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home : news : north central illinois   May 27, 2016

1/11/2014 6:19:00 AM
Exclusive getaway: Lodge marks 75 years

The lodge’s most rustic and prominent feature is the spacious Great Hall, where visitors see hand-hewn pine logs angle high overhead.NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
+ click to enlarge
The lodge’s most rustic and prominent feature is the spacious Great Hall, where visitors see hand-hewn pine logs angle high overhead.

NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
Test your Lodge knowledge
1) What kind of wood and stone was used to build the lodge?
2) The lodge was finished in 1939 and was built after the park was established. What year was the park established?
3) What is the name of Illinois’ first state park?
4) The lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works project during the Great Depression of the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. What were the three R’s of the New Deal?
5) Who was the state architect who oversaw construction of Starved Rock Lodge?
6) In 1911 owners Ferdinand and Antoni Walther sold the land that would become Starved Rock State Park to the state of Illinois. Was the sale price closer to $50,000 or $150,000?
7) What is the name of the large island that occupies the Illinois River next to Starved Rock?
8) Prior to state purchase in 1911, the Starved Rock area was a privately-owned and operated resort. Which of the following was not part of the original resort? Dance hall, hotel, clubhouse, airport, gambling saloon, ferry landing, camping and picnicking grounds, tour boat, souvenir stand, pool and bathhouse, restaurant.
9) How much did CCC workers in the 1930s earn per month?
10) The French built a fort at Starved Rock in 1682-83. What was its name?

Answers to be posted Monday!

Jeff Dankert
NewsTribune Reporter

The veranda at Starved Rock Lodge offers a spectacular view of the valleys and bluffs to the north along the Illinois River.

One particular lookout offers a second treat, one not readily apparent unless observers looked under their feet. An arrow-shaped stone slab in the patio points straight toward Starved Rock bluff.

The stone-and-wood Starved Rock Lodge holds many treasures since it was built 75 years ago by public works crews with the Civilian Conservation Corps under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program. It took six years for to build, finished in 1939. In 1985 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The lodge is modern and it is rustic. It was built of limestone, white pine logs and wood-shingled roofing. It also has a modern dining room, kitchen, hotel service, gift shop, café and its own beer and ice cream.

The lodge’s most rustic and prominent feature is the spacious Great Hall, where hand-hewn pine logs angle high overhead. The stone fireplace in the middle of the hall is massive, the largest double-sided fireplace in Illinois, said Kathy Casstevens, marketing director of Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center.

The original lodge had 45 rooms. Additions since 1939 can be recognized while walking west through the hotel wings. Log walls eventually give way to more modern construction.

“Today, we have 41 lodge rooms and 28 in the hotel wing with 21 cabin rooms,” Casstevens said. “Some of the cabins are quad cabins with four rooms under one roof.”

The furniture in the Great Hall and attached dining and guest rooms also were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The furniture has mortise and tenon joints and these recently were refurbished, Casstevens said.

People have viewed the lodge as an exclusive getaway. It is operated by a private company but remains public, state property and part of Starved Rock State Park. The lodge has spanned four generations.

“For people in the Illinois Valley, they don’t even know what a great vacation spot they have in their own backyard,” Casstevens said.

Deb Nelson of Yucaipa, Calif., knows. She once lived in this area and volunteered for 15 years at Starved Rock State Park. On Dec. 30 she found herself in the Great Hall with friend, Dan Gavrilovic of Springfield, ready to hike the trails. It’s been more than 20 years since Nelson has been back. She moved north of Chicago in about 1990 and then left for California in 2007. Nelson wanted to show Gavrilovic a park bench by the visitor center bearing the name of her late husband, Dennis.

“I have a lot of really good memories of the park,” Nelson said. “It is an unexpected thing in the middle of cornfields and soybean fields. There’s topography here.”

In its first year under state ownership Starved Rock State Park attracted 75,000 visitors, triple the number it attracted under private ownership. Today the park sees more than 2 million visitors a year.

“They are gold to us,” Casstevens said.

Before the state park was established in 1911 the site was a popular private resort. Landowner Ferdinand Walther built a hotel and cottages. Walther sold the land to the state for $146,000. The public park opened in May 1912. The hotel fell into disrepair by 1932.

The CCC established a camp at Starved Rock and employed hundreds of men. White pine and limestone, much of it shipped in, comprised the bulk of raw materials.

The cost to build the lodge and cabins was estimated $200,000 to $300,000. In 1986-88 further renovation added more rooms and a pool, according to the book, “Starved Rock State Park” by Nancy Hill Barta. Another book on Starved Rock history is “Starved Rock State Park: The Work of the CCC Along the I & M Canal” by Dennis Cremin and Charlene Giardina.

Starved Rock Lodge was built under the direction of state architect Joseph F. Booten. He also oversaw CCC construction of lodges at Black Hawk State Historic Site and three other state parks, Giant City, White Pines and Pere Marquette. CCC activities from 1934-42 spanned a period when Illinois developed plans for state parks.

Casstevens has worked at the lodge seven years. She has a family connection. Her mother and grandmother once worked there. While recalling this in the dining room, Casstevens runs her hands across old folding serving trays which her mother and grandmother might have handled, she said.

At the hotel entrance are two sets of doors. Enter the first set of doors and you will notice a flagstone floor. You might have to flip back a floor mat to see a stone shaped like the state of Illinois.

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