Shawnee National Forest
Historical Areas to See
Are you interested in visiting Shawnee National Forest historical areas?
Southern Illinois is full of them! There’s much history throughout the Shawnee National Forest and our local state parks.
And you can visit most of these areas, too! There is plenty of information about them to learn on the internet. This article will cover 10 of the best Shawnee National Forest historical areas.
It’s always good to know the area’s history and understand how it became what it is today!
Shawnee National Forest Historical Areas on the West Side
Let’s look at some historical areas of the Shawnee National Forest on the west side, known as the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District.
1 – An Ancient Civilization at Fountain Bluff
Fountain Bluff is an isolated range of hills and bluffs located near Grand Tower, Illinois, within the Mississippi River floodplain. Glaciation is the cause of the abnormality of this lone and isolated knob. The land mass around it is mainly flat and served for agriculture.
If the Mississippi River had carved a new channel around Fountain Bluff, the area could have become a true island, something not many consider.
Fountain Bluff gets its name from the many natural springs within the area. One spring is located on Highway 3, and tourists can pull over and collect water from it. However, it is advised to filter the water before you drink it.
Locals in the area also refer to Fountain Bluff as Big Hill. Big Hill is a common name for the location on older maps and in Shawnee National Forest historical area books about southern Illinois.
Most of Fountain Bluff is managed by the US Forest Service, although there is plenty of private property within it. There are numerous trails within the area. Most are very steep, with a lot of challenging rolling hills. The bluff and hillsides along the river are some of the steepest areas in southern Illinois.
Between 850-1500 AD, the areas were inhabited by ancient Native American people from the Mississippian period. Evidence of their occupation has been found in several petroglyph sites along the area. Unfortunately, many sites are extremely difficult to reach or on private property. One of the more famous sites has been heavily vandalized over the years.
During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) quarried the area for materials used in their many projects of creating what is now known as the Shawnee National Forest. The nearby CCC camp was Camp Glenn (1933 to 1937). The CCC built a fire tower on top of Fountain Bluff, but sadly, it has since been dismantled.
Fountain Bluff, at one time, was considered one of the most popular picnic areas in the Shawnee National Forest. Now it’s a lonely, isolated bluff with a lot of mystery attached to it.
To reach Fountain Bluff, drive to the end of Happy Hollow Road from Route 3, heading south past Grand Tower.
2 – Kaolin Pottery and the Iron Mountain
Iron Mountain is a Shawnee National Forest historical area located between Jonesboro and Alto Pass. It is a bluff made up of ridgelines with accounts of historical mining and community within its history.
There isn’t much information about why Iron Mountain was named Iron Mountain. There are no known iron deposits within this area. The area, however, was mined for a specific material – Kaolin.
Kaolin is a white clay used to create China and Porcelain products such as dishes, plates, glasses, and decorative items. These items are usually sold for a lot of money and are often higher sought after.
In 1866, the foot of Iron Mountain was mined and quarried for Kaolin clay. There is a pond located at what is now the trailhead. It is said to be at least 100’ deep, but some speculate it is deeper than that.
The Kaolin clay was sold to create Anna Pottery.
A village was established around the quarry called Kaolin. The village became busy due to the mine and had its own railway spur of the St Louis and Cairo Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Like most mines in southern Illinois, Kaolin’s operations declined throughout the years. By the 1990s, the mining permits expired, and the US Forest Service acquired the area.
Anna Pottery is still often sought after. Many remnants of the Kaolin quarry are still visible today, including the pit mine, gob hill, cemeteries, and areas where structures once stood.
Much of this history can be attributed to James Baughn, an avid adventurer of the Shawnee National Forest who maintained a regular blog on the SE Missourian website. Unfortunately, James tragically passed away a few years ago after a fall accident in Missouri. Rest in Peace, James.
To reach the Iron Mountain Trailhead, take Highway 127 from Jonesboro to Mountain Glen Road. Turn right on Kaolin Road. Turn right on Kaolin Pit Road and stay to the right to the end of the road.
