. He sold Starved Rock and 100 acres in 1890 to Ferdinand Walthers for $15,000 with an option to buy 265 more acres at $45 per acre. Mr. Walther tried to develop the land as the “Gibraltar of the West,” and developed a large-frame hotel which was located at the base of the south bluff below Starved Rock. An artesian-fed swimming pool was located just south of Devil’s Nose. A dance pavilion was also built near the concession area. The hotel was not as successful as the Mr. Walther had hoped. The State of Illinois purchased 280 acres of land, including Starved Rock from the Walthers for $146,000 on June 10, 1911.
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. In 1918, the park purchased a miniature locomotive from Lincoln Park in Chicago. The miniature railroad circled the pool which was encircled by a concrete wall with an island in the center. Traveling and local bands played at the dance pavilion. Frank Hart, a Seneca Indian, lived in a tent during the summer along the east side of the pool. A campground was located where the lodge area is now.
Room rates in 1928 were $3 per night for a first class room. A round-trip ticket from the Chicago area to the park cost $2.90 on the train. After the Lodge was completed in 1938, there was no longer a need for the buildings in the lower park area, so they were demolished in the early 1940s. The swimming pool had many leaks and was filled with cement at the same time.
This is now…
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.From the start of construction, the CCC workers were picketed and harassed by local laborers. The CCC completed the kitchen, dining room, lobby, and twelve cabins. Things grew so tense that the project was halted, and private contractors finished the lodge rooms. The cost of construction of the main lodge and the cabins was about $250,000, while the contract for the 48-room lodge addition was $200,000.
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. In 1977, the park campground was moved from the river area to its present wooded location off of Route 71. In 1980-81, the Lodge underwent a $1,000,000 renovation project.
Between 1911 and 1981, the top of Starved Rock has been worn down as much as 18 inches, due to the traffic of visitors. In 1981, the Illinois Young Adult Conservation Corps constructed the platforms and walkways that are atop the rock. The walkway is made from treated yellow pine and cost $21,500 to build. It has a life expectancy of 40 years. Besides preserving the top of the rock, it is hoped that the deck will make visitors feel more secure at its height. In 1986-88, a $4,000,000 renovation and addition was done on the Lodge, including a 30-room addition, an indoor heated pool, and improvements to the original building. In 2011, the flagstone on the Veranda and cedar shake roof were replaced. Copper flashings were added, returning the Lodge to its original look.
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, 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.