Beaver Dam State Park History - Macoupin County IL
©Feb 2000 James H. Frank

Visit the Park - Illinois Department of Natural Resources


written and contributed by James H. Frank

Beaver Dam State Park is located in a scenic area which is a part of the Macoupin Creek Valley. The Macoupin creek is a major stream that reaches from the Illinois river near Hardin, Illinois across Jersey, Macoupin, and into Sangamon County. The name Macoupin is taken from the Indian word "Ma-co-pin-a" which was a large aquatic root or tuber that grew underwater in the shallow swamps and marshes along the Illinois river and the Macoupin Creek. The root of this plant (arrow arum), a member of the water lily family, was often used as a staple of diet by the local Indians living along these streams.

The Macoupin Creek Valley was a major hunting ground for the early Indian tribes. Wild game were always plentiful. There were many deer and wild turkeys. The lakes and marshes supported many species of fish and thousands of water foul.

The numerous mounds and bluffs that line the creek valley were used as camp sites by the Indians living and hunting in the area. Ninety-three prehistoric Indian sites along the Macoupin have been found and registered. Large Indian grave sites have been found on the bluffs on the north side of the creek, both east and west of the Park. Other grave and camp sites have been found on the ridge separating the Macoupin and Hurricane creeks.

In early days, there were several large shallow lakes along Macoupin Creek in this area. From Beaver Dam westward, the bottom land was covered for several miles by these lakes and marshes. These have since been drained following arrival and settlement of white settlers, and today there is only one of these lakes remaining and it lies about three miles westward and is known as Bullard lake.

The history of this area goes back for an indefinite period of time. We consider history as starting with the arrival of the white settlers, but for centuries this land was the home and hunting grounds of various Indian tribes. The last Indian tribe that inhabited this area was the Peoria Indians, a partial division of the Iliniwek Indian Confederacy. The Peoria Indian tribe reached a peak in population of nearly 8,000 about 1780 and often made their winter camp at the mouth of the Macoupin creek on the Illinois river near Hardin.

Many Indian artifacts have been found in the area. Probably the most notable was when Harris Thomas as a young man working on a farm nearby found a large red sandstone carved pipe. The ceremonial pipe was identified as Mayan in origin and was brought to this area from South America during the period of the Cahokia Mound Builders (Mid-Mississippi Woodland Culture) many hundred years ago. A replica of this pipe is now in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the original was sold to an Indian Museum in Oklahoma.

Many other Indian artifacts, especially stone axes, spear points, and arrowheads from different time period have been found in the Beaver Dam area. Past predominate Indian cultures that roamed and lived in this area were the Hopewell Indians 300 B.C. to 250 A.D., the Mid-Misisisipi Woodland Indians 700 to 1550 A.D. and the Iliniwek Confederacy 1600 to 1830 A.D. Artifacts from all of these cultures are found here.

A few years ago an ax was unearthed in Beaver Dam Park while a foundation was being dug for a storage garage and it was verified to date back to the earliest era (Archaic period) of Indian culture that roamed this area ten to twelve thousand years ago following the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier that once covered this area.

As the white man pressed forward, the Indians were gradually eliminated and forced westward. Most of the Indians retreated from this area by the early 1800's. The last local Indian encampment was seen in 1826. However, a few still hunted along the Macoupin creek as late as 1830, but in the winter of 1830-31, snow began falling December 15 and fell without stopping for five days and reached a level of several feet on the flat and in some places accumulated to as much as fifteen feet deep. It began to melt in mid-February and took two months to melt off. The snow wiped out the entire wild turkey population and almost all the deer population through starvation. The Indians never returned to hunt after that.

The spring and summer of 1831 was exceptional cool, with killing frost and freezes into the middle of the month of June. Then in August, an early frost nearly ruined the corn crop of the early settlers before it was mature. The following spring the settlers had to send to extreme Southern Illinois and Kentucky for seed corn to plant, paying for it on delivery $3.00 a bushel, a fabulous price for corn in those days. It was at this time that Southern Illinois was given the name "Little Egypt" in reference to the biblical accounts of going to the storehouses of Egypt during time of famine.

Scientist now tell us that the reason for this exceptionally cold and bad weather during this period was that the earth was covered by excessive amounts of volcanic ash in the atmosphere following one of the world't largest volcano eruptions that occurred in Indonesia the preceding year. The ash traveled around the world in the atmosphere for nearly two years, blocking the sun rays and keeping the earth from reaching its normal temperature.

At one time buffalo and elk also roamed this area, and according to Indian tradition, a severe deep snow also fell about 1760 and swept away by starvation most of the herds of buffalo and elk animals that roamed this area at that time. This tradition was verified by the large numbers of bones of these animals found in different locations when the first white settlers arrived.