3 – The CCC Legacy of Giant City State Park
Giant City State Park is located in Makanda near Carbondale, Illinois, and Southern Illinois University. The park is known to be one of the best state parks southern Illinois has to offer. There are miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, a famous dining lodge, a remarkable visitor center, cabins and campgrounds, and the nearby Makanda Boardwalk, the Hippy Headquarters of southern Illinois.
But the state park also includes a lot of history worth noting. The Nature Trail has a wall of bluffs with dozens of carvings dating back from the Civil War era to the late 1900s. A lot of the park’s area was once owned by the Rendlemans’, a well-known name in the area. Rendleman Orchard is a famous and historical orchard located near Alto Pass.
There is even an ancient Stonefort located in Giant City State Park. The ancient Native Americans created the rock structure.
Around 1934-1935, the area was acquired to establish a recreation area. This was also around the time the Shawnee National Forest was being created. The builders of Giant City and the Shawnee are known to be the CCC which stands for Civilian Conservation Corps.
The CCC comprised mainly men and boys in their late teens and 20s. This was during the Great Depression era when many families were poor, and no jobs could be had. The CCC would get paid $25 a month, which was a lot of money during that time. They would usually send the money home as the federal government ran the CCC, providing clothing, dining, and lodging arrangements for the men and boys.
The CCC created roads, trails, creeks, and drainage systems. The Giant City Lodge is one of the most prominent CCC-created landmarks in Southern Illinois. Today, you can visit the lodge to dine and see some of the CCC craftsmanship put into its creation. The lodge also serves some of the best Fried Chicken in the region.
Without the CCC, Giant City State Park and most of the Shawnee National Forest historical area sites wouldn’t likely exist. It has been said that FDR’s Green Army (CCC) planted over a million trees nationwide across the US Forest Service system.
To reach Giant City State Park, take Highway 13 from Marion/I-57, Illinois, into Carbondale. Then, turn left and drive south on Giant City Road until you reach the State Park visitor center on your right.
4 – Crab Orchard Refuge and World War II
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge today is known for its extensive lake, hunting, and waterfowl harvesting opportunities. But Crab Orchard wasn’t always a National Wildlife Refuge and still mimics many operations of its past.
In 1938, during the Great Depression, what is now known as the US Department of Agriculture constructed the 7,000-acre lake. It was built along property acquired next to Crab Orchard Creek. The project was named Crab Orchard Creek Project. Its purpose was to help alleviate Depression-era problems by bringing employment into the area.
In 1942-1945 the Crab Orchard area became the IOP which was created by the War Department (later becoming the Department of Defense) in response to materials needed for World War II. This ordinance plant created an entire community (with many jobs) to help support war efforts. Bombs, landmines, and explosives were made in the Crab Orchard Lake area factories.
In 1947, Congress transferred jurisdiction along with over 22,000 acres to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to create a wildlife sanctuary. However, the agency continued and continues to this day to lease many portions of the area to industry. General Dynamics Tactical Ordinance is one of the more known industries that leases the area. The factory manufactures explosives used by the US Military and allied forces.
During the 1970s and 1980s, it was concluded that PCBs contaminated some land. In 1986, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started investigating in collaboration with FWS for soil and water contamination. In 1987, a portion of the refuge was designated as a Superfund site due to contamination.
Today, regulation and restrictions help control further contamination. Many of the WWII structures are being demolished due to contamination and safety. However, the refuge provides habitat, game harvesting, and recreational opportunities to local and traveling tourists.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is located southwest of the Marion/Herrin, Illinois, area. A vehicle decal is required to travel and park in most refuge areas.
5 – The Story of Emma Rebman and Ferne Clyffe State Park
Emma Rebman was a local educator who knew the importance of preserving nature. In all honesty, we can thank Ms. Rebman for Ferne Clyffe State Park.
Ferne Clyffe State Park was named one of the most beautiful spots in Illinois. However, this was before the area was a state park. It wasn’t until 1949 that the area became a state park. But before then, a portion of the park was owned by Ms. Emma Rebman, a prominent figure in Johnson County, Illinois.
