Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park is an 8,300-acre (3,440ha) state park on the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Winnebago County, Illinois. The park was named after two former Illinois governors and a member of the House of Representatives, all Democrats; it lies between the towns of Rockford and Oregon, Illinois, along Highway 173. The park contains over 100 miles (160km) of beachfront, dunes, wetlands, prairie, oak savanna, hardwood forests, and coniferous forest. It includes Big Manitou Falls, which drops over a cliff face of bare rock into a basin filled with water. The falls are one of eleven waterfall formations found within the park.
Other notable features include the “Devils Backbone,” a ridge of small hills that separates the mainland from Little Manitou Island; Honeycomb Point, a peninsula near the entrance to Peoria Bay; and Four Mile Creek, which flows through a channel so narrow that only large ships can pass. The area’s geography has been shaped by glaciers during three ice ages, causing the land to be covered by a thick blanket of glacial sand. This layer of silt, known as loess, forms the soil of the region. As the glaciers melted 10,000 years ago, shallow inland seas formed where once there were glaciers. These post-glacial lakes left behind a flat plain dotted with marshes and wetland areas.
The park offers swimming, camping, picnicking facilities, boat launch, playground, trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding, and lodge. There are 47 campsites divided into tent sites, trailer sites, and group sites. Twenty-five of these sites have electrical hookups. Seven rent-a-camp cabins are available for use. An equestrian center provides stables, corrals, and outdoor ring-troughing facilities. The park has 282 picnic tables. Half of these are shaded by trees. Five pavilions may be reserved for day use. The main picnic area has a stage and barbecue grills.
- Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail. This 0.5-mile (0.80km) loop trail follows an old logging road along the west bank of Four Mile Creek. The route passes through wooded areas with views of the bluffs, beaches, and islands.
- Honeycomb Point Nature Trail. This 0.8-mile (1.3km) trail runs east from the main picnic area, climbing steeply to a height of 230 feet (70m). From here, there are fine views south toward Four Mile Creek and the Beaver Meadow Unit of the Oglesby Marsh.
- Four Mile Creek Nature Trail. This 1.2-mile (1.9km) trail begins at the parking lot for cabin 12 and winds past meadows, wetlands, forest edge, and open fields, ending at a bluff overlooking the lower end of the park.
Additionally, Peoria Bay Picnic Area is located adjacent to Peoria Bay, this area has a number of picnic tables and charcoal grills. No drinking water is available, and pit toilets are present. Boat Launch. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and paddle boats may be launched into the bay.
About 7,000 years ago the waters of these marshes began to fill in with sediment, creating what we now call Black Marsh. When the last glacier melted 5,000 years ago, this marshy area was covered by about 1 foot (30cm) of pre-Sangamonian Stage, or Pre-Mississippian, loam, another type of sandy loam soil. This topsoil drains very poorly, but supports a variety of plants not seen in more northern regions, such as bur oak, red pine, white pine, jack pine, eastern hemlock, and black ash, among others. After the melting of the last glacier, human settlement occurred along the lake front for several thousand years. Native Americans began to frequent the region around 2,500 BC, primarily the Potawatomi and Kaskaskia who hunted, farmed, and gathered wild food.
In 1673, Father Louis Hennepin visited the mouth of Four Mile Creek and described it as a place “where there is plenty of game, fish, and fowl.” He called the area Ile au Chamailles, meaning Land of the Meeting Place, because it served as a gathering point for tribes coming together for trade, games, and festivals. During the 18th century, the French established Fort St. Pierre, at the mouth of the creek, then built wooden houses to live in while they waited for their fort to be completed. By 1750 the fort had been upgraded to stone barracks, and a town started growing up around it. Called St. Domingo, after the patron saint of mariners, the town included various stores, dwellings, and public buildings, including a church, schoolhouse, hospital, tavern, and waterfront property. A hurricane destroyed most of the structures in 1759, leaving just enough time for the soldiers to pack up and leave before the British occupied the site. Following the British departure, local citizens rebuilt the town, naming it New St. Domingo. However, lack of military protection led many residents to abandon the town by 1763, when a fire burned down half the buildings.
Only four families remained, and the town lay abandoned until the mid-18th century, when settlers began to repopulate the area. Records show that some families took possession of the land under lease from the government, while other purchased the farms directly from the Indians. Eventually, nine families lived on the property, farming and fishing commercially. Two of these families intermarried, forming the basis of the community’s racial mix. One family operated a general store, post office, and ferry service across the river, while another ran a distillery, saloon, and restaurant. In 1830, Abraham Lincoln passed through the village, visiting his sister Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, whom he had helped persuade her husband to let them visit. While staying with her, Lincoln met Mary Owens, daughter of Robert Owen, whose father owned much of the land surrounding the village.
Owen offered to sell his land to the federal government, and although President Andrew Jackson initially rejected the offer, he accepted it following lobbying by Richard Rush, Jr., son of Pennsylvania governor William Penn Ridgely Rush. On January 14, 1831, Jackson signed the deal, officially making the 160 acres (65ha) of land part of the United States. Many in the village opposed the sale, fearing repercussions from the increasingly powerful pro-slavery element in Congress. They also felt that the price paid by the federal government was inadequate. Nevertheless, the land became part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Development continued slowly, mainly due to poor drainage and the fact that the area was surrounded by farmlands largely untilled. Roads were improved, but little else. Most of the undeveloped land was sold off to immigrants to farm, with the rest kept as public recreation ground. At first, the grounds were used mostly as a camp site for men going out to hunt, fish, and explore the woods in search of adventure. Later, women were admitted to the campground, and eventually cabins were erected to accommodate overnight visitors. The Mississippi National Recreation Area designation was changed to Illinois Beach State Park in 1958. Although no formal boundaries were set, the park is generally considered to extend northward beyond its terminus at Highway 173, encompassing Peoria Bay and parts of East Peoria.
- cross-country skiing
- horseback riding