Thousands of years ago when the last glacier that covered this area of Illinois wasted away, its melt-water and the rain and snow flooded across the emerging land and started cutting away the valley of Macoupin and Hurricane creek. Hurricane and Macoupin creek were only separated by a narrow divide or ridge of land for several miles and the Hurricane creek emptied into the Macoupin creek about a mile west of Beaver Dam Park.

With the Macoupin creek covering a larger drainage area and having more water flowing down it, it began making side cutting meanders and widen its valley. Hurrican creek being a smaller stream did not carry as much water or meander as much and the Macoupin, with a wide flung meander loop, cut through the divide between the two streams.

Probably during a flood, Hurricane creek then cut a new channel into the deeper Macoupin creek and now empties into the Macoupin northeast of Beaver Dam. This is known in geology terms as "stream piracy", where one stream steals the water from another stream. The old portion of the creek bed that ran through Beaver Dam State Park then became a marshy lowland, partly flooded at high water levels and became quite suited to dam building activities - first of beavers and later people.

Later in time, water flowed from a spring on each side of the point of land that projects out into the middle of Beaver Dam lake from the north side. The water from the spring on the east side of the point eventually flowed north-east towards the Hurricane creek, and the water from the west side flowed westward toward the Macoupin creek.

Sometime around 1750, beavers found this deserted valley and the small stream flowing westward from the spring and built a dam across this valley and slow flowing stream. They working in typical beaver fashion, gnawing down trees and limbs and worked the material and mud into a low dam that backed water up making a shallow lake of several acres. The beaver colony lived here for years, frequently repairing their dam following washout floods and lived here peacefully many years only to be disturbed occasionally by hunting and trapping Indians. Eventually the beaver colony moved on or disappeared and the remains of the earthen dam and shrinking lake remained in place until the arrival of the early white settlers who settled the area after 1815.

The early settlers called this shallow lake "Dry Beaver Lake". At time of their arrival the lake was less than three acres in size and very, very shallow and during hot summer months the lake would usually dry up, thus the name "Dry Beaver Lake".

Government Land Patents given for the land where Beaver Dam Park is now.
Mathew New Kirk - 160 acres patent - 1835*
Lim Mercer - 40 acres patent -1835
John Symington - 80 acres patent - 1835*
P. Starkweather - 40 acres patent - 1837
John Smith - 80 acres patent - 1854

*Mathew New Kirk was a speculator. He lived in Philadelphia PA and bought 7040 acres in Macoupin County to sell later.
*John Symington was another speculator. He lived in St. Louis and bought 3000 acres in Macoupin County.

During first white settlement, the acreage making up Beaver Dam State Park was entered from the Government by several early settlers and made into small wooded farms of forty to eighty acres each. Several years later, Mr. Henry Brayford who was a coal miner by trade and owned interest in a couple of producing coal mines in Madison County, came from the Edwardsville area and bought up these small farms, eventually totalling 711 acres and turned this property into one large farm that he and his family operated along with the coal business in Edwardsville.

When the Chicago and Alton railroad went through in 1852, most of the people living around Macoupin Station made their living by cutting timber. The Macoupin creek bottom was covered with huge hard wood trees and these people cut and made railroad ties for the railroad.

The railroad put in a water tower as it was near the creek and also made Macoupin Station a wood loading stop to supply the wood burning locomotives. These people after the railroad was built then cut and sold the railroad firewood.

Henry Brayford came to Section 22, Polk Township, in 1867 and bought his first farm and then in the following years bought up neighboring farms until he owned 802 acres at his death in 1899.

The 1870 plat book shows that F. Greenwalt owned 60 acres in Section 22, Polk Township where Beaver Dam Park is now. J. J. Greenwalt owned 20 acres in Section where Beaver Dam is now. I. J. Greenwalt owned 40 acres in Section 22 also where the Park is now.

Other owners at that time (1870 plat book) were L.C. Snell 40 acres, N. E. Barnes 110 acres and S. Renno 80 acres. All the rest of the land was owned by Henry Brayford.

In 1890, eighteen to twenty influential businessmen from Carlinville leased the grounds from its owner Henry Brayford and formed the Beaver Dam Lake Club. They spent around $2,000 to build an earthen dam at each end of the lake, raising the water level to form a larger deeper lake and used the lake and surrounding grounds as private membership recreation.

By 1893, the plat book for that year, shows that Henry Brayford owned all the ground that is now Beaver Dam surrounding the lake and owned a total of 802 acres.

Mr. Brayford, hoping to develop a coal mine on the farm and taking advantage of the proximity of the Chicago and Alton railroad that ran along the edge of the property, in 1899 began digging a coal shaft and at a depth of 144 feet found a vein of coal about six feet thick. While digging the shaft, they were constantly plagued by serious water seepage. Within a year, Mr. Brayford died before he could open and operate the mine and following his death the mine operation was abandoned.

One of the Brayford daughters, Mrs. Sarah Rhodes, wife of Frank Rhodes, inherited the property. In 1901, Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes took over the property and constructed and operated a small sixteen room hotel and resort. Fishing was one dollar a day and lodging was advertised at two dollars per night when the Lodge opened in 1902. Outdoor camping was allowed, but Mrs. Rhodes would not allow any overnight women campers, a moral no, no at the time. The resort advertised in St. Louis, Alton, and Springfield and guest coming by train were met at the train stop at Macoupin Station by a large horse drawn coach and taken to the hotel a mile up the road.

Some people rather that pay the fee to fish would just walk across the field and try to steal into the lake grounds by the back way, but the Rhodes' had watchmen watching for these trespassers and would nab them and charge them for fishing as they climbed over the fence.

Meals were served in the Lodge and it is told that when a meal was ready to be served, Mrs. Rhodes would call the lodgers and fisherman to dinner by blowing a large fox horn that could be heard around the lake. In the parlour of the Lodge was an organ and a grand piano and Mrs. Rhodes being a musician often entertained the guest in the evening by playing musical selections. She was also a taxidermist and the Lodge and guest rooms had on display numerous local wild animals she had mounted. She also was skilled in early day photography and for a fee took photographs of the guest and their catch of fish.

The Rhodes' continued to operate the lodge for many years. By the 1930's, with the advent of the popular use of the automobile taking place, people were coming and spending a day fishing and returning home at night. The hotel eventually closed, but the Rhodes' continued to operate fee fishing at the lake.

In the late 1940's, Mr. Bill Robinson of Carlinville was an elected member as a State Representative. While Mr. Robinson was a young lad, he had resided on the farm across the road from Beaver Dam and had often worked on the Rhodes farm and in the hotel. Learning that the farm was being offered for sale, it was through his efforts that the State of Illinois purchased the 425 acres north of the highway containing the lake from Mrs. Rhodes in 1947 and the property was developed into a State Park. The State rebuilt and raised the dam at each end of the lake and developed a lake of 59 acres. Roads were built through the Park and hiking and picnic and camping areas developed. The old farm buildings were torn down and the top floor of the hotel was removed and that building was converted into a Ranger's home. The lake was drained and seined and restocked with game fish. The State set out thousands of trees turning any cleared fields of farming ground back into woods.

During 1955, additional land purchased to the west adjoining the Park increased the total park acreage to 737 acres. The Park provides facilities for fishing, picnics, camping, and hiking. Some weekends find the camping facilities full.

In 1978 a marsh lake was developed in the valley to the west of the main lake. The shallow water provides interesting bird watching as many different varieties of wild waterfowl habitat there. Additional improvements have been made to the Marsh area in 1998.

The Park provides camping facilities for both vehicle camping and tent camping, and many fish are caught yearly from the lake. Other people enjoy hiking the many miles of trails around the lake and throughout the woods. The spring season bring forth many kinds of beautiful blooming wild flowers and trees, while each fall enhances all with captivating different colored shrub and tree foliage.

The State now operated the Park as a preserve to its natural beauty.

A cemetery is located in the Beaver Dam State Park.

Originally the Barnes Cemetery, later it was called the Sanders Cemetery and later the Brayford Cemetery which it is called today.

Brayford Cemetery (Polk Township)
(Originally the Barnes Cemetery then the Sanders Cemetery then the Brayford Cemetery)

Buried in the Brayford Cemetery are:

James Shore 1887-1969 Vet. World War I

Charles Chastain 1874-1951
Daisy G Chastain 1881-1925

Barbara Peters Howerton 1843-1883
James H. Howerton 1834-1884
George Howerton 1875- 1889 Son of Barbara & James Howerton

Thomas Greenwalt 1867-1892

Josephine Barnes 1860-1876
Alby L. Barnes 11-21-1834 - 1872 son of ?N A. E. Barnes

William E. Sanders 1848-1916
Cynthia Richey Sanders 1848 - 1924

M. Everett Hampton 1919-1967

Eva M. Hampton 1918-1918
Melvine Hampton 1889-1921

John Lair 1873-1966
Mrs John Lair ---
R. Blackely Pittman 1903-1970
Willie Pittman 1900
Dora Ann Pittman 1874-1916
Frederick Pittman 1853-1918

Grace E. Bergmann 1878-1956
Mary A. Bergmann 1856-1948
L. Belle Bergmann 1882-1965
Herbert Bergmann 1876-1948
F. Henry Bergmann 1850-1904

Polk Township

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