Ms. Rebman wanted to build a road into the area from Goreville. She spent many years enjoying the area and studying the previous Native American inhabitance. There are rumors that gold and other artifacts were buried at Hawk’s Cave. Rumor states that a 12’ hole was dug there, but when discovered, there was no evidence of treasure. If there was a treasure, it had been kept secret.
Ms. Rebman was said to have the water regularly tested to ensure it was 99% pure. In addition, she employed handymen to clean the trails up and mark them so guests on her property could enjoy what they got to enjoy.
It should be noted that Ms. Rebman was a beloved educator in the area.
After the area was turned into a state park, there used to be many entertainment activities. There were fox hunts, concessions, and more.
The Department of Conservation (now Illinois Department of Natural Resources) decided to close the road into the park and build a new one due to safety concerns and ecological reasons. The old road was the connection from Goreville. This causes residents to protest and take the decision to court. The state favored the closure of the old road, and a new road was built into the park. The old road is now the Goreville Boy Scout Trail.
Today, Ferne Clyffe State Park offers many miles of trail, camping, fishing, hunting, and picnicking opportunities. There are several prominent waterfalls within the park, too.
To reach Ferne Clyffe State Park, take Highway 37 south of Goreville, Illinois, for about a mile, and the park entrance will be on your right.
Shawnee National Forest Historical Areas on the East Side
Now we’ll check out some of the Shawnee National Forest historical areas located on the east side of the forest or the Hidden Springs Ranger District.
6 – A Booming Railway on Tunnel Hill State Trail
Tunnel Hill State Trail is a rail trail located in southernmost Illinois. It is over 55 miles in length and is used by cyclists, runners, walkers, and hikers. The trail is a rail trail, as mentioned, meaning that before it was a trail, it was a railroad line.
In the late 1800s, the railway was established by Civil War General Ambrose Burnside. It was named the Vincennes and Cairo Railroad. The railroad was used for passenger transport, coal, salt, wood, and moving products from local orchards scattered around the area.
Throughout the years, the railroad changed owners. Finally, it became part of the Big 4 (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis Lines). The last railway company to manage the line was Norfolk Southern (NS).
In 1991, NS Railroad gave railway rights to the State of Illinois. As a result, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources proposed a rail trail be created. This, at first, received significant backlash and opposition. Locals feared the trail would bring criminals and homelessness to the area it went through. But the plan was pushed through, and the trail was created.
The first portion of the Tunnel Hill State Trail was opened to the public in 1998. The completion of the trail occurred in 2001.
Today, the trail hosts many cyclists, runners, and hikers from all over the country. In addition, a 50/100-mile run is hosted on the trail every year, bringing hundreds of runners to the trail. It is even an official Boston Marathon qualifier.
Many additional trails cross or are a part of Tunnel Hill State Trail, including the Trail of Tears, American Discovery Trail, River to River Trail, and the TransAmerica Bike Race Route.
Trailheads are found in Karnak (southern terminus), Vienna, Tunnel Hill, New Burnside, Stonefort, Carrier Mills, and Harrisburg (northern terminus) to reach Tunnel Hill State Trail.
7 – A Spiritual Resort at Dixon Springs
Dixon Springs State Park is a quiet little state park in rural Pope County, Illinois. It’s a hiking destination, a waterfall chasing area, and even hosts a popular public swimming pool in the summer. But this state park used to be a lot more.
Native Americans visited the area long before it was established as a park. Dixon Springs was a word roughly translated to “Medicine Waters.” The Grand Trace passed through this area, mostly now made up of Illinois Route 145.
The name Dixon Springs comes from one of the first settlers in the area named, William Dixon. A small community was established at Dixon Springs and included several churches, a blacksmith, a post office, a mill, and later a health spa.
The health spa was created because of its seven mineral-enriched water springs. A bathhouse was built for tourists to enjoy the springs.
The health spa resort was eventually shut down, and the area became a state park once the state acquired the land in the 1940s.
Dixon Springs State Park can be reached by driving from Vienna, Illinois, on Highway 146 for 13 miles. The state park will be on your left, across from the Chocolate Factory.
8 – The Underground Railroad and Miller Grove
Miller Grove is a ghost town and Shawnee National Forest historic area located near Eddyville in rural Pope County, Illinois. This ghost town and many areas around it played a significant role during the Underground Railroad era.
In 1844, the Miller Family established a small community of farmsteads. Harrison Miller brought his wife Lucinda and their three children to Miller Grover from a plantation in Tennessee. None of the Miller family could read or write, but education was essential to them. A church was built in Miller Grove but later burned down around 1918.
Throughout the years, Miller Grove became a safe haven for runaway slaves. After that, the community was considered a free black community. All that is left of the community today is a cemetery and remnants of homesteads.
The US Forest Service recently performed an arkeological survey of the area.
The area is home to many points of interest about the Underground Railroad. This includes Sand Cave, a resupply point for runaway slaves heading north. In addition, Crow Knob was a signaling point for the runaway slaves.
Miller Grove Cemetery can be accessed from the Honey Hole Trailhead south of the River to the River Trail crossing on Cedar Grove Road near Eddyville.
9 – A Native American Community at Millstone Bluff
Millstone Bluff is one of the unique Native American locations in southern Illinois and all of the Shawnee National Forest historical area locations. The area is now a hiking trail but was once a community to a very ancient people.
The Mississippian period Native Americans used this area in the 1350-1550 AD era to build their homes, bury their dead, and carve their religious symbolism in the rocks. A Stonefort structure is said to have been constructed during the Late Woodland period around 600-900 AD. There is evidence of where dwellings were made where Natives lived and shared “community relations.” There are petroglyph sites. There is even a cemetery where the indigenous people bury their dead. Sadly, graves were since robbed as settlers began to move into the area.
During the early settlement days, the area became a quarry. Materials mined from the area were used to create millstones. There is a real millstone on site for visitors to see next to the information signage. Many things left behind from the quarry can still be seen today.
The area is now a registered national historic landmark.
To reach Millstone Bluff, take Highway 145 from Vienna, Illinois, to Highway 147. Drive on Highway 147 for several miles until you see Millstone Bluff on your left.
10 – Battery Rock and the Civil War
Battery Rock was the start (or end, pending which way you went) of the River to River Trail in this Shawnee National Forest historical area. It also has a deep history of the Civil War.
Battery Rock played a role in the Civil War during the late 1800s. In 1862, the Union Army had its troops at Battery Rock during a standoff with Confederate soldiers at Caseyville, Kentucky, directly across the Ohio River.
The Confederates eventually left town, and the Union crossed the river to go to Caseyville. A Union vessel was destroyed in the process. It was found that Caseyville had Confederate sympathizers in its community. The Union arrested every man and boy capable of being in the military until the traitors gave themselves up. The Union fined the rebels for destroying their vessel.
In 1864, the site played a role in the attack on riverboats by Confederate General Stovepipe Johnson. Boats would use Battery Rock as a safe landing during the attacks.
Two Union recruiters from Kentucky also used Battery Rock as a recruiting station in 1864. At this time, cannons were placed on the shelter for defense.
Indiana regiment soldiers have also left graffiti at the site of Battery Rock that can still be seen today.
Battery Rock was used as a filming location for “How the West was Won” in the 1960s.
Battery Rock is a registered National Historic Place as of 1998.
The River to River Trail was rerouted from Battery Rock due to the remote area. However, the Shawnee National Forest still manages the area.
To reach Battery Rock, take Highway 1 from Cave-in-Rock to Lamb.
That’s 10 Shawnee National Forest historical areas that you should visit when you get the chance. Most of this information was from local southern Illinois books and websites online. I encourage you to look up more history of the area. Suppose you’ve enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, leave me a comment. Subscribe to my newsletter for more content like this that you won’t see anywhere else.
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Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman